Knowing the Power of Networking

Here's one entrepreneur who's pairing well-rounded college students with big-time companies.

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By JJ Ramberg

When Andy Walter applied for his job at global investment bank Goldman Sachs after college, he knew about 10 other people who were qualified for the position but didn't have the same kind of network he had to help him secure an interview.

Six years later, after becoming the global head of product management for Goldman Sachs' hedge fund strategies group, Walter decided to do something about that inequity.

He left his job and, with partner Peer Pedersen, 51, co-founded the Greenwich, Connecticut-based fund of funds, Blue Orchid Capital, and the Steamboat Foundation in 2003. Each year, a significant portion of the fund's incentive fee goes toward running the foundation, which finds high-profile summer work opportunities for talented college students who otherwise wouldn't have access to them.

Since its launch, the Steamboat Foundation has placed interns with a major magazine; with David Altchek, one of the world's foremost orthopedic surgeons; with the staff of the New York Giants and at other established companies in industries ranging from business and law to arts and entertainment. Along with providing the job itself, the foundation also employs a leadership consultant and trained psychologist, Tom Inck, who works with the students to ensure they're able to take what they learn during the summer and apply it to future jobs.

Walter, 32, is well aware that Blue Orchid's philanthropic associations have given him access to some of the highly competitive hedge funds in which he invests. But he's also quick to say that investors in his fund should not take its philanthropy into account. "I tell every investor in Blue Orchid, 'You should look at one thing only: the net return of the fund. If we can't compete on that, you should put your money elsewhere,'" he says. While Walter wouldn't reveal the fund's performance, he says it's seen double-digit net annualized returns since its launch in 2004.  

Walter says the core philosophy of both the fund and the foundation is investing in people. He notes, "On the investment side, we're looking for exceptional talent in the hedge fund world. On the philanthropic side, we're looking for extraordinary young people who will thrive given the right opportunities." And just as he measures the success of his fund through returns, he measures the success of the foundation through feedback from both the interns and their employers.

JJ Ramberg is the host of MSNBC's small-business program Your Business and co-founder of GoodSearch.

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