Keith Ferrazzi has been designated one of the world’s most “connected” individuals by both Forbes and Inc. magazines due to his extensive network of relationships. Ferrazzi Greenlight provides clients with consulting and training services both at the individual and organizational levels. His previous positions include chief marketing officer of Deloitte Consulting, chief marketing officer of Starwood Hotels, and CEO of YaYa Media.
Who's Got Your Back?, Ferrazzi's most recent book, helps readers form an intimate inner circle. He was named a "Global Leader of Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum and one of the top "40 Under 40" business leaders by Crain's Business. He serves on a few boards and is also a fellow of the Berkeley College at Yale, as well as the founder of Big Task Weekend, an annual roundtable for executives focused on improving America's health and wellness.
Q| What was your first job, and what lesson did you take away from it?
My father hired me to sweep up around a construction job that he was working on when I was about 8 years old. Being a good sweeper didn't inspire me, so I called my mother crying and she came and picked me up. She negotiated with my father to give me a full day's wage anyway.
In terms of what one could have taken from that, first of all, my father ingrained in me a strong work ethic from the very beginning, no exceptions, including his son. Number two would be to always have a good lawyer for the negotiation on your exit package.
Q| What were your experiences like as chief marketing officer of Deloitte Consulting and then later of Starwood Hotels?
Deloitte and Starwood were very different, interesting jobs. I was very young for my job at Deloitte, and I had a group of partners around me that were very close. Every one of them was a very strong, paternalistic mentor. I didn't really appreciate what I had though because that was my first big job out of business school. But frankly, with almost all of the jobs I've had, I had that deep set of relationships.
Then when I went to Starwood, I didn't have those close relationships. It was a much more competitive culture. It was a deep shock to my system. I didn't realize how powerful and enabling a set of relationships that function that closely is, and what it did for my performance, my morale, my intellect, and even my creativity.
Q| What was the inspiration behind starting your own company?
Having been a marketer in two big companies and also heading sales in one of them, it was very clear to me that business boiled down to people, whether that be a leader's ability to influence the folks who report to him, an individual employee's ability to influence their peers and counterparts and get things done, or a salesperson's ability to influence and work with his customers and clients in both good and difficult times.
Yet, oddly enough, the people side of the business, also known as the "human resources" function, was one of the least respected and was not considered a peer to the other functions. I really felt that business was about people; marketing was about relationships. I needed to start a firm that was going to draw the business world's attention to that.
Q| Explain your methodology behind building better relationships.
If you believe that relationships are critical to your business success, either as an individual or as a function, then you clearly would want to focus on those relationships to make them better, quicker.
The methodology boils down to three things. Number one is a mindset or a set of ways to think about relationships in the workplace. On the mindset side, one of the things that can be learned is that when you're reaching out to people, you always reach out with generosity.
Number two is a process, which we call a "relationship action plan." When you have your goals that you're trying to achieve in life, first and foremost, you answer the question, "Who?" Who is going to be important to help achieve those goals? You need to very quickly target and align the individuals with whom you want to build relationships, against the goals you want to achieve.
Number three is a set of skills that one needs to master underneath the process. So often, we lose touch with people. But it's as simple as scheduling an appropriate timeframe, whether it's quarterly or yearly, for touch points. So as long as you stay in touch at that level, if at any point in the future you'd like to reconnect with that relationship in a deeper way, you'll be able to do so.
Q| Do you think everything about the art of great networking can be learned?
Some people have a natural gift for networking, just like some people have a natural gift for playing piano. But any one of us can get much better, and that will profoundly influence our career and our happiness.
Q| What is one change you would like to see in how senior leaders relate to their employees?
I will give you two - willingness to hear candor and willingness to be vulnerable. There's one large high-tech firm where the leadership at the top pretends to be faultless and invulnerable, and it sends two clear messages down to the organization. One is that, if you want to be at the top, cover for yourself and don't make any mistakes - so the whole organization has no real respect for growth. The other one is that pretty much everyone knows the leaders at the top aren't perfect, so then the organization has a whole corrosive component of dishonesty. People at the top can lie, but there is a whole lack of respect for those individuals.
Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I work out every day, and I do a couple of dinner parties a week. That probably dominates the small amount of free time that I have. But you actually caught me on a vacation day because I'm driving out to a beach house in Malibu where I'm taking 60 books, and all I'll be doing is reading, meditating, and writing for the next week and a half.