Staying in touch with others can significantly affect your financial and professional situation. Maintaining contact with previous clients, colleagues, associates, and friends was pivotal in my 40-year career achievements. To illustrate this point, I will share a few real-life stories that changed my life
Keeping in Touch Can Lead to New Opportunities and Affect Your Job and Career
After I left the corporate world, I became a solo practitioner providing legal advice and business consulting. Before leaving, I was the assistant general counsel at Ryder System, a Fortune 500 transportation company, and became the co-chairman of the Creditors’ Committee in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Continental Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the world. I worked closely with the chairman of the board, Charles, to help fix the airline. Continental successfully reorganized, exited from bankruptcy, and merged into United Airlines many years later. Charles was an ultra-high-net-worth individual who owned the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball Team and many companies.
While on my own, I called Charles every few months for many years, and he always took or returned my call. We usually only talked for a few minutes about each other’s families, the Twins, and other general matters, but Charles was genuinely curious about my latest clients and what type of work I was doing. I never asked him for any business opportunities we could work on together. One day, he called me asking if I could help him review one of his potential investment opportunities. I agreed and spent a few days meeting with the management of a publicly owned textile company, the largest manufacturer of denim fabric for jeans, with more than $600 million in revenues. The company was losing tens of millions of dollars yearly with no viable plan to fix the problems, and I advised Charles not to invest any money—advice he followed and for which he was appreciative. I never charged Charles for my time. I viewed my time as a marketing expense, hoping Charles would remember the gesture for future work. The CEO of the textile company, Bob, was impressed with my analysis and asked me to try to fix the company. I agreed and developed a revised business plan, which the management successfully implemented. The company experienced a significant turnaround in profitability, and I received compensation for my time and a considerable success fee.
I genuinely enjoy staying in touch with people and continued to contact Charles after advising him about the textile company. A couple of years later, Charles called asking if I would become involved in a transaction between one of his companies and Jack, an owner of the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball Team. Jack wanted to financially restructure his significant real estate holdings. I met with Jack and asked him why he would consider me, a sole practitioner, to work on this project, which normally would be handled by a Wall Street investment banking firm. Jack replied that sometimes using a large, brand-name firm complicates matters, and he did not want to work with such a firm’s “B” team. He wanted a senior person that he could rely on and trust. More importantly, I was referred to him by one of his close friends and business associates, Charles. Jack considered a referral from a trusted source invaluable and did not care about impressive titles or the size of an organization. Jack and I agreed to work together. I learned a lot about land development, environmental issues, and the value of a Major League Baseball Team. I had the privilege to interact with the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, a dream come true. Jack and I successfully consummated the restructuring and completed other business transactions and personal things together until his premature death.
Charles called me another time and wanted to meet to discuss a special situation. I expected him to want me to analyze another company or make another referral. But this time, he completely shocked me. I went to his office, and he asked me to become his Chief Investment Officer. He wanted me to find new companies to invest in and help improve the profitability of his company investments. We discussed my concerns, including allowing me to work remotely. He made an offer I could not refuse, and I began my next life chapter. I received this opportunity of a lifetime by staying in touch with a former work colleague.
Stay Personally Connected, and Do Not Contact People Only When You Want Something
I considered how and when to stay connected when communicating with my contacts. I contacted people via phone calls, in-person lunches, and meetings. Call me old school, but I think following and commenting on Facebook, LinkedIn posts, or other social media are impersonal forms of communication that cannot develop and maintain a deep relationship over time. I also did not want to be annoying or look like I wanted something. My standard time to contact most people was every three to six months. Emails or holiday cards sent once or twice a year are inadequate.
Most importantly, I did not reach out to people only when I wanted something. Instead, I tried to build relationships over time. My goal was to become a trusted advisor. I kept connections active by being sincerely curious about them. I freely gave advice and was not concerned about finding a current opportunity.
Call Someone Right Now—It Could Be Your Best Marketing Tool
I have a suggestion that could be good for your career and life. Pick up the phone and talk with an old co-worker, a business associate, or a friend who has been out of touch. Depending on your relationship, send a text or email asking for a convenient time to reconnect. Real conversations or in-person get-togethers can impact your life and career.
Ask yourself: Do you remain in contact with your oldest friends and classmates? What can you do to create stronger connections?
Consider people you have had solid connections with but have not talked to in at least four to six months or longer. Remember not to ask for business; instead, show genuine interest in what is happening in their world. It is easy to lose touch with people, but it does not have to be that way. Keep the momentum going with others and watch your network grow.
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 2, September 2023. © 2023 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.