Alumni Perspective – Keith Ferrazzi (MBA ’92)
Keith Ferrazzi is the author of the best-selling book Never Eat Alone and has been hailed by Forbes and Inc. magazines as one of the world’s most “connected” individuals.
Currently, Ferrazzi is CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a leading sales & marketing consulting firm. Earlier in his career, he was Chief Marketing Officer at Deloitte Consulting and the youngest Partner in the firm’s history. He later joined Starwood Hotels and Resorts and became the youngest CMO in the Fortune 500. He also served as CEO of YaYa Media before founding Ferrazzi Greenlight. Ferrazzi is a frequent contributor to CNN and CNBC, has authored numerous articles for leading business and consumer publications, and has been named a “Global Leader for Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Why did you attend HBS, and in what ways has it helped or influenced your career?
My first reason I attended is that I got in. It’s silly I know, but I have tremendous respect for the school and the brand.
The other reason I attended HBS was to close certain gaps in my skill set. I had attended a liberal arts school, Yale, and had never taken an accounting or business course.
I had the opportunity to attend more technical business schools, like Wharton, but chose HBS because it would not only help me fill those gaps but would do it in a way that was more human-oriented. I felt that the case method was how I would learn best — by talking about issues and subjects. It’s funny-I still get most of my news and education through conversation just as I did at HBS.
HBS seeks to develop leaders who make a difference in the world, what advice would you give students at HBS today?
One thing that HBS does not teach you, despite the organizational behavior courses, is that there are some skill sets and mindsets that are absolutely critical to one’s success in business — and most of these are around people skills.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying human psychology — I’ve read all the books, talked to all the people, attended the conferences, and studied the foundations. What I research and write about is around the human interactions within business. My advice is to dive into that space and learn everything you can about people-everything in business comes down to people.
All relationships are truly personal relationships-both inside and outside of business. In order to get close to someone, and have them be truly loyal, it requires some level of personal vulnerability and that you take your guard down.
Honestly, I didn’t do a good job of that at HBS. The person I am today was not seen by a lot of people at HBS. I was too insecure and too fearful to let people know more about me-who I was, what I was afraid of, etc.
I was a gay man on campus that was out to the gay and lesbian community on campus-but not out to my section. I was a poor kid without the analytical skills — who was afraid of letting anyone know that I was really struggling the first couple of months.
Had I really let my guard down and let more people in, I think I would have had a much richer experience and had stronger relationships with my classmates. Today I’m building relationships with my old HBS classmates from scratch, because I didn’t let them in while I was on campus.
This is one of the last opportunities where it is so easy to develop such deep relationships with such amazing people. It’s just easier when you’re in school. Relationships created today can and do last a lifetime.
How do you define success?
When the time comes, and I look back at my life, I don’t want to be asking myself “What If”. I don’t want to be questioning what would have happened if I had had the courage to do something. I don’t want to wonder what could have been. I try to take risks in the moment at the moment.
I define success as maximizing one’s potential in love, in giving back to my community, in whatever profession or field that one chooses to impact. Have I really taken the clay that makes up who I am and molded it into the maximum outcome that it can be? It includes things like love and people — it’s not just career and money. I think it’s important to have enough money to allow you to spend the time on giving back and being with people you love.
Keith is launching his new website, NeverEatAlone.com, to give advice on how to build relationships and encourage people to share and help one another.