“Business is Human:” The Power of Building Relationships

Rhett Wilson
Rhett Wilson

Rhett Wilson is the Associate Dean for Development and Alumni Relations (Chief Development Officer) at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, where he leads a team of alumni and fundraising professionals responsible for a $70 Million capital campaign goal. In addition to his role at Johns Hopkins University, Wilson serves as an adviser to non-profit CEOs, college presidents and deans on the topics of philanthropic resource development, board building, and constituent engagement.

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Ten years ago I received a book recommendation that permanently changed my approach to relationship building. Publishing his first copy of Never Eat Alone (NEA) in 2005, author Keith Ferrazzi (@ferrazzi) sought to explain the frequently overlooked truth about business: relationships drive sales, business deals, job promotions, and access to opportunities. Ferrazzi, who published a revised version of his best-selling book last summer, states simply: “Business is a human enterprise, driven and determined by people.”

Supported by the scientific findings of several academics, including my former colleague Bob Cialdini (@robertcialdini), best-selling author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Ferrazzi draws on his experiences as a start-up CEO and chief marketing officer for big organizations like Deloitte (@deloitte) and Starwood Hotels and Resorts (@starwoodbuzz).

A plethora of new technology has been developed in the past decade to enhance the channels and efficiencies in relationship building. Ferrazzi addresses these new applications in his latest version of Never Eat Alone.

First, let me share three of my favorite lessons that remain unchanged since his first edition was published:

1) Finding mentors is one of the single most impactful methods of gathering advice and the wisdom you will need throughout every stage of your career. From Never Eat Alone: “finding a talented, experienced mentor who is willing to invest the time and effort….is far more important than making career decisions based purely on salary or prestige.”

2) Take ownership of your own career; if you’re unknown in your organization or your industry…take the initiative to constructively change that.

3) Create a plan for relationship building and have a method of reminding yourself who you should be reaching out to each month, quarter, year.

From the revised edition of Never Eat Alone, I learned to use Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs to build relationships. Through these channels, Ferrazzi suggests we can learn how to “hack serendipity” by developing a relationship framework that establishes relationships, generating opportunity and information – as a direct result of your own generosity.

Here are three points I took away from Ferrazzi’s latest work, in our “new age” of relationship building:

  • Learn how to converse with anyone. Ferrazzi cites a study of Stanford MBAs showing that GPA had no bearing on career success. However, the one trait that was common among the class’s most accomplished grads was “verbal fluency.”
  • Build connections by being generous with your “likes and re-posts.” One way to build a network within your industry is to identify its influencers and generously re-post and re-tweet what they have to say.
  • Work hard at remaining authentic. In today’s world of digital engagement, Ferrazzi says “People are desperate for authenticity.” In my own view, one way to do this is to keep phone calls and handwritten notes as tools to celebrate successes, touch base, or simply to follow up with those in your network.

At the Carey Business School, my team noted that on LinkedIn more than 10,000 individuals self-identify as Carey Business School alumni. This is a great pool of successful professionals with whom our students and alumni should connect. Ferrazzi’s book can help guide your path to building a network quickly and sustainably.

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