Former CEO speaks at lunch program


Joseph Tingley

Chris Allison, former CEO and entrepreneur in residence, gives presentation in Quigley Auditorium on Oct. 6, 2015 on the importance of networking.

While most students made straight for the dining halls at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 6, a group of about 30 to 40 gathered in Quigley Auditorium to learn something that might help to give them an insight into the business world from someone who has been there.

Chris Allison, ’83, has worked in the business world since he graduated from Allegheny. In 1993, he became the CEO of Tollgrade Communications, a company which works to identify weaknesses and failures in electricity grids and prevent outages. He held this position until 2005.

In 2006, Allison returned to Allegheny as the college’s entrepreneur in residence.

The Oct. 6 lunchtime learning program, lead by Allison and entitled “How to Create an Awesome Business Network,” was not the first of its kind. Last year, the economics department hosted 14 lunchtime events, according to Tamara Minns, center for business and economics and pre-professional studies program coordinator.

Minns said the purpose of the lunchtime learning programs is to expose students to the different industries and careers of which Allegheny graduates have taken advantage.

“We bring in alumni to talk about different industries and to talk about what makes their companies special,” Minns said.

In his presentation, Allison offered students tips on how to successfully network, not just in the business world, but in any profession.

Allison explained networks must be large, that in order to successfully network you must have hundreds of contacts. Therefore, he said making those connections is important and not something to be shy about because you never know which one will be the one to help you.

“Your objective is to get them to introduce you,” he said.

Making a connection, Allison said, is also important. Making a personal connection, or knowing something about the individual’s work or company can also help to prove to them you have done your research.

“You want to show them that you made the effort to know it,” Allison said.

While Allison acknowledged the effectiveness of email and other forms of electronic messaging, he discouraged its use when attempting to arrange a brief meeting with someone. He explained that while emails are easy to send, they are also easy to ignore. He said the phone is still the best way to make a connection with someone.

Above all, Allison said the key to good networking is to act professionally and maturely and to just treat everyone you come into contact with, with respect. He said often being friendly is all it takes to make a good impression.

“If you are friendly, you’ll be surprised how many people will want to help you,” he said.

Director of Career Education Jim Fitch said what students get out of experiences like the lunchtime learning programs are invaluable. He said learning how to network is especially important in today’s job market.

“It’s really a vital skill,” Fitch said.

Fitch said over the past year he has been happy with the turnout for the lunchtime programs. He said it typically averages around 50 students, with one program last year bringing in 116 students, the maximum capacity for Quigley Auditorium.

“We would love to see 116 at every lunchtime learning,” Fitch said.

While the economics department is currently the only department which hosts events throughout the year, Fitch said several other departments, including environmental science and geology,  have held a handful of events throughout the year. He said in the future he would love to see the program expand to include more academic disciplines.

“I would like to see this expand so that every major has something to support their career development,” Fitch said.

Lunchtime learning programs are usually announced on MyAllegheny and held in Quigley Auditorium. Food is usually provided.