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KEITH FERRAZZI is founder and CEO of the training and consulting company Ferrazzi Greenlight and a contributor to Inc., the Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review. Earlier in his career, he was CMO of Deloitte Consulting and at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and CEO of YaYa Media. He lives in Los Angeles.
TAHL RAZ is an editor at Fortune Small Business. He’s written for Inc. magazine, the Jerusalem Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and GQ. Raz lives in New York City.
Becoming a Member of the Club
Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only
exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing
exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals
that can go it alone.
How on earth did I get in here?” I kept asking myself in those early days as an overwhelmed first-year student at Harvard Business School.
There wasn’t a single accounting or finance class in my background. Looking around me, I saw ruthlessly focused young men and women who had undergraduate degrees in business. They’d gone on to crunch numbers or analyze spreadsheets in the finest firms on Wall Street. Most were from wealthy families and had pedigrees and legacies and Roman numerals in their names. Sure, I was intimidated.
How was a guy like me from a working-class family, with a liberal arts degree and a couple years at a traditional manufacturing company, going to compete with purebreds from McKinsey and Goldman Sachs who, from my perspective, seemed as if they’d
been computing business data in their cribs?
It was a defining moment in my career, and in my life.
I was a country boy from southwestern Pennsylvania, raised in a small, hardworking steel and coal town outside of Latrobe called Youngstown. Our region was so rural you couldn’t see another house from the porch of our modest home. My father worked in the local steel mill; on weekends he’d do construction. My mother cleaned the homes of the doctors and lawyers in a nearby town. My brother escaped small-town life by way of the army; my sister got married in high school and moved out when I
was a toddler.
At HBS, all the insecurities of my youth came rushing back. You see, although we didn’t have much money, my dad and mom were set on giving me the kind of opportunities my brother and sister (from my mom’s previous marriage) never got. My parents pushed me and sacrificed everything to get me the kind of education that only the well-to-do kids in our town could afford. The memories rushed back to those days when my mother would pick me up in our beat-up blue Nova at the bus stop of the private elementary school I attended, while the other children ducked into limos and BMWs. I was teased mercilessly about our car and my polyester clothes and fake Docksiders–reminded daily of my station in life.
The experience was a godsend in many ways, toughening my resolve and fueling my drive to succeed. It made clear to me there was a hard line between the haves and the have-nots. It made me angry to be poor. I felt excluded from what I saw as the old boys’ network. On the other hand, all those feelings pushed me to work harder than everyone around me.
Hard work, I reassured myself, was one of the ways I’d beaten the odds and gotten into Harvard Business School. But there was something else that separated me from the rest of my class and gave me an advantage. I seemed to have learned something long
before I arrived in Cambridge that it seemed many of my peers had not.
As a kid, I caddied at the local country club for the homeowners and their children living in the wealthy town next to mine. It made me think often and hard about those who succeed and those who don’t. I made an observation in those days that would alter
the way I viewed the world.
During those long stretches on the links, as I carried their bags, I watched how the people who had reached professional heights unknown to my father and mother helped each other. They found one another jobs, they invested time and money in one another’s ideas, and they made sure their kids got help getting into the best schools, got the right internships, and ultimately got the best jobs.
Before my eyes, I saw proof that success breeds success and, in
Excerpted from Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi, Tahl Raz
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