By Emily Gold Boutilier

“I know that internships and jobs are drying up in some of the more traditional fields,” acknowledged Rhamey Elhosseiny ’10 at the start of this year’s Business Leadership Seminar. He was speaking to 60 students—eventual job-seekers all—in Stirn Auditorium in late January.

Elhosseiny is executive director of the Pre-Business Group, the student organization that runs the seminar, and, opening line aside, he is not at all gloom-and-doom. In fact, just before a talk on “demystifying the investment bank” by Philip Gorth ’04 (who’s now at a private equity firm), Elhosseiny offered a pep talk to the students—“We’re young, we’re geographically mobile, and we’re cheap!”—and rattled off a list of businesses that got their starts during a recession: General Electric, FedEx, CNN, Trader Joe’s.

The Business Leadership Seminar began in 2003 and, in recent years, has focused mostly on how to get jobs and internships in investment banking and consulting. But this year, Elhosseiny says, “I wanted to expand our notion of business,” in part because of the economic reality but also because “our generation is very entrepreneurial.” This year’s seminar included a power lunch with Mike Jordan ’83, creative director at the advertising firm Gotham. Ken Natori ’98 at the Natori Co. gave a talk on operating a fashion business. Paul Wolansky ’78, chairman and CEO of New China Management Corp., spoke on investing in private equity in China. “Opportunity always comes from inefficiency,” Wolansky said.

The Pre-Business Group began to feel the effects of the bear market well over a year ago, when several speakers on the 2008 seminar lineup cancelled at the last minute, says Michael Guttilla ’09, who organized that year’s seminar with Justin Holtzman ’09. For this year’s program, Holtzman helped to recruit speakers, working from a list of business e-mail addresses the group had on file. The news was grim: “We’d send e-mail,” he says. “It would bounce back.”

Still, Elhosseiny takes the long view. “The low-hanging fruit of a bull market isn’t there anymore,” he says. “But there’s no technology that can displace the skills you’ve learned.”