The frat pack

Why joining a fraternity can actually help advance your career.

Kevin Towers enjoyed some wild times at the University of Toronto. A big reason: he spent four years as a member of the school's Sigma Chi fraternity. For starters, the 44-year-old Towers says he'll never forget the initiation ceremony, part of an ongoing process that “Sigs” call The Ritual. “There were what I would call stunts, which were quite harmless but would probably be frowned upon today,” he says. Towers recalls donning a toga for “the best parties on campus,” mingling with sorority girls and embarking on antic-filled road trips. “I had plenty of chances to sow wild oats,” he says.

But can joining a fraternity be more than just a way to indulge in Animal House-type behaviour? Well, Towers claims juggling school and a hectic social schedule taught him how to prioritize tasks. In his successful campaign to become fraternity president, he learned to run for office, make speeches and get people to work toward a common goal. Six years after graduation, Towers raised seed money for a recycling company by tapping Sigma Chi alumni. (He later sold the business for a handsome profit.) And in his current role as a financial adviser, he counts a couple Sigs as clients.

Tower's Sigma Chi experience wouldn't surprise Daniel Muzyka, dean of the Sauder School of Business at Vancouver's University of British Columbia. “Belonging to a fraternity or sorority is all about building networks that can later help you in your career and relationships in general,” he says. Over at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Sharon Irwin-Foulon, the director of career management, says some students credit their association to so-called Greek clubs with helping them to land a job. “Either a recruiter was part of a fraternity or sorority,” she explains, “or they reached out to their brothers or sisters for leads on positions.” In fact, membership in such organizations could even impress those sifting through resumés at one of the world's most prestigious financial institutions. “When we evaluate candidates, we consider students' academic achievements and the impact they have made on the life of their colleges and universities, and membership in a fraternity and sorority is a good way to show this,” says Janet Raiffa, head of campus recruiting for the Americas at Goldman Sachs in New York.

Of course, some students walk away from their Greek experiences with little more than a collection of hangovers and a nickname like Frank the Tank. “Some people joined my fraternity for the social aspect, moved on and didn't take advantage of the scholarships, leadership conferences and charity work,” says James Dodds, a Sigma Chi who went to Saint Mary's University in Halifax. “People get what they put into it.”

But what about the infamous hazing? Those types of activities are a thing of the past, insists Timothy Sanderson, chairman of the Sigma Chi Canadian Foundation. He emphasizes that his organization has a strictly enforced policy on hazing. “If an individual takes it upon themselves to do something stupid,” he says, “then the chapter will kick the person out, suspend him or subject the individual to some sort of disciplinary action.” If a chapter is at fault, he adds, the international Sigma Chi association will remove a fraternity's charter. “That's happened in ours, and other Greek organizations.”

Rather than disgrace their fellow brothers, many Canadian frat boys have instead reached the upper echelons of politics and business. For example, former prime minister Paul Martin is a member of Psi Upsilon. Robert McEwen, the founder and former CEO of Goldcorp, and Ted Rogers, president and CEO of Rogers Communications (the parent of Canadian Business), are both Sigs. James Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of Research In Motion, is a Zeta Psi.

Looking back on his fraternity days, Towers says he most appreciated the Sigma Chi leadership training programs. Not surprisingly, he considers Hollywood depictions of fraternities misleading. Nevertheless, he remembers one particularly mischievous road trip to Ohio with his brothers. As he puts it, betraying no confidences: “So many funny things happened that it was like something straight out of a movie.”