While some see fraternity men as part of a beer-slamming, Smirnoff icing, “bro” culture, I saw my experience as a Greek at the University as a stepping stone to my future career aspirations. If you believe the aforementioned stereotype describes all fraternity men, feel free to stop reading my column. To be quite frank, I probably won’t change your opinion of “frat bros.” For those of you still around — perhaps those past, present or even future Greeks — you will see how my current journey has been greatly affected by my decision to Go Greek.
As I embarked on my journey this summer in New York City and left the state of Michigan for the longest period in my life, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon intern group housing. By an interesting twist of fate, two of my other roommates were also Greek and both served as presidents of their chapters at William and Mary University and the University of Minnesota. Doing our best to relive the glory days of living in the fraternity, the three of us shared a single bedroom with another roommate.
As I started working for one of the largest international sport agencies, I began to notice my experience in my fraternity was very similar to that of the corporate culture that I was becoming indoctrinated into. Aside from the familiar fraternity attire of Vineyard Vines, Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, or the fact that more than half our intern class consisted of Greek members, I noticed the bureaucratic structure mirrored fraternity life.
The senior vice presidents of the company are like Fraternity presidents who work together with their executive board (vice presidents and associates) to move the company forward and steer clear from breaking the rules and regulations of the S.E.C. and other governmental bodies (Interfraternity Council). The head of the internship program is similar to a new member educator, leading new members along the process, dispensing advice and guiding the rest of the intern class like a fraternity pledge class. The IT people act very much like older members in the chapter — stopping by to give words of advice and to help out in a moment of crisis.
As an intern you are very much like a fraternity pledge — learning about the company, fitting into the current culture and completing tasks that superiors delegate. You learn about your fellow interns and how people around the office operate in a rapid pace, desperately trying to pick up as much as possible. As you move along (hopefully) with improved titles and more responsibility, you may eventually find yourself in senior position — no different than serving as an executive board member of your chapter.
For those fraternity and sorority members who plan to embark on a similar journey this summer, I will impart a piece of advice that was given to me after another intern — also a fraternity member — showed up on the first day of work. While it’s important to stand out, wearing bright blue slacks, a pink button down and Sperry topsiders is probably not the best way to catch the attention of those working around you. You will earn quite a reputation around the office for being that guy.
I was fortunate to work with a great team led by a senior executive who guided me throughout my internship. But I can’t help but think my experiences in my fraternity were a catalyst for my success this summer. Serving the Greek community as the Interfraternity Council vice president of public relations for the past year, I had a unique experience that allowed me to feel confident in working in a team environment and working on multiple projects at once.
As I returned to Ann Arbor, friends in my fraternity and in other chapters related similar stories of the fraternity-like culture in the workplace. It’s no coincidence that people I previously worked with in my chapter, or in the greater Greek community, were working in investment banking on Wall Street, serving to bridge the gap of educational inequality by working for Teach for America or trudging through the gauntlet known as law school. These individuals, who have attributed a lot of their success to their time in the fraternity, honed their leadership and social skills while they were in the Greek sentence.
Whether or not you decide to join a fraternity while in college, hopefully you can at least respect the core principles of why these groups exist. Whether you join for the social aspect, the academic side or to fulfill the need to belong to something bigger than yourself, fraternities help to provide the necessary skills that are crucial for succeeding in the business world.
Ryan Knapp can be reached at email@example.com.