homepage_name! > Editions > Number 109 > Business thought - Keith Ferazzi

Never eat alone

Keith Ferrazzi is the author of the bestsellers, Who’s Got Your Back and Never Eat Alone. Ferrazzi has been written about in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Fast Company. He was the youngest person to make partner and hold the position of Chief Marketing Officer at Deloitte Consulting, where he raised Deloitte’s brand recognition from its lowest to a primary position, spurring the highest growth rate in the industry.

Keith Ferrazzi has a lot of leadership experience under his belt.

The CEO of training and consulting company Ferrazzi Greenlight was previously the CEO of YaYa Media, and the CMO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts and of Deloitte Consulting. He's also the author of business classic "Never Eat Alone," and in it, he writes that a conversation with a career coach years ago shaped his approach to leadership for the rest of his career.

"If you knew me as a younger man, you may not have liked me," he writes. "I'm not sure I liked myself that much. I made all the classic mistakes of youth and insecurity. I was pretty much out for myself. I wore my unquenchable ambition on my sleeve, befriending those above me and ignoring my peers."

When Ferrazzi became responsible for marketing at Deloitte in 1990, he started hitting resistance among his team as he tried to execute his ideas and plans. For help, he turned to executive coach Nancy Badore. In their first meeting at his office, he "blurted out" the question that had been burning within him: "What do I need to do to become a great leader?"

Badore "looked around my office for a few moments and said nothing." Then, Ferrazzi writes, she answered:

"Keith, look at all the pictures on your wall. You talk about aspiring to become a great leader, and there's not one picture in your whole office of anybody but you: you with other famous people, you in famous places, you winning awards. There's not one picture in here of your team or of anything that might indicate what your team has accomplished that would lead anybody like me to know that you care for them as much as you care for yourself. Do you understand that it's your team's accomplishments, and what they do because of you, not for you, that will make your mark as a leader?"

Ferrazzi was "floored," he writes. "She was absolutely right."

"I realized then, that my long-term success depended on everyone around me," he writes. "That I worked for them, as much as they worked for me!"

Ferrazzi isn't shy about sharing his own slipups in the business world. Elsewhere in the book, he writes about a networking mistake he made as a Yale undergrad, when he spread the word a prominent alum had agreed to cofound a foundation with him — without confirmation from the donor himself. It was another lesson in valuing your connections at any level, not just those more powerful than you.

He writes: "Never let the prospect of a more powerful or famous acquaintance make you lose sight of the fact that the most valuable connections you have are those you've already made at all levels”

Keith Ferrazzi wrote "Never Eat Alone," a New York Times bestselling guide to professional networking.

Before Ferrazzi became the youngest CMO at Deloitte Consulting, he was a cocky Yale student with political ambition.

It was during this time that he learned how arrogance can destroy a professional network in an instant, and that prestige isn't more valuable than relationships.

As a sophomore, he ran against a classmate for New Haven city council. He describes himself at this time as wanting to rebel: Part of the appeal of running as a Republican was that it was in opposition to a largely Democratic student body, and one of the reasons he wanted to stand out from his classmates was because he was proud of his humble upbringing, in contrast to many of the ‘old money’ Yale students.

He lost the election, but National Review founder and leading conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr. read about the race and sent Ferrazzi a short note, telling him it was good to see "at least one Republican" at his alma mater, Yale, and that they should meet.

Ferrazzi and a few friends had dinner with Buckley and his wife at their New York home, and Ferrazzi was overjoyed. The conversation turned to how there were a number of conservative Yale alumni that were upset to see the school had become increasingly liberal, and this inspired Ferrazzi to pitch an idea: a foundation that collected money from conservative Yale alumni and funneled it into student organizations they approved of.

Buckley told Ferrazzi it was a fine idea and that he'd be happy to support it — "That is, at least, what I heard."

Ferrazzi returned to campus and made sure everyone knew he was the president of a foundation he had just cofounded with a prominent intellectual. He spent weeks calling alumni and namedropping Buckley in casual conversation.

It came to an abrupt end when an alumnus told Buckley he had just pledged a contribution to Buckely’s new foundation, and Buckley had no idea what he was talking about.

Ferrazzi had to tell all the contributors they would no longer have to fulfill their pledges, Buckley no longer returned his calls, and the friends he brought to the dinner did not corroborate the deal as he remembered it. The Yale college newspaper even ran a cartoon of Ferrazzi getting crushed by the names of celebrities. He was publicly embarrassed in front of people he admired, his friends, and his classmates.

He writes in "Never Eat Alone" that the painful experience taught him that making decisions without involving others in your team isn't leadership; that deals don't mean anything unless both sides are on the same page; and that word spreads quickly among influential people.

And, most importantly, "I learned that arrogance is a disease that can betray you into forgetting your real friends and why they're so important," he writes. "Help others up the mountain, along with you, and before you."

Ferrazzi writes that with that experience still on his mind, he makes it a habit to maintain the relationships that have brought him success at different points throughout his career.

"Never let the prospect of a more powerful or famous acquaintance make you lose sight of the fact that the most valuable connections you have are those you've already made at all levels," he writes.

Keith Ferrazzi knows how to network.

That's because he sees every event as a potential place to forge relationships. For instance, he writes of flying first class, "I can't tell you how many valuable clients and contacts I've met during a conversation struck up during an in-flight meal. (By the way, this is the only acceptable time to bother your seatmate.)"

In "Never Eat Alone," he explains that networking events tend to be better in theory than in practice. Actually, he says, most of them are "for the desperate and uninformed."

He continues:

"The average attendees are often unemployed and too quick to pass on their résumés to anyone with a free hand—usually the hand of someone else who is unemployed looking to pass on his résumé. Imagine a congregation of people with nothing in common except joblessness. That's not exactly a recipe for facilitating close bonds."

At a networking event, he writes, "People assume you're in the same boat they are — desperate. Credibility is hard to gain. If you're jobless, doesn't it make more sense to hang with the job givers than fellow job seekers?"

Contrast that with, for example, something that on the surface has little to do with networking: the first-class section of an airplane, where "there's an interesting camaraderie among those front seats that you won't find back in coach." That's because those who have shelled out for first class, in Ferrazzi's words, "assume you, too, are important, and they often seek to quench their curiosity about who you are and why you're as dumb as they are to pay such an inflated price."

Organic connections — like those created on a plane — are preferable to empty relationships made in the name of networking, but genuine connections forged through activities you care about are best, he writes. For instance, Ferrazzi takes an annual service trip to Guatemala with his family, during which he bonds with other people who care about the cause. A friend of his who runs a bank likes to meet new contacts between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. at the YMCA, because he knows they are just as invested in their pre-office workouts as he is.

Instead of blindly accepting invites to networking events and showing up with pockets full of business cards, make a list of activities you most enjoy, and "use them to engage new and old contacts," Ferrazzi writes. "If you love baseball, for example, take potential and current clients to a ball game, or invite them to join you in a fantasy league. It doesn't matter what you do, only that it's something you love doing."

As founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, Keith Ferrazzi transforms behaviors that block global organizations from reaching strategic goals into new habits that increase shareholder value. The firm’s Greenlight Research Institute has proven the correlation between practices that improve relationships and business success, particularly in sales performance and team effectiveness in an increasingly virtual world. Greenlight’s behavior engineering methodology for diagnosing and instilling the highest ROI behavior change is based on a decade of field engagements with iconic global organizations.


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