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Leader of the Month for September 2006:

Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi's Story

When asked to share his story, Keith Ferrazzi offers the following excerpt from his book Never Eat Alone, entitled, "Becoming a Member of the Club."

"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-profit, 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.

For the leadership he provides, the wisdom he shares, and his ability to connect with people to form relationships, Keith Ferrazzi is the Leader of the Month for September 2006.

About Keith Ferrazzi

Author and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight

Bio: born and raised near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; now resides in Los Angeles and New York

Favorite quote: “Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.” -Margaret Wheatley

Places in the world you would most like to visit: listen to audio of Keith's response by clicking here. leader audio

Dream: What I have are the ultimate goals and then I back into the 10 year goals, the 3 year goals, the 1 year goals, and then what am I doing in the next 60 days? I have seven dimensions of personal success that wrap up my dream. One of them is personal: I hope one day when I am passing out of this world that I'll be surrounded by whatever members of my family are still around. At the end of my life, I hope to have my grandchildren there with me and hope I will consider them to be some of my best friends. Professionally, my dream is to have made a global difference in bringing greater joy into the workplace through the relationships that we have both internal and external to our companies. From a wellness perspective, I have an audacious dream to be in better physical shape every year that I age. I believe that as I age that it is going to be possible (through different forms of exercise and different forms of diet) to figure out some way for the following year to be a healthier year than the previous year. Intellectually, my dream is to be acquainted with all of the great artists and writers--and when I say writers, I mean not just in my genre but poets, literary geniuses, scientists, and musicians. My dream is to know all of the people, the great geniuses, who are impacting our world. Then, to commit my life to helping them be successful. Part of that will obviously be being exposed to their genius and learning from them about what they do. Financially, my dream is to be able to live the lifestyle I have today without having to work. When I consider spirituality, I use a word that my business partner Mark Goulston uses: exhale. I want to be able to walk around this world helping other people exhale by being so grounded and balanced myself that I make other people comfortable in their own shoes and bring them down to earth. That is my goal in spirituality and I've got a lot of work to do on that one. My seventh dimension is what I call service or community. My dream is to make sure that someday there are no class dealings, that everybody has an equal right and opportunity to achieve success in the workplace. My dream is that everybody with talent, heart, desire and ambition has the capacity to not be blocked going up the ladder.

Favorite book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

The first time I read it was in college when Ray Gallo (my college roommate) came to me and basically said, "Keith, you're an a--h---. You have to read this book." So I did. It was like a bible to me in college. I'd read a chapter or two every night before going to bed, and I'd read them over and over. That book has done a lot to make me a better person.

The funny thing is that when I read it the first time, I thought, "Hey, this stuff sounds familiar." Turns out so many lessons my dad would teach me, things he'd say to me, coaching me through life, were just him quoting Dale Carnegie. But he never told me they were Carnegie's words. It's funny to me now, but honestly, it's not a big deal that I didn't know it was Dale Carnegie. I'd love it if kids today benefit from their parents quoting Never Eat Alone to them, even if the kids never know my name. It's the message that matters, not me.

Discuss leadership highlights from your life. From college: In college I discovered that I had a very entrepreneurial leadership style. I came to Yale and took a political party in the political union from the smallest party to the largest party, in a sense re-branding it. I decided to start my own fraternity (Sigma Chi). In the working world: When I graduated from business school, I started my own foundation in Chicago, the Lincoln Award for Business Excellence. When I was given the responsibility of big leadership in corporations I began realizing my own arrogance thanks to a coach by the name of Nancy Badore who put the mirror in front of me and asked me what kind of leader I wanted to be: Did I really want to be a hubristic, narcissistic leader, or did I want to be a leader that was for the team? The things that I had done up until then at Deloitte to succeed were very selfishly focused and to turn that out to the world and to the team became a lifelong pursuit. The journey was to shed those behaviors that were getting in my way of success that had done me quite well prior to that point in time. At your own company, Ferrazzi Greenlight: In the early stages of Ferrazzi-Greenlight I needed to learn to take control of the little things: the finances, the process, the operations. I realized that as a leader you really had to take control of the oversight of the details. Now we are moving from a Ferrazzi-centric model to a partnership model where the people that I have now been bringing in have as much tremendous intellectual property and genius. I am thrilled to allow the company to grow without me: That is what I am now learning, and it is very exciting.

Keith Ferrazzi and Leadership

Books recommended for aspiring leaders:

How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People Never Eat Alone Get Out of Your Own Way at Work Fifth Wave Leadership The Power of Positive Thinking You the Owner's Manual Love is the Killer App Way of the Peaceful Warrior 

Most admired leader: If you go back to the founding fathers, you think about George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Wind back time all the way, and I think about Jesus as a great guide for my aspirational leadership. In my lifetime, I would say Pat Laconto: He was the CEO of Deloitte and Touche, who I so wonderfully admired. Yes, I admired his charisma and the loyalty he gave others and generated himself, but also I admired him for just being human. Pat was the kind of a guy who taught me the power of being who you were and being vulnerable--not weak--but certainly not having to be perfect.

Advice to aspiring leaders: My simple advice would be that "it is all about people." Pay attention and identify the 25 most important people to the success of your leadership. Those will be your bosses, people that you admire inside or outside the company, your employees, and peers who you think are extraordinary in other divisions. The other advice I give is this: "Don't choose just one mentor, choose five."

Traits most important in a leader: Vision: the capacity to see into the future. It's setting a vision that people can see where their place in that vision is, and then coming across as deeply empathetic, human and intimate. The vision has to be a generous vision, such that people not only see their path in it but are excited about it. It is not just a plan, it is an enlistment. Great leaders have to be genuine and intimate: You have to feel like they touch you, and there is empathy or humanity there. That was Bill Clinton's genius, and frankly the democratic party suffered miserably and failed in that respect in the last two elections. That is something that George Bush has; he was perceived by people--regardless of whatever else you might say about him--as clearly genuine.

Best training programs for leaders: I've always felt that the best way to develop your leadership is to practice it. Now young people come to me and say, "How do I learn to be a better leader?" And I suggest to them that they go out and join a non-profit or start a club; go start practicing leadership because that is where you figure out where you are prone to make mistakes; the earlier you make those and become attuned to them, the better. Listen to Keith expand upon this thought further with his enlightening comments on leadership training. Click here to listen. leader audio

Metaphor, story, or analogy for leadership: One of Gandhi's favorite lines, "There they go. I must follow them, for I am their leader!" is very poignant as I now begin to lead a movement of individuals who are interested in changing the way people interact in the workplace. People will take my ideas, and they will morph them, adopt them, change them and grow them. Then I'll hear those ideas played back to me and I'll be like, "No, that's not it." But in actuality, I've got to say, "Well, maybe that should be it." What have they done with my principles and ideas, and how have they grown them? And maybe I need to get on the bandwagon and follow that. There is a distinction between, "You want something done right, do it yourself" and how I've always interpreted that statement a little differently. That statement is only true if you want something done the way you want it done. It doesn't mean it's not right [done the other way]. As a leader it is important to learn that there are different ways of doing things: Let people do it the way they want to do it. It may look wrong to me, but let's give them the chance to figure out how to get it done: Then they own it and I don't have to micromanage the process. Listen to Keith address this question further by clicking here. leader audio

Where did you get your drive towards leadership? Listen to Keith's response to this question by clicking here. leader audio

For More About Keith Ferrazzi and Ferrazzi Greenlight