The author of a business classic says a mistake he made in college is still one of the worst of his career

Keith ferrazziFerrazzi Greenlight‘Never Eat Alone’ author and Ferrazzi Greenlight CEO Keith Ferrazzi, pictured, writes that he was publicly embarrassed in front of people he admired, his friends, and his classmates.

Keith Ferrazzi wrote “Never Eat Alone,” a New York Times bestselling guide to professional networking.

Before Ferrazzi became the youngest CMO at Deloitte Consulting, he was a cocky Yale student with political ambition, he writes in the 2014 edition of “Never Eat Alone.”

It was during this time that he learned how arrogance can destroy a professional network in an instant, and that prestige isn’t more valuable than relationships.

As a sophomore, he ran against a classmate for New Haven city council. He describes himself at this time as wanting to rebel: Part of the appeal of running as a Republican was that it was in opposition to a largely Democratic student body, and one of the reasons he wanted to stand out from his classmates was because he was proud of his humble upbringing, in contrast to many of the old money Yale students.

He lost the election, but National Review founder and leading conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr. read about the race and sent Ferrazzi a short note, telling him it was good to see “at least one Republican” at his alma mater, Yale, and that they should meet.

Ferrazzi and a few friends had dinner with Buckley and his wife at their New York home, and Ferrazzi was overjoyed. The conversation turned to how there were a number of conservative Yale alumni that were upset to see the school become increasingly liberal, and this inspired Ferrazzi to pitch an idea: a foundation that collected money from conservative Yale alumni and funneled it to student organisations they approved of.

Reagan and william buckleyWikimedia CommonsPresident Ronald Reagan with National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr.

Buckley told Ferrazzi it was a fine idea and that he’d be happy to support it — “That is, at least, what I heard.”

Ferrazzi returned to campus and made sure everyone knew he was the president of a foundation he had just cofounded with a prominent intellectual. He spent weeks calling alumni and namedropping Buckley in casual conversation.

It came to an abrupt end when an alumnus told Buckley he had just pledged a contribution to his new foundation, and Buckley had no idea what he was talking about.

Ferrazzi had to tell all of the contributors they would no longer have to fulfil their pledges, Buckley no longer returned his calls, and the friends he brought to the dinner did not corroborate the deal as he remembered it. The Yale college newspaper even ran a cartoon of Ferrazzi getting crushed by the names of celebrities. He was publicly embarrassed in front of people he admired, his friends, and his classmates.

He writes in “Never Eat Alone” that the painful experience taught him that making decisions without involving others in your team isn’t leadership; that deals don’t mean anything unless both sides are on the same page; and that word spreads quickly among influential people.

And, most importantly, “I learned that arrogance is a disease that can betray you into forgetting your real friends and why they’re so important,” he writes. “Help others up the mountain along with and before you.”

Ferrazzi writes that with that experience still on his mind, he makes it a habit to maintain the relationships that brought him success at different points throughout his career.

“Never let the prospect of a more powerful or famous acquaintance make you lose sight of the fact that the most valuable connections you have are those you’ve already made at all levels,” he writes.

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