networking

When tycoons and world leaders meet – as they will at a conference today on inclusive capitalism in London, featuring the Prince of Wales, Bill Clinton and Christine Lagarde – you never see them exchange cards. If they do, I doubt they hang on to them. At the end of an international gathering a couple of years ago, someone went to check a billionaire speaker’s room in case he had left anything behind. The guest had tidied it himself – bed made, furniture neatly arranged. The only evidence of his stay was in the bin: business cards from dozens of hopeful high-level networkers.

Detroit’s bankruptcy has many implications, but for Reid Hoffman it will reinforce the cautionary metaphor in his 2012 book The Start-Up of You: “When it comes to your career . . . you may be heading down the same path as Detroit.”

Andrew Hill

Are networks both good and bad? Getty Images

The assumption that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has informed business and politics for decades, even centuries. But the benefits of strong networks – and networking – are shadowed by threats. When is a network too cosy, and, if you’re outside the network, how would you know?

The Corporate Library – now part of GMI Ratings, the governance research group – has for years been developing tools to answer this question, particularly in the US. In 2002, researchers there did some bespoke research for the Financial Times looking at cross-company links among directors of the FT 500 list of the world’s largest listed companies. It revealed that because of multi-tier boards in continental Europe, the most closely connected directors oversaw French and German companies, such as BNP Paribas and Allianz. Read more