Home / Education / The ultimate MBA networking event? A yacht party in Croatia

Jaron Wright and Shivani Singh, first-year students at Harvard Business School, started networking before the fall semester started. They connected during a seven-day-long party aboard yachts floating in the Adriatic Sea.

Hundreds of students from Harvard and other elite business schools spent time this summer participating in an emerging rite of passage for M.B.A. candidates: Yacht Week.

Created, branded and organized by a Swedish company, the event features flotillas of white boats descending on different parts of the Mediterranean throughout the summer for seven days at a time. Partygoers willing to pay thousands of dollars frolic in the azure waters, explore the coastal villages of southern Croatia and dance to DJ sets after sundown. They also board neighboring boats to network with other M.B.A. candidates.

That is how Mr. Wright and Ms. Singh, one night in August, discovered their mutual aspiration to break into venture capital after graduation. The next day Ms. Singh greeted Mr. Wright from her perch astride a seven-seat inflatable unicorn.

“Someone from Yacht Week is going to be a really important part of my life one day," Mr. Wright says. “I have a feeling that’s going to happen."

M.B.A. students have long prized off-campus relationship building as a key part of a degree that can cost them as much as $200,000 at certain schools. Those networking opportunities might happen on ski trips, at black-tie galas or informal summertime group gatherings. Yacht Week emerged over the last decade as a new way to monetize this pursuit.

The event started in 2006 when two Swedish skippers decided to plan their own ocean party with friends in Croatia. With Facebook, and friends inviting friends, the event quickly expanded into a moneymaking venture. The number of yachts they commandeered went from 95 in 2007 to 431 in 2010 to just under 1,000 this year. The company, now called Day 8, expanded beyond Croatia to new locations including Greece, the British Virgin Islands and Tahiti. A place on a boat can now cost between $800 and $2,500, depending on the yacht’s size, age and whether it has air conditioning. Airfare, food, drinks and tips aren’t included. The company said its Yacht Week festivities brought in nearly $13 million in revenue this year.

Along the way Yacht Week gained a reputation as a nonstop party. When docked, the guests troop up stone staircases to sun-dappled courtyards built on cliffs for outdoor dinners with breathtaking views. There are disco raves, and some days skippers tie up boats in flotillas, forming two parallel lines or a big circle, with people dancing aboard and swimming in the middle. Carousels of social-media posts chronicle the lavish destinations.

Partygoers include travelers ranging from 21 to roughly 40 years old, the company said, and the M.B.A. crowd is a staple of Day 8’s customer base. The first business-school students were from HBS, said Day 8 marketing and sales director Nik Valentine, followed by other candidates at schools such as Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The number of M.B.A.-dedicated yachts expanded from 12 in 2019 to 95 in 2021, according to Day 8 estimates, as students scratched their travel itch following a period of pandemic lockdowns. That included 40 yachts booked just by Wharton students, according to Day 8.

This year there were 42 M.B.A. boats carrying roughly 500 people, according to the company. HBS students alone booked 28 yachts that took part in the festivities, according to Day 8, up from 20 in 2021. Photos posted to Instagram last month showed some Yacht Week attendees in matching white hats with the HBS crest and a sailboat. Students from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Tuck came aboard, too, according to Day 8.

Schools don’t sanction nor organize these trips, according to spokeswomen from the Graduate School of Business, Kellogg, Fuqua and spokesmen from Tuck, Wharton, and HBS. A HBS spokesman added that “the pursuit of a graduate degree and the building of the M.B.A. class community should begin in the classroom."

Day 8 said it views M.B.A.s as a source of strategic growth for the company. It reassigned an employee to support M.B.A. groups and is considering adding business school-specific networking events for some of its tours, Mr. Valentine said.

Students say planning for Yacht Week kicks off as applicants are accepted to business school in the first few months of each calendar year, with some turning to Slack or What’s App to organize their summer travels. Some also plan boats with friends for between their first and second years of business school. On Facebook and on Day 8’s website, students seek fellow “crew" members with whom to set sail.

“7 Wharton MBAs looking for 3 more to fill out boat!" read one listing on Day 8’s Yacht Week’s website, advertising that the sailor-students were from New York City, South Africa, Hong Kong, Tokyo and San Francisco and worked in finance, real estate, consulting and social impact.

One person who set sail this summer was Hanah Bae, a 30-year-old student at Tuck who traveled with classmates. During one of her days in Croatia, a group of “Tuckies" who graduated in 2011 pulled up next to Ms. Bae’s yacht; they saw the students’ school flag from their chartered boat and came over to say hello, according to Ms. Bae. The students, she said, were impressed by the boat; the alums assured them that in a decade, Ms. Bae and her fellow classmates would also be able to afford a private charter.

“The girlfriends I went with on the trip, maybe we’ll become co-founders one day," she said. “I know we’ll be successful no matter what."

For Shankar Mundluru, a recent Wharton graduate, Yacht Week helped him come up with a business idea following his first year in business school. The day after a huge party, he said, many fellow students were hung over and Dr. Mundluru, who earned his medical degree before business school, explained to his fellow travelers the benefits IV infusions can have after a night of overindulging.

During the rest of that 2021 trip, he brainstormed ideas for a concierge service that could provide that type of resuscitation after a rough night, including cosmetic treatments.

“I never thought I would really do that," he said, but his fellow travelers “sort of pushed me."

Now, it is a business. Skin Kare Magic, an on-call IV treatment service, plans to begin operations this winter. His M.B.A. buddies from Yacht Week signed up for the online wait list, he said.

Entrepreneur Drew Himel said he made a memorable connection in Croatia after deciding to set sail as part of the festivities in 2015. His boat tied up next to a boat that he said had great music, and on it was Jordan Vaughn, who was celebrating his 30th birthday and was the Democratic National Committee’s African American Leadership Council finance director at the time.

In such a setting, Mr. Himel said, “people are a lot more open to connecting and having conversations." Mr. Vaughn said the two socialized regularly the rest of the week.

Mr. Himel later introduced Mr. Vaughn to the Summit Series, an invite-only, multiday confab that brings together authors, philanthropists and business leaders for talks and workshops. Mr. Vaughn asked Mr. Himel to come to the White House Christmas party. They remain friends.

Mr. Wright and Ms. Singh have also stayed in touch since their impromptu get together this summer, when Mr. Wright boarded Ms. Singh’s boat after a party. Mr. Wright, 29 years old, recommended that Ms. Singh connect with her Harvard career adviser before the semester began. Ms. Singh, who is also 29, floated ideas for a potential startup from Mr. Wright that would aim to improve employee retention and manage burnout.

They had dinner once they both got to campus last month. Mr. Wright says he has also stayed in touch with other Yacht Week alums from Harvard and the Stanford Graduate School of Business who were in Croatia, too.

Ms. Singh took Mr. Wright’s recommendation and emailed her career adviser while on the trip, who recommended she start networking early, she said. Back ashore, when classmates organized Labor Day plans, she says, people who met in Croatia booked an Airbnb together in Cape Cod.

“This is why I wanted to go to school," she says. “I wanted to network."


This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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