He loves to work. That’s why he can pack three separate jobs into one high-energy life: CEO of Mackay Envelope Corp.; author of best-selling business books, such as Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty; and motivational speaker.
Mackay’s advice comes from experience. In 1960 when he was 26 years old, he bought a bankrupt firm and has transformed it into a $70 million company.
In this interview with Working Smart, Mackay discusses his networking skills and his belief that success comes to those who are not afraid to ask for help.
WS: You’re known for your networking skills. How do you do it?
Mackay: I have 6,500 names in my Rolodex for a reason: I identify people from whom I want to learn, then I go out and meet them.
WS: You just call them out of the blue?
Mackay: Sometimes. But I’ve also gone to a lot of conferences over the years. The good events attract some of the best minds to one place.
WS: But how do you approach someone and start a conversation?
Mackay: You do your research first. You read everything you can about the person ahead of time. Then, at the conference, you find an appropriate moment and say, “I’ll be here for four days, and I’m familiar with your work. Can we arrange to talk for 10 minutes?”
WS: What happens if they put you off?
Mackay: You overcome rejection by explaining how much you know about this person’s body of work. You might mention an article they wrote, a positive news development at their company or even a comment in their company’s annual report that jumped out at you. You want to establish yourself as someone who’s credible and has something to say.
WS: When you’re surrounded by bigwigs at a conference, how do you decide whom to approach?
Mackay: You do all that ahead of time. I pick out two to three people a day with whom to have a meaningful dialogue. I don’t go for quantity, I go for quality.
WS: Ever since the success of your first book, Swim With the Sharks, you’ve become a celebrity in your own right. Do you ever find that people use your networking techniques on you?
Mackay: All the time! They’ll do something unpredictable to get my attention, like the guy who sent me a dozen golf balls with a shark on them. He read that I liked golf, he knew about my Sharks book, and he did something creative to get me to meet with him. In some cases, people have called my assistant to find out the best way to reach me. That’s always worth trying if you want to network with a hard-to-reach executive.
WS: You’ve hired a lot of managers in the process of building your envelope company. What do you look for?
Mackay: Until six or seven years ago, I did the hiring for almost every person who joined my company. I look for hungry fighters, the kind of people who will take the initiative to learn, to grow, to meet people and to strive for continuous improvement without having to be pushed.
WS: How do you know if you’ve found a hungry fighter?
Mackay: Hungry fighters have a history of working hard to master new skills. They tell me about how they’ve practiced something until they perfected it. They tell me how they’ve networked at industry conferences. They join Toastmasters on their own and develop into great public speakers. They are the ones who strive for excellence and make you look good.
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