Jonathon discusses the role of networking in business
Rather than talk about my project, I thought that this week I would discuss networking. Now that isn’t to say that nothing noteworthy has happened in the last week, as the crystalholidays.co.uk site is still in full flow and still on course for completion by Christmas. But there has definitely been a networking theme to my recent time in the Specialist and Activity sector and I thought that it deserves a mention. Now before I begin, I should say that networking is not something that I would instinctively do. To me networking was something that is done because it’s ‘the way things are done around here’. But as it does have prominence within corporate culture I have made the effort to not only be proactive in networking, but also to try to find out what value it brings.
Even from our very first week at our Lake Garda induction, we were thrown into an environment full of some of the top performing managers of the sector, with a smattering of the very highest directors and even the main man himself, John Wimbleton, MD of Specialist and Activity; and of course, we were expected to network with all of them. By the end of the week, however, I was thoroughly ‘networked’ out, as I think was everyone else. But again I questioned the value of it all; sure, I had met lots of important people but what benefit did it have for me?
Continuing to be proactive, I managed to arrange a meet-up with Roger Davies, former chairman of Thomson (part of TUI Travel) and Going Places (now part of Thomas Cook), who I found out went to the same secondary school as I did. Having retired on 1997 he had obviously been out of the game for a while, but during his time the tour operator model as we know it today was formed, and so he had both some invaluable insights into the industry, as well as some really interesting stories.
Last week I had my second meeting with Mathew, my mentor, and I put it to him what his views on the value of networking were. Rather than jump straight into singing its praises, he himself had to think about the question and instead suggested that relationship-building was fundamental to both business and career. Although networking could in itself be seen as relationship-building, I had previously envisaged it as nothing more than introductions, swapping of contact details and perhaps the odd bit of advice-sharing. But from his advice and my meeting with Roger, who has agreed to stay in touch, I am beginning to realise that networking is about creating and building those relationships, rather than trying to ‘work a room’. Hopefully by the end of the 18-months I will have improved my networking skills sufficiently and developed my network of relationships (I am deliberately using that word over ‘contacts’) to support me in my future roles, wherever they may be.