Networking: The Gift Of A Gift…

I smiled as I thought about my first book of short stories for The-Gift-Tree. Why not start, I thought, with a story about networking and the gift of a gift? And that’s what made me smile! Indeed, why not?

Once upon a time…

T’was on a wintry New York afternoon almost 30 years ago. That was when I received the networking advice that would open so many doors for me. This advice would later help me realize some of my dreams. This was the advice I now want to share…

Not only did it also help me launch my first law firm, it would later give birth to this program. Did I then have any idea the difference this would make in my life? No, I had no idea. And I still don’t…

Succeeding in business – Richard Branson

About our plan and strategy…

The 30-year-old advice came as I was about to launch an international business law firm with a colleague. We were both business lawyers. We’d both lived and worked overseas before being admitted to the California Bar. So, this seemed like a moderately good idea.

Our grand launch plan was inspired:

It was shaped by long nights of heavy drinking and serious womanizing. The drinking was to inspire us to approach any gorgeous woman who was drinking nearby. The serious womanizing was to inspire us to launch our new firm and to encourage us to leave town quickly…

Our strategy was similarly inspired:

Prior to putting up our new shingle, we would  travel to our old overseas hunting grounds. The idea was to generate some excitement about our new firm. We would do that by exposing all to our undeniable charm and charisma.

At the time, we were convinced both our plan and strategy was truly brilliant.

Our self-delusion was off-the-charts. It had never occurred to us that, while our plan was fine, the strategy was clearly quite risky. Talk about youthful and quite unjustified optimism! Clearly, exposing anyone to our irresistible charm and charisma could have been the kiss of death for our new firm.

The offer…

Before we set off on our trip, a senior partner in prestigious New York-based international law firm called me. Someone had apparently said something nice about me. He called to offer his help that he thought might be valuable to us. I was intrigued. Without even the slightest hint of modesty or humility, this is what he offered—

“If you’re interested, perhaps we should meet. I have some advice that might help you. In fact, I promise it will be the best advice you will EVER receive. Certainly, it will help you launch your new firm. And, down the road, who knows, maybe we can help one another?”

Did I mention that I accepted his offer to meet in a heart-beat?

The meeting…

My colleague couldn’t make the meeting. Looking back, that might have been a portend of things to come. It turned out that our new professional marriage was not one made in heaven. I therefore attended the meeting alone.

I arrived early. I sat waiting in the quite swish waiting area high above Manhattan. I wondered how my new mentor could possibly deliver anything even close to what he’d promised.

A fantasy abruptly interrupted my thoughts. I imagined a totally gorgeous young administrative assistant with breathtaking curves walking towards me. She would swoop me off my feet as she escorted me into the great man’s corner office. Of course, she and I would later have a romantic dinner. Then we’d fall desperately in love and live happily ever after. Oh, did I mention she was an heiress and that we’d move to St Barthélemy (otherwise known as “St. Barts”) in the Caribbean? There I would spend the rest of my life as a beach bum spending her money and pampering her outrageously.

My fantasy was shattered as the great man strolled into the swish waiting area to introduce himself. With a broad grin, he shook my hand. He then gave me a warm hug as if we were already long-time buddies. I have to admit that this did make me squirm a little. If you don’t already know, I’m a South African. When it comes to hugging, we’re not known for being warm huggers of strangers of the same sexual persuasion. Its a national personality flaw I’ve grown to accept.

The advice…

After we had disentangled ourselves from the hug, he led me into his corner office. Of course, he offered me coffee, which I accepted eagerly —but not too eagerly. I wanted to appear cool, relaxed and not in awe of my host. In this, I know I failed quite miserably. As the coffee arrived, he started by offering me this “simple truth”

“Experience,” he started slowly, “has taught me that people like doing business with interesting people they like. And if they also have a sense of humor  so much the better. So, Michael, you gotta be likable and interestingand, hopefully, mildly amusing too. And you gotta make them think, Michael, that you’re interested in them too.”

This was followed by a pregnant pause that puzzled me a tad. Was he waiting for me to applaud, I wondered? Without any warning, he continued. I sighed with relief—again doing my very best to look cool… It seemed the long anticipated advice was finally coming…

Finally, about networking!

“Whenever you go and see someone,” he announced triumphantly, “always take a gift!”

Really? This was the gift he was offering me? Did I mention that I was underwhelmed? The idea of me traveling around the world with a bunch of expensive gifts slung over my shoulder was crazy. The confused expression on my face clearly betrayed me. As he read my mind, he erupted into laughter —

“No, Michael. What I’m talking about is a different kind of gift. Perhaps an interesting story or some new development in the law or business. Or even some gossip, or just a joke.”

He continued —

“But what’s really important—and I can’t emphasize this enough—is that it HAS to be something SIMPLE and INTERESTING. It simply has to be something that he or she will want TO SHARE.” 

He paused again before continuing—

“You see, its all about the SHARING. If you can give them something to share,” he continued, “they’ll always return your calls. They’ll always agree to see you again. Why? Because they’ll want another gift from you that they can share!”

He grinned again, obviously enjoying this. But there was more. This was the big payoff—

“So, over time, Michael,” he assured me, “these people will become your friends. And, as they become your friends, they’ll want to do business with you… Why? Because people like doing business with people they like and who are interesting. And, of course, you have to persuade them that you are interested in them too. And, trust me, if you are interesting and interested, they WILL then do business with you. They will. I promise..”

So that was it…

As I sat back, I digested  his message. I got it. I understood…


Looking back…

Looking back, what I didn’t realize until a lot later that he was a visionary. He had actually anticipated the upcoming social media revolution. He had understood the critical concept of the value of sharing. He had anticipated how people would come to treasure the idea of sharing material online. And that he did so long before the advent of that revolution later quite startled me.


So, gentle readers, this is my first gift to you: Always take a gift! May your quest to  bring your dreams to life be successful…

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