Famous AIESEC Alumni
AIESEC’s secret to longevity
Director, McKinsey & Company
AIESEC was not like other student organizations that I became involved with as a business student at mcgill university in the 1970’s. I belonged to a few associations concerned with investment and entrepreneurship, but their focus was local. Having lived in a foreign country for the first twelve years of my life, I was drawn to AIESEC’s global operations and outlook. My family and I had immigrated to Canada from Lebanon, so I was comfortable with diversity and the idea that the works was a big place. What I didn’t realize is that AIESEC and it’s powerful reach is much larger than I first thought.
It was in AIESEC that I discovered for the first time my leadership style and it hasn’t changed since. After gaining some solid experience in the business community by soliciting and raising internships for the McGill local committee, I became Eastern Regional Director for AIESEC Canada. I was responsible for reviving and growing the local committees of Quebec and the Maritimes. This role pushed me to be decisive and make executive decisions while coaching, motivating and guiding members to strengthen their local teams. I was making a contribution by helping others reach their goals, and today as a seasoned member of an intentional consulting firm, I am happy to be doing the same.
On a personal front, AIESEC has made me realize how precious human relationships are. I made some wonderful life-long friends such as Bob Crockett and Jim Miller who asked me to join AIESEC Canada’s Board of Advisors. I was fortunate to have gone on two summer internships; one to Neuchatel, Switzerland and the other to Stockholm, Sweden where I met like-minded people from halfway across the world. There were about 25 foreign interns in Stockholm with me that summer and not only did we feel connected but welcomed in a place other than our own home. To this day, Stockholm feels like a familiar place to me and one that is close to my heart.
I have lived in Paris now for over 25 years and continue to meet people all over Europe who, at one point in their life, have been involved with AIESEC. I find it extraordinary that the organization has survived for five decades and has such far reaching exposure around the world. I know that personally, AIESEC has provided me with a personal richness that will stay with me forever-maybe that’s the secret to its longevity!
One of AIESEC’s most notable alumni in the field of business is Michael Smith, the former CEO of Lands’ End, a mail-order clothing store. During his years studying business administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was an active member of their LC.
Michael Smith remains a strong advocate for AIESEC, constantly praising the organization and its ability to connect international students with companies seeking a more global perspective.
During an interview with the publication Fast Company, Michael Smith revealed that AIESEC was an invaluable experience that taught him how to network. He was quoted as saying “We were always making cold calls to executives at large companies, which was intimidating. But it forced us to learn how to talk to people who were ‘above’ us.
Smith, who recently left Land’s End to pursue the internet start-up Lifesketch.com, says AIESEC students have been known to make critically important contributions to businesses even without being members of permanent staff. He says they can change the culture of an organization: “Because you see AIESEC people taking risks, so you want to take risks.”
AIESEC prides itself on its ability to develop global leaders and no one better exemplifies this than Martti Ahtisaari.
Ahtisaari was not only an enthusiastic member of AIESEC, he was the President of AIESEC Finland from 1963-1965.
Through his involvement with AIESEC, he discovered his passion for creating a better world. He began working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland and later went on to become a United Nations Commissioner for Nambia. Through these roles, he gained the experience and credibility
needed to win the Federal election in 1994, making him the 10th Prime Minister of Finland.
After holding the title for six years, he stepped down from his role, but not away from his vision of a better world. Ahtisaari founded the Crisis Management Initiative, an organization that strives to create peace in areas of unrest.
In 2008, Martti Ahtisaari’s was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create and maintain peace across the world.
John Neill, an alumnus of AIESEC England, is one of the few people in the world who can confidently answer the question, ‘What is AIESEC?’ When he first discovered the organization in university, he knew it simply as the Association for the International Exchange of Students of Economics and Commerce. Now, many years down the road, he defines it as an organization that sets out to “persuade local companies to take students from somewhere in the world and give them a really, grown-up, proper type of work to do”.
Neill recognizes that unlike many other organizations, the survival of AIESEC is dependent on its ability to “inspire people all over the world with a simple purpose” and by giving members that “meaningful and relevant purpose, AIESEC changes lives.”
In 1974, John Neill joined Unipart Group of Companies where he has continued to work for many years. He is now the Group Chief Executive of the company, as well as a director at Rolls-Royce.