Q&A with Tony Audino, Founder & CEO of Conenza
In the April 2018 issue of HR Magazine, Tony Audino, founder & CEO of Conenza explains key benefits of corporate alumni programs in “Why Companies Should Stay Connected with Ex-Employees.”
Tony should know. In 1995, he created the Microsoft® Alumni Network, one of the first formal corporate alumni communities. He then founded Conenza, which provides a corporate alumni software platform used by some of the Fortune 500’s most admired companies.
Conenza: What led you to create the Microsoft Alumni Network?
Tony Audino: I worked at Microsoft from 1987 to 1994. After leaving, I wanted to create a private community to stay connected with my colleagues for the benefit of the company, its people and our community. At the time, CEO Bill Gates wanted nothing to do with an alumni network or former employees for that matter. In the hyper-competitive world that Microsoft thrived in, frankly you were either on their team or not. So, we formed the Microsoft Alumni Network as an independent, nonprofit with no involvement from the company other than a trademark license to use its name.
C: Given those challenges, how did you build the Microsoft Alumni Network?
TA: We focused on developing a strong value proposition for the Microsoft alumni. It started with access to Microsoft’s company store so alumni could purchase Microsoft’s software products at a big discount. It was also great for Microsoft because alumni serve as influential brand advocates. Then we added great networking events, an online community, discounts on other products and services and kept building more and more value.
C: How did your work with the Microsoft Alumni Network lead to the creation of Conenza?
TA: We started receiving inbound requests from companies like Accenture, Goldman Sachs, and Procter & Gamble asking if we would share what we had learned at Microsoft Alumni Network about what had worked to engage alumni and, as importantly, what hadn’t worked. This interest from the marketplace combined with the success of the Microsoft Alumni Network convinced a small team of us that there was an opportunity in this space.
C: What’s the status of the Microsoft Alumni Network now?
TA: About 20 years later, Microsoft completely changed course by insourcing the alumni network we created and housing it on its corporate campus. The network, while still an independent nonprofit, has two Microsoft executives that serve on its board. This year Microsoft will sponsor an annual alumni reunion in eight cities across the globe.
C: Why did Microsoft have this change of heart?
TA: Microsoft’s current leaders realize alumni can be powerful advocates for Microsoft products and services as well as its employer brand. Consider this example from my personal experience.
Five years ago, Microsoft entered the personal computer market with the Surface launch. After Microsoft resolved some early glitches, I took the plunge and purchased one at a Microsoft Alumni Network event. That same day hundreds of Microsoft alumni walked out of the event with a Surface Pro. Today, I’m on my second Surface Pro and am responsible for selling dozens of the devices to family, friends and colleagues.
Having worked in the technology sector for years with no formal ties to Microsoft, I’m viewed as a knowledgeable, objective buyer. I often hear people say, “If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me.” With more than 33,000 registered alumni in more than 50 countries, the Microsoft Alumni Network is a potent source of brand advocates worldwide.
C: What’s your best piece of advice for companies thinking about starting an alumni program?
TA: An alumni program positively impacts the culture of your organization by telling employees you care about them while they are there and long after they leave. Whether you’re just exploring the benefits of an alumni program or committed to launching one this year, start collecting personal email addresses from your former employees during the exit process. It will make it much easier to contact them whenever you decide to launch the program.