Never Eat Alone

This latest post in my Books category is an excerpt from Keith Ferazzi’s book Never Eat Alone. As the title implies, Ferazzi’s book is about networking. He lives and dies by the age-old saying “It’s not what you know – it’s who you know.”

The book was not anything special, but I did enjoy reading it. I do believe Ferazzi’s principles could be applied with great success – if you’re a naturally outgoing person. If you aren’t, you’ll find his suggestions cumbersome, time-consuming, and monotonous. Enjoy the excerpt!

“How on earth did I get in here?” I kept asking myself in those early days as an overwhelmed first-year student at Harvard Business School.

There wasn’t a single accounting or finance class in my background. Looking around me, I saw ruthlessly focused young men and women who had undergraduate degrees in business. They’d gone on to crunch numbers or analyze spreadsheets in the finest firms on Wall Street. Most were from wealthy families, and had pedigrees and legacies and Roman numerals in their names. Sure, I was intimidated.

How was a guy like me from a working class family, a liberal arts degree, and a couple years at a traditional manufacturing company going to compete with purebreds from McKinsey and Goldman Sachs who, from my perspective, seemed as if they’d been computing business data in their cribs?…

Hard work, I reassured myself, was one of the ways I’d beaten the odds and gotten into Harvard Business School. But there was something else that separated me from the rest of my class, and gave me an advantage. I seemed to have learned something long before I arrived in Cambridge that it seemed many of my peers did not.

As a kid, I caddied at the local country club for the homeowners and children living in the wealthy town next to mine. It made me think often and hard about those who succeed and those who don’t…

During those long stretches on the links, as I carried their bags, I watched how the people who had reached professional heights unknown to my father and mother helped each other. They found each other jobs, they invested time and money in each other’s ideas and they made sure their kids got help getting into the best schools, got the right internships, and ultimately the best jobs.

Before my eyes I saw proof that success breeds success and, indeed, the rich do get richer. Their web of friends and associates was the most potent club the people I caddied for had in their bag. Poverty, I realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people that could help you make more of yourself.

I came to believe that in some very specific ways life, like golf, is a game, and that the people who know the rules, and know them well, play it best and succeed. And the rule in life that has unprecedented power is that the individual who knows the right people, for the right reasons, and utilizes the power of these relationships, can become a member of the “club,” whether they started out as a caddy or not…

I came to realize that first semester at business school that Harvard’s hyper-competitive, individualistic students had it all wrong. Success in any field, but especially in business, is about working with people, not against them. No tabulation of dollars and cents can account for one immutable fact: business is a human enterprise, driven and determined by people.

It wasn’t too far into my second semester before I started jokingly reassuring myself, “How on earth did all these other people get in here?”

What many of my fellow students lacked, I discovered, were the skills and strategies that are associated with fostering and building relationships. In America, and especially in business, we’re brought up to cherish John Wayne individualism. People who consciously court others to become involved in their lives are seen as schmoozers, brownnosers, smarmy sycophants…

Over time, I came to see reaching out to people as a way to make a difference in people’s lives, as well as a way to explore and learn and enrich my own; it became the conscious construction of my life’s path… I didn’t think of it as cold and impersonal, the way I thought of “networking.” I was, instead, connecting – sharing my knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, and empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide value to others, while coincidentally increasing my own. Like business itself, being a connector is not about managing transactions, but of managing relationships…

I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more than you get. And I came to believe that there were a litany of tough-minded principles that made this soft-hearted philosophy possible.

These principles would ultimately help me achieve things I didn’t think I was capable of. They would lead me to opportunities otherwise hidden to a person of my upbringing and they’d come to my aid when I failed, as we all do on occasion. That aid was never in more dire need than during my first job out of business school at Deloitte & Touche Consulting.

By conventional standards, I was an awful consultant. Put me in front of a spreadsheet and my eyes glazed over. Which is what happened when I found myself on my first project, huddled in a cramped windowless room in the middle of suburbia, files stretching from floor to ceiling, pouring over a sea of data with a few other first-year consultants. I tried; I really did. But I just couldn’t. I was convinced boredom that bad was lethal.

No rookie consultant in the history of Deloitte consulting has ever come closer to getting fired as quickly as I did. Luckily, I had already applied some of the very rules of networking that I was still in the process of learning. In my spare time, when I wasn’t painfully attempting to analyze some opportunity/cost worksheet, I reached out to ex-classmates, professors, old bosses, and anyone who might stand to benefit from a relationship with Deloitte. I spent my weekends giving speeches at small conferences around the country on a variety of subjects I had learned at Harvard in an attempt to drum up both business and buzz for my new company. I had mentors throughout the organization, including the CEO, Pat Laconto. Still, my first annual review was devastating. I received low marks for not doing what I was asked to do with the gusto and focus that was expected of me. Embarrassed, I offered to quit. But my supervisors, with whom I had already developed relationships and who were aware of all my extracurricular activities, rejected my resignation. Instead, together we cooked up a job description that previously did not exist at the company.

My mentors gave me a $150,000 expense account to do what I had already been doing: developing business, representing the firm with speaking engagements, and reaching out to the press and business world in ways that would strengthen Deloitte’s presence in the marketplace. My supervisors’ belief in me paid off. Within a year, the company’s brand recognition moved from bottom of the consulting pack to the top of the industry, achieving a growth rate the company had never known (though, of course, it wasn’t all my doing). I went on to become the company’s chief marketing officer and the youngest person ever elected partner. And I was having a blast – the work was fun, exciting, interesting. Everything you could want in a job.

While my career was in full throttle, in some ways it all seemed like a lucky accident. In fact, for many years, I couldn’t fully explain my professional trajectory to anyone – a crazy quilt of jobs including five companies in a little over ten years. It’s only today, looking in the rearview mirror, that it makes enormous sense.

From Deloitte, I became the youngest Chief Marketing Officer in the Fortune 500 at Starwood Hotel & Resorts, then CEO of a Michael Milken-funded video game company, and now, founder of my own company, Ferrazzi Greenlight, a sales and marketing company that serves as consultant to scores of major organizations and as an advisor to CEOs across the world. I zigged and zagged my way to the top. Every time I contemplated a move or needed advice, I turned to the circle of friends I had built around me. That building these relationships was proving profitable for me and the organizations I worked for seemed, at least in the early years, almost surreal. When Crain’s magazine listed me as one of the 40 top business leaders under 40 or The World Economic Forum labeled me as a “Global Leader of Tomorrow,” I tried at first to draw attention away from my people skills for fear that they were somehow inferior to other more “respectable” business abilities. But as I got older, everyone from well-known CEOs and politicians to college kids and my own employees came to me asking for advice on how to do those things I had always loved doing. Senator Hillary Clinton asked me to use my connecting skills to raise money for her favorite non-proft, Save America’s Treasures. Fellow executives asked if I could help them throw intimate dinner parties for their lead contacts and prospects. MBA students sent Emails hungry to learn the people skills their business schools weren’t teaching them. Soon I was giving formal training courses at the most prestigious MBA programs in America…

NEVER EAT ALONE outlines the secrets behind the success of so many accomplished people; they are secrets that are rarely recognized by business schools, career counselors, and therapists. By incorporating the ideas I discuss in this book, you too can become the center of a circle of relationships, one that will help you succeed throughout life. Of course, I’m a bit of a fanatic in my efforts to connect with others. I do the things I’m going to teach you with a certain degree of, well, exuberance. But by simply reaching out to others, and recognizing that no one does it alone, I believe you’ll see astounding results, quickly.

Everyone has the capacity to be a connector. After all, if a country kid from Pennsylvania can make it into the “club”, so can you.

See you there.

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