Friday 19 June 2020

The Lockdown Diaries Part 5: Power of Networking

Uma and I waited at The Cooperage Café with a sense of trepidation. It was to be our first encounter with a larger-than-life celebrity. We had watched him with awe on TV, smashing Australian bowlers all over the park in 2007. There walked Jacob Oram to our table towering over us! We were in for a surprise though. Jake was so down to earth, even joking to the staff. He made us perfectly comfortable and we ended up chatting for an hour.

It was not a chance encounter. We were connected through a chain of 5 links. It all started when I had joined Sime Darby Commercial Group (TIL Group back then) as the IT Manager in 2010. Christine from the local recruitment agency PN Personnel used to help us with staffing back then. She introduced me to her colleague Mason, who became a good friend soon.

When Uma and I founded Take Me 2 India and added Take Me 2 New Zealand, he suggested that I meet Julie from Destination Manawatu (now merged into Central Economic Development Agency - CEDA). Uma and I met Julie and started off with our presentation. She asked us to pause 2 minutes into the presentation and brought her teammates Janet and Kate into the meeting.  We continued and explained our vision and philosophy.

Janet and Kate were so engaged into what we were trying to achieve. They started connecting us with so many people. One such introduction led us to Matthew, who had been the sales manager at Hotel Coachman at that time. Matthew is a natural connector of people and through him, we met with Jake Oram.

When we met Jake, neither side knew how we were going to work together. We promised to keep in touch after exchanging contact details. Around the same time, other contacts started developing. Kate from Destination Manawatu introduced us to Tania from Tourism New Zealand. When Uma and I travelled to India in December 2013, we flew to Mumbai to meet Neha at Tourism New Zealand India office, whose contacts were passed over to us by Tania.

Our meeting with Neha turned out to be a big turning point to us. We learnt about the distribution channels within the tourism industry. We also learnt about a key Tourism New Zealand trade event called KiwiLink. We decided to participate in KiwiLink India 2014. Our senior partner Eswar and I presented our New Zealand inbound tour services to around 300 Indian travel agents in 4 cities.

Soon after, one of the Delhi-based agents who attended KiwiLink contacted us to organise a New Zealand trip for an Indian school students group. We put together an exciting program for them and the tour was on! One of the key items on the tour? A day of cricket coaching by the legendary Jacob Oram!

The story doesn't stop there. During KiwiLink India, we met a lovely guy called Sachin who was liaising with all the logistics. During the evening network function at Mumbai, Sachin pulled me aside and introduced me to Shashank, who owned a sports tourism company. We kept in touch regularly.

When Jake Oram and I decided to launch a tour for 15 to 17-year old Kiwi cricketers to India under the brand name Kiwi Caps in April 2018, I immediately contacted Shashank and engaged Sports Konnect to handle the Indian side of logistics!

See how it was like pieces of a Lego set, forming a meaningful structure when different pieces are put together? THIS is the power of networking. Luckily for me, it has been one of my key strengths. I thought I would deconstruct how I go about it. I am sure there is a large body of works on this topic, but whatever I say here is based on my own experiences and reflections.

For me, there is one strong attribute that is key to network. I have always been genuinely interested in people. And when you meet someone, it must never be in the basis of 'what is in it for me'. It is rather effective to find out what the other person has and how you could help by utilising it to be mutually beneficial. For these reasons, I have never shunned meeting anyone even when there were no pathways for potential collaboration apparent. And it almost always has worked.

I also like to point out that networking is not speed dating. Patience is a virtue when it comes to networking. When you are earnest in your efforts, it blossoms into beautiful friendships. I can't put a value enough to emphasise how important this is. Friendship often nurtures empathy. Empathy is the core for humanity. Being humane is the secret behind collaboration. Collaboration has always been the key success factor for Take Me 2 The World family.

So why is this important in the current context of our survival against the COVID-19 crisis? We have been able to design a superb series of "Slice of the World in New Zealand" tours, because of our collaboration with many friends from our various supplier partners. I will talk about it next week.

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