Networking: It’s Too Late to Get to Know a Fortune 500 CEO

It’s too late to buy Google stock. You’re not going to make much money buying it at its current high price.

I think the same attitude should apply when trying to meet new people. If you’re a relative no-name trying to build a network it’s too late to reach out to Mark Zuckerberg to talk about entrepreneurship. He’s too busy, too high profile. If you’re an aspiring writer and want to meet other writers, you can’t reach out to an author after he’s become a New York Times bestseller. Either you won’t reach him, or if you do, he’ll assume you have an agenda or want something from him.

Better, in my view, if your goal is to develop long-term relationships with interesting people, to focus on those whose “stock prices” are low but long-term potential high.

Compared to the already rich and famous, no-names can be less egotistic and often more insightful. Plus the value flows bi-directionally (you can help each other).

How to find a hidden gem? Hints from my post on de-emphasizing popular filters: seek out introverts. Seek out people under age 30. Seek out people who are bad at marketing.

Recognize and discount the celebrity effect. Spend time with people who also have time to spend with you. My bet is you’ll have a more rewarding relationship.

Bottom Line: The only reason to try to meet with Mr. Busy and Rich for 10 minutes is if you have a very specific request or need. If you’re just trying to “network” or build a relationship, don’t waste your time.

15 comments on “Networking: It’s Too Late to Get to Know a Fortune 500 CEO
  • total agree, I always doubt those bigwigs would really consider to make friend with a stranger. Its like to a rich old man, every single girl looks like gold-digger.

  • Totally great point Ben.

    I think once people get to that high up position…the only real way to get to know them is by getting a personal introduction from a friend that you know.

  • there are many, let’s say, middle-aged people who feel that whatever they do is rocket science; what could someone younger possibly know? but other than rocket science or heart surgery (an exaggeration) there are lots of things that younger people know partially because they’re not encumbered with status quo. i have always embraced younger, up and coming people; i learn from them and they from me; they are more open and more appreciative. regardless of whether i think they’re going to be ‘stars’ if i like them i want to be friends or at least good acquaintances with them. but, in it’s most basic sense, networking is changing due to the ease of online communities. however, i believe there is still no substitute for face2face encounters; the interaction completes the transaction. the future is in those who are not too big to see it.

  • I think it’s never too late, provided you don’t let yourself be awed into dumbstruck silence.

    I’ve met many of the richest and most powerful people in the world, and even got to know a few of them, but the key, I think, was treating them like anyone else, rather than as an asset to be cultivated.

  • I guess I’m a bit ballsy,* but I’ve met — and had wonderful conversations with — Larry Page (the cofounder of Google) and James McDivitt (the astronaut). Can’t say that I had an agenda with either one, and that’s important. VIPs like to enjoy themselves just like the rest of us, and what better way to do so than with conversation?

    *Fellas, before you start wondering what a gal is doing talking about being ballsy, let me remind you of something. Being ballsy isn’t about anatomy, it’s about having a gutsy, “of course I can do this” attitude.

  • Ha. I really like this idea: comparing relationships to the stock market. Great analogy.

    The sims analogy is useful too. It’s kind of hard to explain if you’ve never played before but basically every relationship as a point total and it goes down two points everyday you don’t see each other. And while you are conversing there are constantly little pluses and minuses going off above people’s heads depending on how you feel about what they just did/said.

    In terms of my personal experience in networking with ‘relative’ big wigs – I think my young age has opened doors as I have often been the youngest in the crowd and there’s an intrigue factor.

    Also, I have found out from a few of the people who I’ve developed longer term relationships with that they “have seen a bit of themselves in me.” Interesting.

  • Ben:

    “It’s Too Late to Get to Know a Fortune 500 CEO”. This is true with several serendipitous exceptions.

    … except when he/ she plays golf at the same club as you do. (Know your communities)

    … except when his wife’s hairdresser is the same as your wife’s (Although I cannot think of who might be a confidant of a similar kind for men, but know your service providers).

    … except if you have great mentors who happen to know that chap and are secure enough to introduce you two at a dinner party at their house. (Know the people you know and whom they know)

    … except if you are truly impressive in person (or what Brogan calls ‘be sexier in person’) in which case, you make more out of an opportunity to meet in person – however you are presented with that opportunity – than others might.

    In fact, adding to what Max says above, my being relatively younger in crowds, my being female in an all-male crowd, and sometimes my being the only non-white female all work in my favour. I imagine your being a tall, handsome, young man works in your favour too.

    It is also useful to surprise people in a nice way. If one has broad interests (mine cover F1, rugby, stock markets, national and international politics to fashion, food, technology and business), conversations do not seem strained and it is easier to relate as humans. You don’t need elevator pitches if you aren’t in an elevator but at a dinner party! Interacting as humans is the most important requirement even when one is dying to ‘cultivate’ such acquaintances. Some of the most ‘important’ people I know are also those with whom I enjoy a comfortable relationship and I learn a lot from them in every email, phone call and face-to-face meetings.

    Also the same people aren’t interesting/ inspiring etc to every one. Good, isn’t it? Allows each one of us to pick our own heroes to build long-term relationships with.

    Good post.

  • Ben – good insight and very true. What I’ve found (and you will also no doubt find as you age past your college years) is that many of the people you already know (from high school and the people you’re meeting at Univ) are people that are soon-to-be movers and shakers (that you may have underestimated). You may be surprised to find out at your H.S. 10 year reunion who soared and who went no where. Right before my 10 year, I found out that a friend of mine that I had lost touch with was already a well-known economist and a regular speaker at TED. Not everyone gets going as early as 14! Some people don’t even start really kicking ass until they’re well out of college. Maybe this post needs a follow-up titled “Maintain Your Networks: You May Already Know a Future Fortune 500 CEO.”

  • I agree with Steffan and back his suggestion for the choice of his title and need for that follow up post.

    Spotting a fortune 500 CEO material early is easier said – as easy as finding future multibaggers in the stock market. Most probably one would err and end up tracking the wrong guy since genius don’t necessarily signal that early.

    IMHO it’s easier to make the best use of cyclicalities – get upclose with him when his chips are down by say, a factor of Ten. Catch him while he figures in fortune 5000 ; chances are you could find him a lot more amiable being sufficiently weather beaten, wisened by experience and with his ego well fogged up.

    To draw your analogy, it isn’t easy for most to zero in on `THE’ future multibagger, but it makes sense to buy a few stocks that came down because of thaw in general market sentiment than because of its flawed models.

    Don’t buy Google now, buy up Merril Lynch now that it’s under BoFA wings and two of its strong competitors have already bitten the dust 😉

  • Good call Steffan.

    But wouldn’t that mean I would have to be nice to everyone?!?

    It’s like that story where the messiah is said to be someone in a large group but nobody knows who it is, and it could be anybody. I think it ends up nobody is actually the messiah but by the time they find that out they are all care for each other very deeply.

    Although chances are, you know maybe only one future Fortune 500 CEO, but if you treat everybody like they will become one good things will happen.

    Also reminds me of one Nassim Taleb’s tips, which I think Ben did I post on previously – Taleb said, “answer email from the small people first. They have farther to go”. This is an example of exposing yourself to positive black swans.

  • @Max – It’s not about being nice to everyone. It’s about maintaining good relationships with people you already know, and respect. You’ve already filtered those people for quality.

  • Hey Ben,

    Did you see the Ferguson article in HBR? It discusses at length cultivating players from a very young age and growing them inside the club instead of shelling out millions of existing top-notch players. Made me think of this post, in a way, it’s a cliche, but you have to spot these things before other people do, because you’re too late to the game otherwise. 😉

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