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CEO's tips: How I network at the top

May 27, 2009 19:20 IST

You would think chief executive officers were all well-networked just by the nature of their jobs. After all, they have their boards, to begin with, as more or less their own personal networks.

Add to that regular contact with industry analysts, journalists, clients and investors, and their constant visits to conferences and industry events. They are the grandmasters of networking. So what, in all the connecting they do, do they find most useful?

It all used to be simpler for them, says Greg Carrott, managing director of the CEO search firm Cavoure. "Ten or 15 years ago, most CEOs would sit on four to six boards," he says. They'd exchange stories and contacts over dinner when the boards met, which was a great way to get professional advice and make connections.

"That isn't so much the case anymore," Carrott laments. "The demands of the job now don't allow it."

Today, with so much going on, CEOs have to be superefficient as networkers. Gary Heath, CEO of IGC Corporation, an electronic hardware distributor, says the key is knowing a few people who each know a lot of people.

Accountants and bankers are especially good for this. With a small but solid direct network you can have access to a vast indirect network. It's a kind of leveraging of friends. Knowing someone who knows someone who can help is just as good as knowing that helper directly.

Gary Burnison, CEO of staffing firm Korn/Ferry International, says that the challenge at the top isn't building a network but keeping it up to date, keeping all the important connections in it current.

He suggests that CEOs make that a regular part of their work schedule. "For better or worse, we CEOs are slaves to our calendars," he observes. "If you schedule it, you are more likely to do it."

Online social networking has changed the landscape for many CEOs. Rob Gorrie, CEO of the media strategy outfit Adcentricity, couldn't be happier with his presence on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. "I have made more high-level contacts in six months than I ever could have by attending live events or making sales calls," he says.

Jack Anderson couldn't agree less. He is CEO of marketing and brand consultancy firm Hornall Anderson, and he's on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as well, but he says he isn't active in any of them.

Each day's work staying in touch with employees, clients and partners in traditional ways gives him more than enough reaching out to do. He even has three smart phones with three different phone numbers, just so he can organize his social and business lives. "I'm not saying you shouldn't network, but you get older and you get a little selfish about how you spend your time," he says.

However, Jim Howard, CEO of CrownPeak, a Web content management software provider, finds that his online networking makes his in-person meetings better. If a company's executives have a blog, he studies it before going into a meeting with them. It helps him prepare with what it teaches him about the company's goals and challenges.

Klaus Kneale, Forbes.com
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