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In the movie Wall Street, Bud Fox’s goal was to work with a big fish like Gordon Gekko. Fox gets his wish, but it almost destroys him. Still, almost everyone wants to work with partners and customers who are wealthier and more successful than themselves. They think they will become more successful by osmosis. It is not always true but it’s not necessarily wrong either.
When I started NAHREP, I successfully pursued a relationship with Henry Cisneros. Henry was in President Clinton’s cabinet and he was the first Latino Secretary of HUD. Henry was incredibly generous with me and my relationship with him brought much-needed credibility to NAHREP when we needed it the most. Henry remains a friend and mentor to this day.
When I had the idea for a large Latino business conference, I pursued a relationship with Sol Trujillo, easily the most prominent Latino executive in the corporate world. Together Sol and I launched L’ATTITUDE. Today, I have the honor of calling Sol, Emilio Estefan, and Oscar Munoz my business partners. They are three of the most successful Latinos in American history. If, instead of Henry, Sol, Emilio, and Oscar, I wanted to do business with Gary Vee or Jay-Z, I am confident I could have done so. Working with exceptionally successful people can be great, but if you want to dance with elephants, you need to keep a few things in mind.
Bring Something to the Table
Successful people are busy, and practically everyone wants something from them. I don’t care how charming you think you are; highly successful people aren’t going to want to spend time with you if you don’t bring something of value to the table. The good news is that it could be almost anything. For example, a lot of successful people love golf. If you are great at golf, some very successful people will want to play golf with you. That could be what opens the door for you. People like to do business with people they like. If they like you, and you don’t come off too desperate, they may also want to do business with you. If you are an expert or highly skilled at something, whether business-related or something completely different, your chances are good that successful people will be interested in knowing you. That’s why I always say that the first step in building a successful career is to be great at something.
Never Lose Your Dignity
Desperation is the biggest repellent in business and in relationships. No matter what your situation is, or how important you perceive a relationship will be, never lose your dignity. Do you ever wonder why celebrities prefer to socialize with other celebrities or why wealthy people spend most of their time with other wealthy people? It’s because it’s stressful to be around people who are needy and who always need something from you. Even the most generous people compartmentalize their relationships. They allocate a certain amount of time to charity or mentorships, but they want to do business with people who have it together, and who they admire. Come across too needy and most successful people will run the other way.
Carry Your Weight, But Don’t Act Like You Have More Than You Do
There is a saying, “When an elephant dances with a mouse, only one can get hurt”. On one hand, you don’t want to be a freeloader. You want to be a person that always carries your weight, but this can also get you into trouble. Successful people may think nothing about investing a million dollars in a restaurant or nightclub, but if you can’t afford to lose that kind of money, you shouldn’t feel compelled to do so, just to maintain appearances. This is when dancing with elephants can be dangerous, if not fatal. Always be willing to step away from a deal that you can’t afford, but don’t expect something for nothing. If you don’t have the money or something of equal value to invest, don’t expect your wealthier friends to loan you the money or cover your share. Having financial discipline is a virtue that most people will respect.
I have a small circle of close friends, and there is nothing more important to me than spending time with my family. But I also believe that we are all the average of the five people we spend the most time with. If you want to upgrade your business and lifestyle, surround yourself with people who are more successful than you. If you follow the three disciplines I’ve listed above, your chances of acquiring and maintaining relationships with highly successful people will be greatly improved.