In Market Slump, Courtney Pulitzer Kicks Things Up

Socialite and Silicon Alley networking princess Courtney Pulitzer–of the Pulitzers–was propped on her elbow against a ledge overlooking Cooper Square on a recent Thursday night, the wind tousling her long, curly blond hair, a camera’s light shining into her eyes. She was on the roof of the Carl Fischer Building, being photographed for Crain’s New York Business .

After seven years in the Internet industry, Ms. Pulitzer, who started Cocktails with Courtney, which organizes monthly tech and Web-industry networking cocktail parties, was getting the star treatment. But it was coming at a peculiar moment in her career: The events’ purpose–to lubricate a roomful of well-placed professionals, generating unions between gleeful employers and employees–was strikingly anachronistic.

This particular Cocktails with Courtney, in fact, more than the ones that came before it, only underscored the disconnect: It was held in a recently finished apartment in the Carl Fischer Building that was still dusted over with sheetrock chalk, and which left the backsides of the unwary women guests in their black sheath dresses powdery white.

The venue had been arranged through the P.R. firm Rubenstein Public Relations, ostensibly to drum up interest in the luxury condos. The building had been bought and the plans drawn up at the height of the Internet boom, when it seemed there was no end to the riches that lucky young dot-commers could make–and spend.

The condos, which come with built-in high-speed Internet connections, are located in a hot pocket of downtown growth. But sales could be livelier. And the managing agent was hoping that some of the more than 100 people who had paid $25 to sip drinks at Courtney’s all-gin bar (Bombay Sapphire) might still have at least $1 million–or maybe as much as $9 million–to splurge on a luxury address.

They were hoping that the allure of Courtney Pulitzer would draw the kinds of crowds willing to look and then, perhaps, to buy.

It was hard to tell who was there. “Like Noah’s Ark, it’s sort of two of everything that makes the world go round,” Ms. Pulitzer said. “C.X.O.’s and V.C.’s,” she added.

Drinks were served on the 10th floor, where the windows provide views of the East River and lower Manhattan. The mixed crowd of men and women, most of whom appeared to be in their 30′s, stood in small groups talking quietly or looked distractedly out the windows.

It was a far cry from last year’s bacchanals, with their Willy Wonka themes and elaborate, catered hors d’oeuvres, open bars and pumping music from a D.J. booth. But Ms. Pulitzer’s popularity with a certain crowd in the tech world is as unflagging as her own cheerful demeanor. When the photo shoot was over, an eager young woman with long dirty-blond hair introduced herself to Ms. Pulitzer. “We’ve met once before,” she said. “But first let me tell how great you look. I’ve been to your Web site and I’m always like, ‘God, she’s so glamorous!’” Ms. Pulitzer smiled graciously.

A few moments later, an older woman in a black dress with white trim stepped out onto the roof. “So this is where anyone who is anyone is located,” she said, and immediately walked over to Ms. Pulitzer.

Still, even Ms. Pulitzer may not be enough to draw and inspire the kind of party-goers willing to invest heavily in luxury in the middle of an economic bust. In the elevator on the way up, one woman sniffed to another: “I didn’t think there’d still be so much–construction, still.”

“This is not ‘raw.’ I’ve lived in ‘raw,’” her companion offered sympathetically.

A blonde in a long skirt and embroidered linen blouse had other concerns: “I was just laid off,” she said, speaking to an older man and puffing on a cigarette. “Alexander Ogilvy.”

Still, if anyone exudes positive thinking–the “can-do” attitude that was all the rage a little more than a year ago–it’s Ms. Pulitzer. With porcelain skin and wide, unflinching eyes, she was dressed in black strappy heels and a strapless purple-and-fuchsia flower-print dress cut a bit like a prom gown. Adorned with a necklace of giant pearls and big pearl-and-gold earrings, she could almost pass as a young cheerleader trying to rouse a dispirited crowd in the final minutes of a losing game.

“People were feeling down-in-the-mouth and glum about things; it was a traumatic spring,” said Ms. Pulitzer earnestly as the guests started to filter out into the balmy night. “But we are already seeing things pick up a little bit. I think people are going to try to enjoy the summer and then, in the fall, it will be like back to school.”

Indian Businessmen Ask: George W. Who?

Bill Clinton ventured down to Wall Street on June 12 and almost set off a riot. While the former President may be still very much persona non grata in the eyes of Wall Street’s top executives, Mr. Clinton remains as capable as ever of seeking out the small pockets of love. One of which was to be found in a swarming crowd of Indian-Americans who were waiting in line at the Regent Wall Street hotel to get their picture taken with their hero.

Many of them had driven in from New Jersey and paid from $1,000 to $25,000, and they wanted in return a memento for their scrapbooks. But the line was not moving, and tempers were flaring. The Secret Service, wary of the small mêlée in the making as the frustrated doctors and businessmen shouted, screamed and pushed for Mr. Clinton, had bolted the door shut–behind which the former President was still signing glossies. “They locked the door!” cried a voice in despair. “How could they!”

As the honorary chairman of the charity dinner, Mr. Clinton was there to do what he does best–feel people’s pain and lighten their wallets. The dinner at the Regent on Wall Street was held to support earthquake victims in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Looking suave in a black Nehru jacket, the ex-President showed up alone–save for a clutch of Secret Service watchers and a minder or two–and was marched proudly around the glittering Regent ballroom by the event chairman, Vikram Chatwal. He seemed to have lost a few pounds, and there was a warm, rosy glow to his face. For close to two hours, while Jose Feliciano crooned away onstage, Mr. Clinton worked the room, trailing a long conga line of clamoring, flashbulb-popping admirers, shaking hands with everyone. Doctors, bankers, Brazilian models–it didn’t really seem to matter who they were; there was time enough for all.

Toni Morrison may well have called Mr. Clinton the first African-American President, but at the Regent last week Mr. Clinton seemed very much the first Indian-American chief executive. Indians love Mr. Clinton for a number of reasons: because he was the first President to visit India in 22 years, and because he was instrumental in establishing the foundation after the Jan. 27 earthquake. He even spent 10 days in India in April, visiting the epicenter and consulting with aid officials. “He is such a great humanitarian,” said Sharadkumar Shah, a New Jersey doctor. “I just want to say thank you.”

Victor Menezes, Citigroup’s emerging-markets head and co-chairman of the foundation, pretty much summed up the view of the crowd when, in introducing Mr. Clinton, he said: “Please welcome the former President of the United States, who to this day remains the most powerful man in the world.” A long standing ovation followed.

Yes, this was the good stuff. So up he hopped to the microphone. The speech was short: some pleas for cash (the foundation aims to raise $50 million) and a dash of hyperbole–”What happens to India will be one of the three or four things that determines the course of the 21st century,” he said with some portent.

And that was that. The crowd stood and cheered again, and Mr. Clinton–not yet ready to call it a night–plunged right back into it.

–Landon Thomas Jr.

How to Find the Profit in Your M.A. or Ph.D.

The dot-com bust may have left thousands of young unemployed techies scrambling to file grad-school applications, but within the lonely corridors of New York academia, the talk right now is of going to work for The Man.

In a move that could almost seem anachronistic, given last year’s stock-market debacles, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has started offering free classes that aim to prepare its Ph.D.’s for the “changing job market” (read: a corporate job) and verse them in the ways of our global economy.

“Today, there is much more of an effort to place M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s in non-traditional jobs,” said Arts and Sciences dean Henry Pinkham of this new offering. “It used to be that the primary career path for a Ph.D. was to become a university professor; now there are many other things you can do. There are employers who are looking specifically for M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, and our job is to hook them up with them.”

Citing the example of an astrophysics alumna who jumped to Goldman Sachs in reaction to the isolation of academic life, Beatrice Terrien-Somerville, the associate dean for academic and student affairs who helped develop the course, said that the move was at the forefront of a national trend: to address graduate students’ desires to make a life for themselves outside the (cushy) confines of academia.

The concept, of course, is not new. Graduate students, whether they’ll admit to it or not, are sporadically nagged by a sneaking suspicion that life on the outside might have some perks. During those harsh weeks of Modern Language Association conferences (the equivalent of a corporate job fair), for instance, when the only career prospect for a seven-year Latin America scholar is teaching Spanish at Michigan State, Morgan Stanley probably doesn’t sound that bad. Now comes the chance to really toy with the idea and maybe become budding entrepreneurs.

“They’re very bright,” said B-school veteran Roger Mesznik, who teaches the class. “It doesn’t take that much reading newspapers to see that there are opportunities out there.”

The class, entitled “Business Basics: Opportunities, Requirements and Complexities,” was offered to all M.A.’s, M.Phil.’s and Ph.D.’s who are “interested in starting businesses,” “have the opportunity to develop new business ideas” or “face a decision about the health of start-up firms where they are considering employment.”

Ninety-four students enrolled–three-quarters of them Ph.D.’s–and they have been meeting twice a week for a little more than two hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. (The class will go on for six weeks.)

Of the class content, which deals with making investments, understanding the stock market and marketing ideas, Professor Mesznik said that it would also provide students with some background for such deceptively mundane subjects as taxes (“Some of them have no idea who collects it and why and how much it is,” he said) or employment packages.

“I’m helping them negotiate their ways as citizens,” he said. “Most of them will end up managing a 401(k) for themselves, most of them will be offered stock options, so I think citizenry is very important in that respect.”

Although this sounds more than ambitious, especially given the current state of the economy, Professor Mesznik believes that there is room for his scholars out there in the real world. “These people are very good ,” he said. “They’ll find a good job if they’re careful.” Asked to further comment on the student body, Mr. Mesznik would only say, “I think trying to put them all under one hat would do them a severe injustice. Our school system is not very good at providing the broader historical context of what we do. And given that the level of description in newspapers is appallingly low ….” After a little nudge, he added, “In my first class, I had to define the word ‘profit’ for some of them. But I find it good that they’re comfortable enough to say, ‘I’m not sure I know what that means .’”

–Elisabeth Franck