Fresh out of college, you sit down for your first business lunch amid a whirl of colleagues, clients, plates, silverware, glasses, and napkins. Quick! "Seize the moment," advises Jesse Vickey. Grab that napkin and plant it in your lap--before you end up the odd man out with "an origami swan staring at you."
Vickey is the president of Cap & Compass, a company dedicated to giving college seniors and recent graduates the lowdown on what life demands--1040 forms, apartment leases, dinner etiquette--but professors don't.
Founded in 2000 by Vickey and his wife, Nicole Kelly Vickey '97 (now the director of the coastal program for the Nature Conservancy of Alabama), Cap & Compass is the product of his long-standing ambition to run his own business.
The company's unusual offerings were inspired by a series of gaffes by recent college graduates that he witnessed while working on Wall Street during his first two years out of Duke. Some of the nearly fifty seminars offered every year are "Avoid Looking Stupid at Dinner," "Love Your Money," "Getting Your Apartment," and "W4401kHMO: Translating Day 1 at Work," which had its debut at Duke in the fall of 2000.
" We are trying to play the role of a big brother or big sister," Vickey explains. "Just laying down these things for you in a simple way can save you an awful lot of time and frustration."
The biggest pitfall for recent graduates is trying too hard to stand out, Vickey says. Human-resources representatives report that they often see new hires working to impress, when they should be working to fit in.
Managing money is another challenge, Vickey says. In the seminars, "we've had a couple of situations where someone would raise a hand and say, 'What do I do? I've got $20,000 of credit-card debt.' And a number of people in the audience roll their eyes and say, 'Oh, girl, you've got problems.' And she would say, 'But I've got a lot of student loans on top of that.' "
Cap & Compass has no silver bullet for attacking monstrous amounts of personal debt, but Vickey is confident that his experience selling investments for the Swiss Bank Corporation gives him the ability to explain basic finances in language students will understand. For college-age audiences, delivery is key, and a little entertainment goes a long way in drawing good audiences. Vickey's sole employee is Andy Ferguson, an amateur stand-up comedian and former elementary-school teacher who tells jokes and leads audience members through skits like "The Apartment Dating Game," as well as sharing useful information.
Humor also helps enliven the pages of life after school. explained., a how-to book written by Vickey that includes much of the information provided through the seminars. The comic strip "Mitch in Wonderland," created by classmate Matt Gidney '97 when he was an undergraduate and updated to reflect post-graduate life, introduces each of the book's chapters.
The book sells well, and Vickey is continually thinking of new seminars to add to the mix. A session on budgeting is on the way, but he says he plans to avoid "soft" topics like office politics and dating. The company recently launched "starter-kit" websites with city-specific information on utilities, apartments, voter registration, and more for students headed to major metro areas.
Gradual growth is the goal for Vickey, who doesn't have an exit strategy or long-range business plan--and doesn't feel he needs one. "I honestly love the job," he says. "So, as long as I continue to really enjoy myself, I think I'll just keep doing it."
Besides, if he stopped, who would come to the rescue of each year's throng of fresh graduates ready to pick up a wine list and rhyme "Merlot" with "forgot"?
--Todd '98 is a freelance writer who lives in Chapel Hill.