The Best Meeting Ever

My friend, “Bill”… he’s well connected.  He’s also great at connecting others.  A natural networker, he prides himself on introducing people to one another when he thinks that they have useful information to share.  Bill thought that I ought to meet his colleague, “Jim,” who was doing similar work as I was in 2003.  We tried, sort of half-heartedly, to do so, but Jim and I never met.

Fast forward to November 2007, when I made the decision to leave Sprint.  Apparently, Jim had come to a similar conclusion for himself and decided to pursue a new opportunity.  Once again, Bill told me that I ought to meet Jim.  I wasn’t quite ready.

Here’s the deal… for a variety of now unimportant reasons, I didn’t leave Sprint until July 2008.  I had limited my networking until that time to a few trusted people who I already knew and could confide in.  So, finally, in August, I reached out to Jim.

My note to him looked remarkably similar to the email template that I shared with you in my post on Friday, November 4th, “Ask for the Meeting.”  In the subject line it read, “Introduction from Bill.”  Jim and I exchanged a few emails and finally agreed to meet at Starbucks on September 16th – a day that changed everything for me!

I met Jim at 8:30am – turns out he needed to get back to the office for something by 9:30am so we only had about 30 minutes to spend together.  We got right down to business. 

Jim shared a bit about his background; I shared mine.  He asked me several good questions about my interests and aspirations.  Then he started rattling off names of people with whom I should connect faster than I could even write them down – he told me not to bother, that he would follow up with me quickly with their names and contact details.  He wasn’t kidding.

By the time I got back to my house about 30 minutes later, I had an email waiting for me.  The message said only, “It was a pleasure to meet with you this morning and learn more about what type of opportunities you are interested in pursuing. Attached are some of the contacts we discussed. Please call me at your convenience and I can give you more info. Good luck;” attached were eight digital business cards.

I’m no fool… I picked up the phone right away and called.  Jim answered and proceeded to share tidbits about each contact with me – information that was not in the business cards.  He told me specifically why he thought that each individual might make a worthwhile connection for me.  I started reaching out immediately.

Of the eight, six quickly responded to me and agreed to have meetings.  Here’s what I got from those six – I hope that you will glean from each of the short stories that follow lessons that may applicable to your own networking quest:

  1. “Paul.”  A venture capitalist doing deals across the country, Paul and I had a fruitful email exchange.  He asked me for my resume which he shared with some of his contacts.  He also asked me an awesome question that I think everyone should ask themselves – especially when they are transitioning their careers:  “What would you love to do and in what capacity?”
     
  2. “Matt.”  Another VC guy, turns out that Matt and I have several other contacts in common and we hit it off right away.  His areas of expertise are life sciences and animal health – he told me about companies in the Kansas City area that were growing and potentially in need of leadership.
     
  3. “Mary.”  Mary is a financial expert – a CFO type.  We met for lunch and became fast friends.  Over the next year or so, we crossed paths many more times and were able to share information with one another that was mutually useful.
     
  4. “Pete.”  Pete is a property developer who graciously took me to lunch.  A long-time Kansas Citian himself, we spent time sharing our individual histories and telling one another about our families.  His kindly nature, advocacy and generous advice gave me inspiration and encouragement.  As I went on to start my own consulting company, he became an important resource to me and served as a subject matter expert on topics related to commercial real estate that I would not otherwise have had ready access to.
     
  5. “Janet.”  Janet is a successful banking executive and entrepreneur.  Over breakfast one morning at the Classic Cup, Janet and I had one of the most candid, most useful conversations that I had during my career transition.  She patiently listened to my story, asked insightful questions about my interests and gave thoughtful, relevant input on the pros and drawbacks to my plan – not to discourage me, but to provide me with a reality/sanity check so that I would go into my next gig with eyes wide open.  I remain grateful to her.  She remains an important and trusted friend.
     
  6. “Tammy.”  Ah, and then there was Tammy.  I remember the date and time perfectly.  I met Tammy for Coffee on the Plaza at a little coffee shop near her office.  It was Halloween morning.  We briefly shared introductions, talked about our kids’ intended costumes for the holiday and quickly began a professional information exchange.  She told me that she was a rep for a major commercial insurance firm and that her client base consisted mostly of construction firms.  She wondered who I wanted to meet in the industry.  I told her that I knew little to nothing about construction or its related industries, but that I had heard about one firm where the culture matched my values and would like to meet someone there.  She said, “Perfect.  I’m taking the CFO to the Chiefs game on Sunday – I’ll ask him if there is anything going on there for which you would be a fit.”  Not knowing whether I would hear from her again, imagine my delight when, on Sunday night, Tammy emailed to say that “John,” the CFO, expected my call on Monday.  Turns out that John is “Ellie’s” husband… Ellie is my friend from Sprint who hosted a baby shower for me in 2003… though we hadn’t been in touch in some time, Ellie and John were still on my holiday card list!  I called John… he wanted me to meet his colleague “Kate”… I met Kate and another colleague “Samantha,” head of HR… I interviewed for a position that I wasn’t right for and that wasn’t right for me… we parted the closest of friends… six weeks later, Samantha called to ask if I could come back to meet with the owners of the company… a month later I had a major six month consulting assignment for which I reported directly to the owners of a company whose value set matched mine… an assignment that would be extended another two months… an assignment that would lead me to my current assignment… a serious game changer.

Phew! Thanks for sticking with me through that.  Note – all of the people mentioned are real people, but their names have been changed to provide them with some measure of privacy (and to protect the innocent!?), though some of you may readily see through their assigned pseudonyms!  I recognize that this post is getting long, so I will try to wrap it up with a summary of lessons learned:

  • Ask for the meeting
  • At the meeting, ask for referrals to other potential networking contacts
  • Don’t wait!  Reach out to those potential contacts – ask for the meeting – I could have been learning from and networking with others a lot more quickly if I had acted on Bill’s first urging to meet Jim
  • You never know where the meeting might take you immediately or on down the road

Tomorrow:  The dark (roasted) side of Coffee-Lunch-Coffee and why it doesn’t work for everyone…

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