What is - and what isn't - good networking

Eraj Shirvani is Vice Chairman - Emerging Markets at Credit Suisse. At a recent event in Ethiopia, he shared some valuable lessons on what is – and what isn’t – good networking. Here are a few tips we wanted to share from his session…

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Be human

One of the key thoughts we were left with after Eraj’s talk was that networking isn’t about simply collecting cards or LinkedIn connections, it’s about investing time and effort to build genuine and long lasting relationships. 

This means connecting with people on a personal level. Eraj’s used an example: “I was at a meeting with a senior government official and, just by coincidence, he said ‘my birthday is on the 22nd January’. I made a mental note of it and on the 22nd January I sent him a note and said, ‘happy birthday’. He responded by saying ‘you’re the only person who’s said happy birthday to me.”

Any relationship takes time to build and we should think about networking in the same way – or, as Eraj puts it: “This stuff takes a long time, it’s not about asking to meet over a cup of coffee when you want a job. For networks to really work you need to create and nurture  a personal connection. And when you have these long-term networks, they can turn from the professional to the personal, and the other way. It’s wonderful.”

Go beyond your comfort zone

 When you’re looking to develop personal connections with people, it can be easy to build your networks with likeminded individuals. This can present a challenge – Eraj uses the example of UK takeaway company Deliveroo: “When I first heard of this company, I was like ‘what’s this for?’ Next thing I know, literally a year later, it’s worth $2 billion – I would not have invested in it and I would not have known anyone who would have. That made me realise my network is the wrong network.”

 Eraj illustrated his point with a real-world example: “Xerox actually created the first mouse, it’s a true story. Again, the people in the room weren’t connected to the right people [to understand how they could make a success of the product].” 

In order to meet people outside of his immediate circle, Eraj arranges for he and other members of Credit Suisse’s senior management team to meet different businesses. He recalled a visit to a technology company in Ireland: “This company is like the Amazon for clothes. They have a team of 25 data scientists. These guys - it’s incredible – they literally know if you’ve bought that jacket, that watch, that pair of shoes, they know what belt you’re going to buy next. I know everything our institutional investors have bought – but I don’t have the AI tools to help me determine what they’re going to buy next. That’s the network I want to be in.”

Treat people equally

At networking events or meetings, it’s often the case that people gravitate towards the most senior people in the room. In his talk, Eraj said this approach can have a significant downside.

He used an example of a meeting in London: “We had a lot of our clients there, we had very, very senior people round the table all of whom who I knew. One senior client from a very large firm couldn’t make it, so they sent a junior person in their place. The sales people who covered these clients were there and they were all mad at me because the first person I went to was the junior guy, and I invited him out to dinner the next week. This was about 12 years ago – that junior person now runs the largest asset manager in London.”