The other day I received an e-mail from an old college bud that contained an attachment of a Fortune Magazine article entitled “America’s Forty Richest Under Forty.” Though I felt fairly certain that I did not make the top 40 again this year, I quickly scanned the list to see just how close I came. As expected, Michael Dell topped this impressive group with a net worth of $21.49 billion. Other such notables as Yahoo’s Jerry Yang lagged pretty far behind Dell (but still slightly ahead of me). A few of my personal role models, Master P. and Michael Jordan, appeared on the list at numbers 28 and 29 respectively. As I continued scanning down, I was forced to pause because another name caught my eye. Finally, I realized why my friend had sent me this article.
Just below MJ was an individual who went to University of Texas with me and was actually in my same fraternity. I remember him quite well because he kind of idolized me during that one year that we overlapped at school. How could you blame him? You see, I had achieved somewhat of a “legend” status at UT. I was a true BMOC (Big Man on Campus), confidently roaming the hallowed halls of the frat house, wreaking of collegiate success, both academically and socially. When we first met, I’m sure he was a bit intimidated.
He was a good kid, fairly bright, always eager to learn and take direction. I suppose you could say that I served as a mentor to him, and was more than happy to teach him all of life’s important lessons. I recognized his potential early on and took him under my wing to help point him in the right direction to make those adjustments to college. He was a good listener, always following instructions and doing virtually anything I asked of him. He truly respected my opinion and tried very hard to make me proud. When he first came to UT in 1983, he was very green, unsure of himself, unprepared for the challenges ahead of him. Upon my graduation a year later, I was confident in his abilities and pleased that I had made a difference in his life. He obviously took all of my advice and tutelage to heart.
Today, that young man is worth $355 million. (Sensing that the media often misstates facts, I attempted to confirm his actual worth. As I suspected, the article was incorrect; he is really worth closer to $500 million.) And I’ve yet to receive so much as a “thank you” by phone, letter, e-mail, or monetary gift. In all seriousness, I may have exaggerated (slightly) my role in molding the life of this individual. The words “legend,” “mentor,” and “tutelage” actually may have been a little strong. However, I did give him a ride to campus a few times; that’s got to be worth something (a couple of mil at least).
When I first read this article, I wondered how I could have lost contact with my “good” friend (my very wealthy, good friend). In this the age of communications, we have no real excuses not to keep up with our friends, family, and business cohorts who we may not see on an ongoing basis. Today we have the ability to communicate with others down the block or across the globe faster and cheaper than ever before. Despite ongoing criticism of the postal service, regular and express mail are quite efficient and very affordable. Long distance costs have dropped considerably over the years. Cell phones are no longer a mere appeal for attention by the rich, famous, and arrogant, but rather a necessity to make it through the hazards of traffic, meals, and everyday life.
E-mail has become the latest method of “chatting” with those people with whom you really don’t need to have an actual conversation. Though rarely funny and often annoying, the standard e-mail joke allows us to stay in touch with others. Have you ever scanned the long list of recipients of an mass e-mail distribution, only to find the name of someone you hadn’t thought about in years? (Maybe I just have way too much time on my hands.) A quick e-mail can also save that much needed time of playing telephone tag and waiting on hold for hours at a time. Some messages can be delivered just as effectively on-line. The often forgotten, but always appreciated “thank you” note can be sent instantly. Though not nearly as effective as a personally hand-written letter, it is surely better than sending nothing at all.
NETWORKING HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER
These modes of communication make business networking easier today than in years past. In the business world, effective networking remains one of the keys to future successes. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” often rings true today. It is usually well worth the effort to maintain some open lines of communication with old college friends, distant relatives, and prior business associates. A simple correspondence every now and then helps keep your name in front of them and very possibly could lead to future business down the road. That elementary concept is at the very essence of effective business marketing.
For example, I distribute this monthly newsletter to virtually everyone I have ever met in my life. (Now don’t you feel special?) Every now and then, some actual business will be generated because of it. While the recipients of these mailings may not be in need of any services that I offer today (or ever), a topic may strike a chord with them at some point which could lead to a specific project or even a business referral down the road. Though the primary purpose of the newsletter is business related, a positive byproduct is that it simply allows me to keep in touch with others. I hope that readers have been interested in my elevator escapade, my blind date fiasco, and my Maccabi Games experience. Plus, it’s always nice for me to hear from others about a friend who is getting married, a family member who just had a baby, a business associate who just changed jobs, and especially a former protege’ who is now worth $355/$500 million. Perhaps he’s still in need of some effective advice, just like during those impressionable college days? In any case, I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear from me and to be added to my mailing list.