Sunday, May 24, 2015

So I Made a Phone Call to Someone I Know

Stanley Black is a real estate tycoon and philanthropist. His company, Black Equities Group, currently owns over 18 million square feet of commercial real estate space in 35 states. His father died when he was a 21 year old veteran returning from the Korean War. His uncles, per their partnership agreement, bought out his father’s share of the family textile business. Although his mother got the money, this decision denied him a job, his family legacy, and a future. Starting with nothing more than a connection to a friend of the family in the construction business, he went on to become a wealthy and powerful man.

In listening to a Stanley Black interview, I was struck by how often he said something like, “So I made a call to someone I know, and…” Every week, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Black meets different groups of friends and business associates for lunch at different restaurants in the Los Angles/Beverly Hills area he calls home. Some of these lunches have been going on uninterrupted for nearly 50 years. He admits that sometimes business is discussed by the attendees, but the purpose of these meetings is comradeship, personal connection, and information. At the Sunday luncheons various charitable organizations, governors of California as well as presidential candidates make their presentations to what I am sure is one of the most influential groups in California.

Stanley Black likes to have his photo taken with U.S. presidents, politicians, and celebrities. He supports candidates of both parties and various political persuasions. The Obama campaign told him it would cost $35,000 to get a photo op with the then candidate Obama. Mr. Black, thought that price tag excessive, so at a later date “I made a phone call to someone I knew who worked with Barbara Boxer.” The long and the short of the story is a photograph of Stanley Black and his son standing next to Obama. The cost? a $5,000 donation to the Boxer campaign. Jack Black, his son, and the President of the United States then spent 10 minutes watching basketball videos on Jack’s cell phone.

Most of our friends are just people like us that we happen to know. They are entertaining, but sometimes they tend to bring us down to their level, encouraging weakness, and bad behavior. A few of our friends prove to be trustworthy comrades in the battle we call life. They are there to pick us up when we are weak or injured. They are there to listen to us when we are alone in the middle of the night. They are there to push us forward when we are too lazy or frightened to take another step. I believe that we will stand with such people not only in this life but in eternity.

However, we need to cultivate other kinds of friendships that are more specifically geared to expanding our opportunities. Can you say, “So, I made a call to someone I know, and…?” I have to admit, while I knew people at work that could help me (or a friend) get the job done, I couldn’t make too many phone calls like a Stanley Black to benefit a business associate or even improve my own situation.

We need others in our life that are not like us. We need others who can and will do us a favor if it isn’t terribly inconvenient and we need to stand ready to reciprocate when the opportunity presents itself.

When you are starting out in life, look for a mentor, someone who has become the man or woman you want to be. Be honest about why you are inviting them into your life, ask them for guidance, advice, and help learning what can’t be found in your job description or those wretched on line training videos. When you are one of the “old guys,” look for opportunities to be a blessing to the next generation. When I was first learning the art of factory supervision, an old shift superintendent took me under his wing. He taught me a lot. If I knew how to listen better when I was still in my twenties, I would have learned even more. After 33 years, I still call him up from time to time to catch up with his life and thank him again for showing me the ropes.

While it has always been true that who you know is more important than what you know, networking has become a critical component in finding a new job. In some companies about 50% of their new hires come from personal recommendations made by their existing employees. This is a growing trend that crosses many types of businesses. Companies are offering iPads, large screen TVs, and cash prizes to employees who recommend new hires. These companies save time and money bypassing bins filled with shotguned resumes and the services of websites like Job seekers who follow the traditional path (resumes, internet sites, and job fairs) are called “Homers” by personnel officers. That would refer to Homer Simpson, a lazy donut eating dullard.

Companies are looking for quick efficient results. If a high quality ambitious employee is willing to put their reputation on the line by recommending someone in their network, there is a very high probability this person will be a very good employee.

When you meet someone in some random chance encounter, don’t discount the possibility that some day, she could become a gatekeeper in your life. Joel Osteen likes to tell the story of how he met his first publisher. He was staying in a hotel in another city (not Houston). Wishing to attend a well known church in that town, he asked a teen aged bell hop for directions. The kid told him that church was too far away, he would never make the service in time. Without any idea who he was talking to, the young man suggested a nearby church he thought Osteen would like. Joel Osteen took the suggestion. After the service he met the minister. They became friends. The minister introduced him to a publisher who suggested Joel write his first book. He was even willing to front Osteen an advance. The rest as they say is history. Joel Osteen has sold so many books he no longer takes any money from his church or TV ministry.

In the end, I think you will find that the spiritual calculus of friendship has nothing to do with double entry bookkeeping, for sometimes in giving we receive more from a friendship than we could possibly imagine.

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