Ed Heffernan ’84, Trustee at the University and CEO of the Fortune 500 company Alliance Data Services, delivered a lecture in the Daniel Family Commons on Thursday, Nov. 19. The talk centered on the advantages of a liberal arts degree in future career opportunities, with Heffernan drawing on his own experiences along with the experiences of several young alumni who work for Epsilon Data Management, a subsidiary company under Alliance.
Heffernan also described the changing world of marketing and Epsilon’s advancements in targeted advertising. Recruiters from Epsilon were present at the event, and an hour was set aside for attendees to mingle with the young alumni, the recruiters, and Heffernan himself. The Career Center and Epsilon were the main organizers of the event.
Heffernan spoke of his college experiences, as well as his experiences after his time at the University, relaying to those in the crowd who hoped to go into business.
“I was a math geek,” Heffernan said. “I did the quantitative stuff. I knew where the arts center was, and that was about it, but I did get over there for movie nights. That was also of interest to me. I played hockey, and that was also about a thousand years ago… and that was rewarding for sure. So that’s my story, but after Wes I did go to Columbia for business school, and back then they took a couple percent right out of college, and somehow I got in.”
However, the average age of business school students has risen, especially in recent years.
“Nowadays, for those of you out there thinking about a career in business, I think the average age of the big schools is about 28, 29; so that’s one of the things you need to get your brain around: you will not get accepted out of college,” Heffernan said. “You have to go out and work half a dozen years before you can even apply to the big ‘B’ schools. That’s the way it works. I then worked on Wall Street for a while, and then figured out I’d get a real job after that, so I got up and I decided, why not really let ’er rip? I moved to Palo Alto, a little place called Silicon Valley. And that was quite some time ago, and that is in a period they called the Internet Bubble… I saw the good side, and I saw the bad side. I saw the bubble burst and it was not pretty.”
Heffernan emphasized that careers often have little relation to college majors, and that a certain degree of luck is often key in success.
“There is no relationship at all with my background, education, my undergraduate major, and what I do today, and that probably is the biggest linkage I can share with you,” Heffernan said. “It really doesn’t matter, right? There’s 500 positions to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Anyone worth their salt who’s a CEO at that level, if they don’t say there’s a big chunk of luck involved, they’re kidding themselves. So, you factor out the luck, and what’s there? What your major is today, what your first job will be… will have very little correlation with where you wind up 20 or 30 years from now. I was a math guy, and what do I spend all my time on? Human resources.”
Yekaterina Sapozhnina ’16, President of the Wesleyan Entrepreneurship Society, helped promote the event and thought the large turnout was indicative of a growing interest in the student body for these types of events.
“There was a really great turnout,” Sapozhnina said. “It’s probably the best turnout I’ve seen other than for the Google one, and it goes to show just how many people out of Wesleyan are applying to these positions and recognizing the importance of recruiters, and Ed himself was very personable and funny and he really sold Epsilon, explained what they did—analyze data—to a crowd that had no idea what they were getting themselves into…I think a lot of the people at the conference were people who applied to the company, and he [Ed] made time to talk to everyone, and that was cool of him.”
Jared Fineberg ’17 was in attendance, and reported that he found Heffernan’s presentation fascinating.
“He provided a lot of helpful insights into how to be a competitive candidate in the job market post-graduation,” Feinberg said. “He was a very witty speaker, very opinionated. It was interesting to hear his impressions thus far after graduation.”
Sapozhnina commented on the recruiters who she spoke to after the presentation, stating that they were able to clarify certain details about their profession.
“They were very nice, and they were very transparent about the culture and the whole process,” Sapozhnina said. “For example, I was asking them how they have so many women in the company, because you know, traditional business, corporate, whatever, they have more women in the office than I’ve ever seen in any other company, and I was talking to [recruiter] Dave Lucey… and I was asking him about it, and he was like, ‘Yeah, it just kind of happened.’ Not very bullshit at all, very transparent.”
She further stated that the University ought to have more of these types of events in order to stay competitive with other liberal arts schools, which provide more opportunities for students to meet with recruiters and learn about companies.
“I talked to Ed about the Board of Trustees and he wasn’t quite sure what he’s going to do yet, but he was saying that he’s been getting bigger events for recruiting at Wesleyan,” she said. “All the other liberal arts that he was making fun of have companies come to them, and Wesleyan barely has anyone, so it’s important for us to have more of these… to help us stay competitive and to help people at Wesleyan.”