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Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 12 News List

School contacts key to success

Forget the golf course, the power breakfast and the Ivy League alumni reunion. The new arena for forging business relationships is the private day school

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Brigid Merriman, left, and Colleen Ambrose, who met at their daughters' preschool and formed a dress line. The designers are pictured at Merriman's home in New York earlier this month.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A few weeks ago, Nick Richardson, a writer of marketing materials who lives in Manhattan, took his oldest daughter, Emma, 6, to the birthday party of one of her former classmates.

While he was chatting with another father -- someone Richardson had known since their children were at nursery school -- the other man mentioned that the advertising agency where he worked had won a major account. It would mean taking on new talent. Would Richardson be interested, the man asked, in having his name put forward for a job, adding persuasively, "I think you would fit in perfectly."

For generations, private schools have nurtured connections among the privileged, but the bonds were most likely to form among students, who carried their old school ties into business and the professions after graduation.

Except for occasional meet-the-teachers evenings or concerts, parents spent little time at schools. But in an age when parents are closely, even obsessively, involved in their children's lives, school activities have multiplied to include lectures on parenthood, "take a parent to school" days, science fairs, field days, parent breakfasts, sports dinners and spring auctions, all of which draw parents ever more closely together.

"They now see each other all the time," said Howard Greene, an educational consultant in Westport, Connecticut, and New York City, who advises families about private schools. Doing business together "becomes a natural extension of the deep friendships that grow from a base of personal trust, shared values and a shared destiny," he said.

Greene himself found a publisher when a fellow trustee of one of his four children's schools turned out to be interested in the education books he wrote.

The newest world of business networking is therefore not the golf course, the power breakfast or the alumni reunion. It is the schoolhouse. As much as country clubs once did, schools -- especially private day schools -- are bringing together professionals and high-powered executives in a clubby atmosphere of mutual trust that some are finding particularly conducive to deal-making. While school administrators can find the trend vexatious and erect barriers to prevent it, like forbidding the use of school directories for soliciting business, many parents discover school contacts are too priceless to ignore.

School officials say parents rarely go so far as to select a school just to rub a particularly influential set of elbows.

"We ask that our parents check adult agendas at the gate," Timothy Bazemore, the headmaster of New Canaan Country School in Connecticut, said. "Our parents understand that and agree."

But what happens later, below the school radar, is probably inevitable, the same officials say.

A major change propelling the trend, school officials say, has been the wave of involved fathers. Even a decade ago, fathers wrote tuition checks but rarely participated in school life.

Today "you see far more dads volunteering for all sorts of things," Bernice Hauser, the director of intercampus activities at Horace Mann School in Riverdale, the Bronx, said.

Then there are the many mothers with careers.

"It has evolved as women's lives have changed," said Laura Lopata, who is married to Richardson, the marketing writer.

Lopata is the president of Accent on Image, a small firm that coaches executives in interpersonal skills. She said she has several potential clients who can be traced to her school contacts.

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