x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Network guru by chance

The Life: Ivan Misner, known as the 'father of modern networking', travels the world delivering seminars but did not know he was something of an introvert until his wife pointed it out.

Ivan Misner, the founder and chairman of BNI, has been dubbed the "father of modern networking" by CNN. Charles Crowell for The National
Ivan Misner, the founder and chairman of BNI, has been dubbed the "father of modern networking" by CNN. Charles Crowell for The National

Regarded as a networking guru by those in the know, Ivan Misner travels the world delivering seminars on the art of introductions and has written 16 books on the subject.

However, the expert, in Dubai for the first time last week for his talk "Networking Like a Pro" at The Address Hotel in Dubai Marina, describes himself as an introvert.

"It's a fact I discovered just five years ago," explains the 56-year-old Californian, the man behind BNI (Business Networking International) - which claims to be the largest such organisation in the world.

"I was sitting having dinner with my wife on a night when the kids were out when the subject arose. My wife informed me that contrary to my lifelong belief, I was in fact introverted by nature.

"'But honey, I'm a keynote speaker, I operate the world's largest networking organisation, I make my living from giving seminars and write extensively about the subject,' I retaliated. She looked at me and shook her head: 'No, you're not'."

Mr Misner says his wife went on to explain the thinking behind her conclusion.

"She said introverts recharge their batteries by being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, recharge by being in the company of other people."

By the end of the conversation, Mr Misner's wife had convinced him he was a situational introvert - someone who can appear extroverted but is, by nature, introverted.

"It actually makes for a good networker," he says, adding: "I always say: someone who is good at networking has two ears and a mouth and uses them proportionally. He or she allows people to open up. An extrovert, on the other hand, never shuts up."

It is nuggets of information like this about social interaction, combined with basic psychology and straightforward advice about relating to others in a business setting, that have led to Mr Misner being dubbed the "father of modern networking" by CNN. He is also a New York Times best-selling author.

And all this from launching BNI in 1985, because he himself needed referrals from other businesspeople. Before that, he was a management consultant and a part-time university lecturer.

"The difference between BNI and other networking groups is that it consists of small groups of people from different professions. It is scale-able," says Mr Misner. "There is no competition within the group from other members. They are all just helping each other out and providing support."

BNI says last year it generated more than 7.1 million referrals. It may seem like a simple idea, but judging by Mr Misner's success, it works.

"BNI is more than a way to generate business," he says. "It's a way of life.

"We advocate getting to know people from difference walks of life in a supportive environment - not because there is an immediate reason, but because they could be useful to you at some stage in the future."

At the seminar last week, delegates including the Dubai resident Zeeshan Raheem 29, from Pakistan, were able to tune into advice on how to boost their business through networking.

For Mr Raheem, a senior enterprise relationship manager for Bayt.com who regularly attends networking events, it was a useful experience.

"Dr Ivan explained how to overcome typical issues encountered at networking events. These were issues I related to, like how to introduce yourself to someone standing next to you," he says.

So how does someone become a networking expert? Was it something that intended from the start?

Mr Misner laughs at the notion. "Originally, I wanted to go to law school. I got accepted, but I changed my mind and decided to study organisational behaviour at college.

"And, well, one thing led to another," he explains.

Coming from a low-income family in the US, Mr Misner put himself through college. He was, he says, never afraid of hard work, something he believes is the secret to success.

"You won't get anywhere without it, " he says.