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Aon Executives Teach USC Students Business Etiquette

Aon Executives Teach USC Students Business Etiquette

John Barrett and Janice Lum spoke to students on the nuances of personal branding in the workplace.

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[iStock Photo]

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Aon’s Executive Vice President John Barrett and Head of North American Operations Janice Lum are dedicated to helping the next generation of business leaders differentiate themselves in the workplace. On March 21, over 80 students, including several student-athletes, attended the Business Etiquette session in Taper Hall 102. The event was hosted by the Peter Arkley Institute for Risk Management and cosponsored by the USC Marshall Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as well as Gamma Iota Sigma, USC’s risk management student group. Barrett and Lum provided students an exclusive session on business etiquette. They covered where to sit in a client meeting, the secret to professional emails, and other minutia that employees could have only learned on the job.

John Barrett’s first position in the insurance industry is not what you would expect. According to Barrett, insurance brokerage firm Johnson & Higgins needed a shortstop to round out the office baseball team, and, having played shortstop for Santa Clara University, Barrett was brought onto the team as a ringer. Following an impressive season, which culminated in Johnson & Higgins making the playoffs, Barrett received an offer to work for the firm. He left his position as a high school teacher to give insurance a shot.

The transition from educator to insurance broker was not seamless. Barrett soon realized that entering a competitive corporate environment required him to develop a personal brand that would set him apart from his peers. For Barrett, that meant working long hours, improving his communication skills, and keeping authenticity at the forefront of all interactions.

“People want to do business with the people they like,” Barrett said.

Now, Barrett is helping USC’s rising professionals build their own brands. He and Lum’s interactive presentation focused on the importance of personal branding, networking in a hybrid workplace, and navigating business etiquette as a young professional.

“As a freshman, networking can be a daunting task to succeed in,” said Marshall student and Gamma Iota Sigma member Anthony Zavala. “After attending the Business Etiquette session, I learned about the three p’s of networking: purpose, people, and process. It has given me a blueprint to excel in future networking events that I’m eager to utilize; networking no longer seems as intimidating.”

For many students, Barrett and Lum’s presentation was an opportunity to learn about soft skills not taught in the classroom. Covering topics such as where to sit in a client meeting and what fork to use at a business dinner, Barrett and Lum showed students that little things can make a big difference in a corporate setting. Considering the rise of hybrid and virtual workplaces, the pair also discussed proper email etiquette and whether it is appropriate to use emojis or slang in professional communications, noting that communications should be tailored to suit client preferences.

People want to do business with the people they like.

— John Barrett

Executive Vice President, Aon

“One of my favorite quotes is by Eugene Bell Jr. and it states, ‘Aspire to Inspire before you Expire.’ To me that [is] exactly what the Business Etiquette session, taught by John and Janice from Aon provided our students: inspiration,” said Audrena Goodie-Mahone, a program specialist with USC Marshall’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “This workshop not only teaches the importance of showing up and presenting your best self, but it also offered students guidance about the importance of good business ethics, manners, and how to stay polished and prepared. The students in attendance for the workshop have a thirst for understanding what good business etiquette means. This will help them be prepared for the next level: Obtaining a great job!”

Lum emphasized that a lack of corporate experience shouldn’t deter anybody, especially student-athletes, from pursuing a corporate career. As Lum explained, the interview process is an opportunity to demonstrate how one’s skills, regardless of their background, are transferable to a career in business.

“You are worth it,” Lum affirmed. “I’m very proud of the Arkley Institute for Risk Management for its unique partnership with the industry leaders and drawing expertise from them to ready the students for the workforce, including soft skills such as personal branding, interviewing, and business etiquette. As Aon leaders, we’re happy to support the program and its students as well as the expanded attendance from the student-athletes.”

Barrett acknowledged that things have changed for the young professionals entering the corporate world today.

“This is a push-pull world, it’s no longer about hierarchy,” Barrett said. “We’re all on the same playing field.”

The way Barrett sees it, asking for feedback, communicating clearly, and building strong ties with colleagues will take young professionals further in their careers and open the door for more opportunities.

“Students who are about to graduate or pursuing summer internships and plan to enter a corporate office environment can [have] anxiety,” Barrett said. “The goal of our class is to create a safe environment where students can openly ask questions and share their concerns so they’re better prepared and thus, more confident in walking into Corporate America.”