Building a strong network of professional connections ultimately comes down to the time and energy you are willing to invest in those relationships. Today’s guest understands this and has managed to build credibility by consistently looking for new ways to add value. George Sirignano is the Managing Partner of Old City Investment Partners, a firm that identifies high-quality alternative investment sponsors for a growing investor base of families and institutions. George manages Old City’s investing and capital placement businesses, including those of its SEC-registered broker-dealer, and acts as the firm’s general counsel.
In this episode, he offers insight into Old City’s broker-dealer platform and what sets them apart from other firms. We discuss the importance of advocating on behalf of your clients, prioritizing authentic interactions without distraction, and being open to mentors who might not be the obvious choice, plus so much more! You could say that collaboration, credibility, and curiosity are the three C’s of George’s unique approach to facilitating engagement between broker-dealers and building a network of meaningful relationships.
Key Points From This Episode:
- An introduction to George and the services that Old City offers.
- Insight into the process of raising capital for funds and private companies.
- A look at the expertise and network value that Old City provides.
- Why George says he isn’t engaged in “pure play investment banking.”
- The role that collaboration plays in differentiating the Old City approach.
- How George facilitates engagement across the broker-dealer platform.
- The significance of acting as a trusted intermediary.
- Conflicts that can come up, and the credibility needed to resolve them.
- The huge impact that perception can have, regardless of the facts.
- Why confidence is key in any sales business.
- How Old City has evolved and why they set up the broker-dealer platform.
- What George enjoys about advocating on behalf of his clients.
- The importance of consistently working on your relationships.
- Benefits of helping investors in different areas of their careers and lives.
- George’s advice for building a network of meaningful relationships.
- What it means to be open to “conscious serendipity.”
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:21] AD: George, welcome to the Branch Out podcast, excited to have you here today.
[00:00:24] GS: Excited to be here, Alex. Thanks very much for having me.
[00:00:27] AD: George, I’m going to talk to listeners for a quick moment here. Just to give a little background of the conversation today, George and I were introduced through a mutual connection, we’ve had a handful of conversations. Through our conversations, George has had kind of a really unique career, and a unique role, and a unique business that he operates today, but also, a unique background.
For all that, I wanted to ask George to come on here, and just to share a little bit about who he is what he does, and then some of the lessons he has learned throughout that journey. So, with that, George, can you share a little bit about yourself, and who you are, and then we’ll take the conversation from there?
[00:01:03] GS: Sure, happy to. I am the managing partner of Old City Investment Partners, which means I’m also a lawyer by background, and I act as counsel for the firm. Probably spent about a third of my time doing that. But it basically means day to day, I’m overseeing the operation of our financial services firm, which is focused in the alternative investment industry. We spend most of our time raising capital for either managers of funds, or private companies. We’re about 15 people between New York and London, and then we run what we call a broker dealer platform. I can describe in detail what that is, but that services about 75 independent investment bankers who are in the same business more or less raising money for funds or private companies.
[00:01:50] AD: Let’s go back to not the broker dealer platform, the organization as a whole. So, you’re raising capital for funds and private companies. Just for our listeners, share a little about what that process looks like and how you help facilitate that.
[00:02:06] GS: Yeah. I mean, the term generally used for the industry is alternative investments. That essentially means everything outside of publicly traded securities. We’re generally talking about private funds, like hedge funds, private credit, private equity, real estate funds. Then when we say private companies, we mean companies that have not had an IPO, they’re generally growth stage companies. Then, there can be some real assets, or infrastructure, or things like that mixed in there.
Our role in the market is to have our eye out for interesting opportunities. On the fund manager side, these are generally emerging stage funds, differentiated investment strategies. We probably meet with 500 a year, select five or six that we will work with during the course of a year. We’re purely success based in terms of our revenue model. We are ideally providing value to the investors we interface with by really sort of selecting the best and the brightest for them to potentially invest at.
[00:03:08] AD: I’m going to play that back a little bit and making sure I understand this. Our listeners know, my background was lower middle market investment banking, so similar concept, much different world in terms of the underlying execution. But at the end of the day, you are sitting in the position of, on one hand, trying to understand the needs of capital, the places that want capital to put to work. Whether that be a fund, or an investment opportunity, and you, are you say, I think you said 500 or so are those a year. You are meeting with a lot, and talking through a lot of these conversations, understanding. Part of your team’s expertise is to understand, and try to filter, and highlight up to the top who the best opportunities might be.
Then, by doing that, then your team goes out to your network, and into a kind of a pool of investors to find, and source that capital on a success fee basis. Meaning that you’re only taking on stuff that makes a lot of sense for you, and that you believe you can actually take to market and be successful in.
To investors, the value prop you’re bringing is that you’ve put in the hard work of taking the 500, and saying, “Look, here are really where we think the top opportunities are and here’s why.” Does that summarize the core function there?
[00:04:27] GS: Very nicely summarized. I wish I could have said it that way myself. I mean, I think about what we do as – the value we’re providing as expertise and network. You can think of when we go to select, okay, what are the interesting investment strategies, investment managers that we’re going to work with this year? There’s a highest level of what is the market interested in? I mean, what is sort of the sentiment in the market? What are investors? That’s driven by expertise and network being on the phone with institutional investors every day. All of our team members think of all of those calls to understand what are investors in the market going to be allocating to, let’s say this year.
Most large, sophisticated institutions will set at the beginning of the year, an allocation budget, let’s say by strategy. Okay. So they’ll do an analysis, they understand they want a certain amount of private credit, a certain amount to distress, a certain amount to low-net hedge funds, whatever it may be.
It’s our job to understand what is the market looking for, and then, in evaluating and underwriting investment managers, to look at them from an investment diligence perspective and an operational diligence perspective. Investment diligence, what is their track record? Is this a strategy that has a moat that will be able to generate outsized returns in a sustained way, over a period of time? All of those things that are going to go into persuading an investor that this is a good place to put their capital.
From an operational perspective, there are things that large institutions need to see as well. Administrators, auditors, cash controls, all of those types of things need to be buttoned up as well. Certain investors won’t invest before a manager has a certain amount of track record, under their belt, things of that nature. So it’s our job to understand – and what are the pressure points for the different types of investors as well. For a certain type of strategy, it’s our job to know what investors are going to ask of that strategy from an investment and operational perspective in order to invest.
Then once all of those boxes are checked, then we have to figure out okay, where to begin in terms of investor conversations. Certain investors are more inclined to invest early, certain won’t pay certain amounts of fees. It’s an expertise, an ear to the ground type of service that we’re providing.
[00:06:52] AD: I like the ear to the ground comment. This I think, an interesting place to take this conversation for a minute. A lot of the work that I do in Connection Builders, and a lot of what our organization is around is around networking, business development, the emotional intelligence, the ability to kind of build a relationship with a layperson, right? I think you talked to most people in professional services, certainly financial services. You hear a lot about the long-term success that has to do with your network.
Investment banking is a, the transaction based role that is partially your expertise, financial knowledge, technical knowledge. In some of that, you just have to get up a hill and learn in certain industry knowledge that you drive value. But a tremendous level of the value that’s driven is the “network” that you have. What I find really fascinating about the way you describe the value props, and what your job, what your role ultimately is, it is having a lot of conversations with a lot of folks that you’ve built enough trust with, that they’re telling you the truth, that they’re telling you what’s going on in their world, and asking questions, and hearing and learning from them. Then, collecting all of that knowledge, and figuring out how to synthesize it all, and bring it together to create kind of an understanding of where the value proposition is.
[00:08:17] GS: Yep, I think that’s right. I mean, you mentioned that the technical work that goes into traditional kind of bread-and-butter investment banking. We do a significant amount of technical work, but we’re not generally engaged in pure play investment banking. What we are doing is in the fund context, yes, understanding the documents, understanding the operational elements, understanding more than anything else, really trying to dig into the investment strategy itself. How does it work, what is the process, where could things potentially go wrong? Because oftentimes, we may need to have three or four conversations with the investor before we can even put the client in front of the investor.
There is a significant degree of technical work that goes into things. But you’re right, a lot of this is driven by relationships that have been built over decades, in many cases, and trust that has been built within those relationships, credibility. You’re right, managing all of that information, and it’s a daunting task. I mentioned, we have 15 people sort of internally partners and employees of the firm, but there are another 100 affiliates of the broker dealer platform. The goal of that broker dealer platform is, yes, to help these affiliates, give them the infrastructure to run their own businesses, and we’re going to get to that. But also, to have this organization of 115 people work as one in many cases and for people to collaborate.
[00:09:45] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.
[00:09:53] GS: So, in order to work in the capital raising or investment banking business, the SEC requires that you affiliate with a registered broker dealer. A registered broker dealer is a company that undergoes a lengthy approval process, and then is subject to the SEC’s ongoing scrutiny, periodic exams, audits, those types of things. Old City has been in business for 16 years. For the first eight years of our business, we worked through a third-party broker dealer as many kinds of small boutique groups do, because there’s a lot of time, and effort, and expense that goes into running the broker dealer.
Eight years ago, we decided to bring it in house, and we quickly saw an opportunity to provide that broker dealer service to others we knew in the business. Initially, in New York City, people we would cross paths with. Over the years, it has grown, and we have people all over the country. In fact, some people in Asia and in Europe.
Ultimately, the basics are providing the regulatory and compliance backdrop for people to be in the capital raising business, providing the legal contracting service as well, which is something that we take a lot of pride in, and put a lot of work into on behalf of our reps. But also, where we’ve tried to take a little bit of a different approach is having people collaborate, trying to promote what we call cross-selling across the platform. It’s very much easier said than done. I mean, you kind of think, “Okay. If we build this, and we put the processes together, and the infrastructure in place, it’ll just kind of happen by itself.” But people are busy, people are focused on their own businesses, and there’s just a lot of day-to-day kind of conversations, and networking, and things of that nature that goes into making that collaboration happen.
[00:11:38] AD: That last point you hit on, I really want to dig into that a little bit more. This idea that you create all the infrastructure, and you assume that people will leverage it, because it does make sense, right? And everyone that’s a part of it, they’re part of your platform, I have to assume that, of course, they need the broker dealer. But at some level, they’re looking at you and saying, “Okay, this is an interesting model. I like the concept. I like some of the value add. That’s part of why I’m signing up.” But then, getting them to actually engage, getting people to – because everyone’s busy, we’re all busy, we all have too much on our plate that it’s hard to find time for anything. Tell me a little bit more about your experience around that and how you try to facilitate that best.
[00:12:17] GS: It’s funny. You were talking about information sharing. I mean, one of the challenges we face is that we’ve thought long and hard about trying to centralize a CRM, centralized sort of the tech management system. This business ultimately is, as we said, a very relationship-driven business. People’s sort of knowledge about what investors are looking for in their notes from their calls, that’s their IP. So they’re going to be very strategic about how they share that. The trick in what we’re doing is figuring out where to kind of slot in, and how to interact with each affiliate on the platform, with respect to kind of their relationship set, and their IP. We don’t mandate that people put kind of all their information into a central CRM, because we found the most, let’s say, tenured and productive affiliates on the network, are the people who are least likely to want to contribute that to a central database.
What we try to do is spend more time with actual, centralize what we can centralize, what people are comfortable with in terms of who their relationships are, and what strategies those investors are looking for. But the nitty gritty, we have to kind of mediate, let’s say, through human interaction. That’s really a staff of three or four full time people in house who are talking to the reps at all times, and sort of doing the inside sales thing. I mean, at the end of the day, a lot of this is driven by an inside sales communication function as well.
[00:13:46] AD: It’s interesting. I’m going to draw a parallel to another area that I spent a lot of time. So think CPA firms and law firms for a minute. A little bit of what you’re describing, you’ve got individual producers that are their own entity in many ways, their own individual out there, running their business, using their relationships, and executing on much of the work that they’re creating. Everyone has their own set of relationships, and people have different comfort levels of how they want to share that that relationship knowledge, and people have different approaches to how they manage their own information and knowledge.
What you alluded to is that, some of this is a little bit of the internal sales. You’re spending time talking to people, and trying to help facilitate the dialogue, and not pushing people necessarily into a place where they’re uncomfortable, or mandating anything, but rather trying to create the environment, and facilitate that dialogue amongst the members of your platform in this case, but if I’m drawing parallel to a CPA, or a law firm, I think you could see where I think many firms fall short on this, and there’s an opportunity around it.
It takes an effort to get people to talk internally, just because they work for the same company, just because they’re part of the same platform, that same team, just because they do similar work, just because there might be synergies that existed if they talk more, doesn’t mean it’s happening.
[00:15:23] GS: No, and it’s not. And it is, as I said, we struggle with it, we spend a lot of – I find that I spend plenty of time thinking about the best way to approach it. I mean, you’re right that everyone is different in terms of how they manage their IP, their relationship sets. It’s amazing. I mean, you asked me in one of our earlier conversations, kind of what are lessons you learned or what surprised you. I mean, each member of our platform is different in their approach to their business.
I mean, number one, it’s amazing the ways that people make a living, the different areas of expertise that people have, the fact that so many of them have kind of decided that they no longer want to work within a large institution, and kind of want to strike out on their own, and be entrepreneurs. It’s really impressive and eye opening. They’re all different in terms of how they approach it. There are people who are extremely deliberate. I mean, we have one affiliate who took sort of three years to get his business running, and he was never ready, and the materials were never ready. It was sort of like, this guy needs to get out there, and now he’s one of the top producers. It was just, his approach was being extremely deliberate, he was very focused on his credibility in the market. Then there are other people who just hit the ground running and do a tremendous job, so everyone’s different in that respect.
But yes, I think, as you were speaking, one element that I forgot to mention is, we see ourselves as kind of the trusted intermediary. I mean, people are able to collaborate, because we, the house, Old City, running that platform, can be trusted. People see that we can be trusted with confidential information. If all of these people are just out there trying to do business with each other, you have a collective action problem, you have trust issues, you have all of this stuff, because I mean, ultimately, they’ll develop business relationships, and those things will work themselves out where they’re meant to succeed. But because we sit in the middle, and people perceive that they can trust us with information, they can say to us, “Hey, I have an investor, but don’t talk to anybody until you let me know what you think of it.”
In building that credibility, I think we’ve been able to facilitate more transactions. I would say, I would imagine that accounting firms, and law firms, and the types of organizations you’re mentioning have a similar function in-house, right? Somebody who’s kind of, let’s say, independent, and can be trusted with confidential information, and understanding kind of how to put people together. But I think that that’s been key for us, and it’s something that institutions should – that are similar to ours should think about.
[00:17:53] AD: Obviously, I can’t speak for every firm out there, but I’ll tell you, a number of firms where I know that there are individuals that are in these roles, what you just highlighted, and I didn’t even see this until you said it. The challenge is the independence and understanding that oftentimes, that individual reports up to a partner somewhere, and that partner oversees a certain group, and compensation. At the end of the day, money drives a lot of decision making, whether we like it or not, and how people are compensated, or how the economics flow can make people have different perspectives about what true independence or whose side you’re ultimately on.
So, I would say, for anyone who’s thinking about that, you just have to be thoughtful about how that looks, who’s reporting to who, where are the accountabilities coming from, and how ultimately, they are incentivized to do that work to make sure that you can truly facilitate in a way and drive value in a way that is beneficial.
[00:18:50] GS: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think, from where I sit, something I’ve learned is that, one always needs to be attuned to the perception of these types of conflicts. As we’ve grown, I mean, I find myself, everyone’s going to say, “Oh” – another issue of the nature you just described, compensation, how revenue is going to be split, issues of that nature. Thankfully, we’ve grown considerably over the last couple of years, and they come up. I mean, it seems like it’s – half of my day job now is kind of mediating these situations, but it’s a really important part of the organization. And understanding where those conflicts lie, and what the broader perception of those dynamics is, that is a fundamental issue for this type of organization. If you don’t have credibility, in that respect, I think you don’t have much longevity necessarily.
[00:19:45] AD: You said the word perception a few times there, and I want to flag that, because I think it’s really important. I think that all too often, in my own experience, where individuals truly – and we’ll use a conflict as an example. Where someone is genuinely not in an area of conflict, that they are doing morally the right thing, and that there is not a conflict that is there. But there’s a perceived conflict. Somebody, somewhere, somehow, one of the parties thinks there’s a conflict. If you don’t address that, just because it may not be true, if that perception is there, that perception can have a really big effect. The saying, perception is reality. For individual level, perception is reality. How I perceive something to be is how I’m going to believe it to be. You have to be cognizant and aware of that.
[00:19:45] GS: Totally. And you have to hit it head on, you have to get ahead of it. Oftentimes, we can worry about, well, am I protesting too much or are we opening a door by making this phone call, and trying to get ahead of this issue? In my experience, you’re better off calling somebody up, and saying, “Listen, I just wanted to let you know, here’s the situation. I want to let you know, we’re on top of it. We’re not going to divulge any of this information. It’s key. If you’re running – again, perception, you almost have to be paranoid.
I think in running this type of business, you almost have to be paranoid, you almost have to be thinking that people are out there talking at all times. It doesn’t mean that you need to come across as defensive, but I think – and one needs to be selective about kind of where to intervene. But I just think part of, I see part of my day job as always thinking about what is going on out there, and what are the situations that I need to address of this nature.
[00:21:30] AD: You’re concerned about reputational risk. I think any professional should be concerned about reputational risk that doesn’t – paranoid may be a strong word, but I definitely, I feel the sentiment of where you’re coming from. The fact of, you have to obsess over making sure that you are protecting your reputational risk by one, doing the right thing, by truly trying to do the right thing, show up, do good work, deliver on what you say you’re going to deliver on. But be aware of what people might perceive, be aware of where there might be perceived issues out there, and try to stay ahead of that in going back to building relationships. Building the right relationships so that people have enough trust, and that you’ve kind of earned that respect and credibility to be able to have those more challenging dialogues while taking an issue and deescalating it rather than escalating something behind it.
George, I want to go back to something. I want to change the conversation direction, just for a minute and go back to something you said earlier, the entrepreneurs. This is lessons you’ve kind of learned along the way, and you had mentioned that there are number – most of the individuals that are on your platform are largely entrepreneurial. They want to do things kind of on their own, and you’ve seen a lot of different ways that people have succeeded. I think the one story you talked about, an individual that spent a lot of time being very deliberate in how they went to market versus others that might just go to market right away. Can you just share some thoughts you have on that, and some of the differences in what you’ve learned through that and observing it?
[00:23:07] GS: I think people are most – maybe it sounds trite, but I’ve observed it to be true that people are most successful when they’re kind of working from within what is comfortable, and what is genuine for them. The super deliberate people who have been successful, I mean, that is their nature, and that’s how they go about their business. I think that’s how they come to things from a place of confidence. I think in the sales business, and at the end of the day, this is a sales business, confidence is key. I mean, confidence and credibility, in your interactions with investors.
If people are going about things from a place of kind of comfort, and how they work, they’re going to be more confident. I think the more deliberate folks, that’s what they need to do to feel confident when they are approaching an investor, right? They know the answer to every question. They’re not going to be caught off guard. They want to be perceived as thorough, and thoughtful.
There are other people who are just gregarious, and social, and kind of naturally confident, and feel like, “Okay. I’m going to go out there, and talk to a million people, and wow them with kind of my gifts of persuasion,” and things of that nature. That works well for them too, right? It’s also important that they be enjoying what they’re doing. I mean, most of the people who are coming to us have had successful careers inside of large organizations. I think they’re now in a place where they want to be really enjoying what they’re doing day to day. They’re taking a risk, they’re kind of starting their own business, and they’re probably struggling a little bit in some cases, particularly when they’re starting out with whether this was the right decision. There’s kind of more career risk associated with it.
I think the flip side is, well, the benefit is, you’re your own boss and you can kind of be who you want to be, and you can hopefully have some fun with it right. I think the different styles just – I see people having more success when they’re kind of true to their own style. Again, I mean, it’s a bit of a platitude, but it is true, I guess, in what we’ve observed.
[00:25:20] AD: I couldn’t agree with that more.
[00:25:21] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.
[00:25:30] GS: I think maybe early on, we had something of a mentality of, if you build it, they will come, and we’ve put all this effort into building this. I should say, the resources that we’ve put into the platform, I wouldn’t get into this – I don’t think this is business, the platform business that we would have gotten into if we were not already sort of capital raisers, bankers ourselves, right? Because the overarching value is that collaboration value. I guess in a way, we sort of backed into the service business and kind of found ourselves in the service business. We sort of built the broker dealer platform thinking, “Wow, this would be a tremendous way to kind of work more closely with our friends, and have everybody in this network, and it would be phenomenal. So let’s go through the year and a half of anguish to get the broker dealer set up, and all the cost, and all of that. Let’s get it set up, and then it’ll sort of take care of itself.”
All of a sudden, we found ourselves, number one, sort of in the professional services business of providing people with the legal, and the regulatory, and compliance, and being attuned to all of the rules, and all of the disclosures, and handling all the contracts. That was something of a surprise. I think we’ve found it rewarding. I mean, I personally enjoy it very much now, kind of helping people, being the backbone in a sense, the administrative backbone of people’s businesses and helping them sort of be business people do the commercial side, and be the support network behind them there.
[00:26:59] AD: What do you enjoy about that? What are you – just curious. What motivates you behind it?
[00:27:06] GS: I mean, I think, as I said, I’m a lawyer by background. I think many lawyers get gratification in sort of being the advisor. One of the – I think we can provide value to the people on the platform because we see – we see across the entire business. For example, I did 300 contracts last year, 300 banking agreements, replacement agreements. We’re in a position to advise our people on what’s market on each provision, what fee should you be asking for, what protection, should you get paid if your investor refers another investor? Things of that nature. Being in the seat of the trusted advisor, being in somebody’s corner, in a sense is gratifying. I think that that’s a part of maybe sort of emotionally what motivates lawyers’ day to day, is to sort of be in somebody’s corner and tell them, “Well, no. That’s not right and you should fight for this. Fighting on behalf of your people, or advocating I mean, fighting is not the right word, but vigorously advocating on behalf of your people.
That’s sort of number one. We fell into the services business, but we’ve enjoyed it, and I think it’s been successful for everybody involved. But number two, just getting that engine working, and I mentioned, kind of, if you build it, they will come. Well, they’ve sort of come, but what does it take to get the most out of that engine, and just having the apparatus there, and having people attached to that apparatus is not sufficient, even with the best technology in the world. I mean, you can with the software, and apps, and anything else that’s out there nowadays for communication, sure. You can put a lot of mechanisms in place to theoretically help people communicate about opportunities. But there’s a human element that that is always necessary. I just, especially coming out of the pandemic, I mean, sitting down and having a beer with somebody, or having a coffee, it’s not replaceable. Sure, day to day, we’re all busy, and we’re trying to take a lot of shots on goal, and we’re trying to do many different things, and we’re in a success-based business. So there are going to be those times when you’re trying to make the most out of communications, and email, and Slack, and WhatsApp, and everything is great for that, no question.
But just that sitting down and taking a minute, because it’s also, number one, it’s face to face, and there’s that human element to it. Number two, it’s really the only time that’s free of distraction, at least for me. To sit down even for an hour with somebody, and have a beer at 5:00 PM, to have a one-on-one conversation without picking up the phone every five minutes. I guess, just to circle back on that. What we’ve learned is, it’s just the day to day of continuing to work at relationships, and even relationships that you believe are strong. Some of my strongest relationships with reps on the platform, I find, if I don’t sort of come back to them at least once a month, you’re not sort of getting as much out of the collaboration as you could, right?
[00:30:07] AD: Well, I think two points I want to highlight there. One, relationships, my view, or my perspective. All relationships over time will start to fade out. Relationships require a continuous level of effort. That’s, to your point, especially the individuals that you’re working closely with, and that you want to have this kind of collaborative environment around, you have to be interacting with on a continuous basis. I say that for anyone listening, when we talk about building a network, building relationships, and truly developing close relationships that you can lean on, it is a continuous investment. You don’t just get to one point, you’re done, and it hands off, it’s going to run itself. So acknowledge that.
Then I think the other real important point that you said I want to highlight is this idea of sitting down and having a conversation with someone. It’s something that COVID obviously prevented us from doing for quite some time, and it’s changed the world and how we view it. I think there’s a lot of value in digital, and Zoom, and quick communication. As you said, there’s so much more you can get done in there. We’re sitting here on a Zoom-like conversation right now, that otherwise would be very challenging, given the geographic differences. I don’t want to diminish any of that, and how much more effective and efficient it’s made the world. But I am a huge believer, there isn’t any replacement for sitting together with other humans and having a dialogue, having a conversation, whether it be one to one, or in a group setting.
Anyone who hasn’t gone back to that needs to find that. I really encourage you. It is the right way to build relationships. But you said there that really resonated with me, it’s a time to be distraction free, to be there focused, talking, having a real conversation, engaging with someone else, and not worrying about anything else. I oftentimes personally just find that fulfilling as a human, the socialization element of that, the getting away from everything. It’s like, yeah, I learn, it’s good for the relationship. It’s good for my mental health too to go and do that.
[00:32:07] GS: Yeah. I mean, let me tell you, we have an employee, or member of the team, who started with the firm five years ago. He was maybe three, four years ago, he was doing administrative work, kind of sales support type of stuff. I started to notice, he’d say, “I’m going out, I’ll be back. I’m going out for coffee with this person. I’m going out for coffee with that person.” It was almost sort of a joke at the office of like, “God, how many coffees is he having with people?” It was like, day after day, after day, after day of coffees, and coffees, and coffees. Well, he’s one of the most productive investor-facing people now, three or four years later. Part of that is just being out, and developing relationships with people, and understanding what investors want to invest in.
But I think, one of the most productive tools he’s used is helping these investors in different areas of their careers and their lives. He’s listening. One of the toughest things I think, for salespeople is to listen, because they want to be persuading all the time. But he would go, and he would have coffee, and he would listen to what was going on in their lives. So then, we said, “How did you get in touch with such and such family office? They’re really hard to access.” “Well, I had coffee with this guy. He told me his wife was looking for a job, and I knew of somebody, and so I sent an email,” right? That, I think, you’re not going to get that over email. You’re not going to see those opportunities for real genuine human interaction, and just that – that are the building blocks of relationships through email. You need to sit down and listen.
[00:33:38] AD: Because it’s the – what you hit on I think is the core of it. It’s the conversations you didn’t plan to have, right? It’s the – I talked to a lot of folks around going to conferences, for example. I use – that’s like the mega networking, everyone, you go to a conference, you’re there just to network. I know some individuals in private equity world that they go there and really, all they’re doing is loading their calendar, back-to-back, one-to-one meetings with bankers the entire time. Nothing else.
I understand having some meetings, and having the one-to-one 10-minute meetings and the value of those. But take the other example, the other part of that. When you just show up, and just walk around, and bounce around, and hear things, and have conversations you didn’t plan to have. One-to-one networking is the microcosm of that. I’m speaking on the other end of the spectrum of a conference. But this idea that going in networking, if you will, and building relationships, where you don’t really have an agenda, you have nothing that you’re trying to specifically cover or talk on. You’re just having a conversation, that the topics, the dialogues that you tend to go down are where you uncover what you just said.
Whether it be an interesting opportunity that might turn into something you can provide value on, or somewhere else that you can help add value to someone because you asked a question, you listened, you genuinely heard what they had to say, you cared what they were saying, and you didn’t have an agenda of what you were trying to tell them along the way.
[00:35:03] GS: Yeah, and it’s repetition. I mean, it’s sort of being in those situations enough in the flesh to sort of develop the relationships and get the opportunities.
[00:35:13] AD: Maybe a final question here. It’s interesting, we kind of ended up on the topic around this, in sales, if you will, and relationship building. If you look back across your career, what would you give someone who’s starting kind of the earlier in their career, what advice would you give, when it comes to building a network of meaningful relationships that will help your career in the future?
[00:35:38] GS: I mean it’s funny you asked that. I was on your website yesterday, kind of thinking a little bit about – in preparation for this and reading the summaries of some of the other episodes you’ve done. I saw that, in a couple of instances, there has been discussion of mentorship. And I was reflecting on, have I sort of developed adequately developed mentors through the years?
My background, I lived in Spain and Italy between college and law school, I went to law school in New York, I worked at a large corporate firm in New York for about five years. I then worked for a UN agency in Africa for a year. Came back, I ended up in the art business at Sotheby’s Auction House, running their Latin America operations and transactions for about four years. Then I transitioned sort of in my mid-30s to the investment world. I worked with Guggenheim Partners for a year before joining Old City about eight years ago.
I’ve had a couple of different stops and been in a few different industries. In each of those cases, I’ve looked for mentors. You want to always be providing value and learning. I’m somebody who has, I think, at each stage, tried to pursue something that I found intellectually interesting, maybe somewhat in the early stages of my career to the detriment of a broader strategy. But I think a lot of people struggle with, of what do I really want to do, and how do I get there? And there are people who are very lucky to kind of have that very clear goal, and there’s a tried-and-true path of getting there and that’s wonderful. I’ve certainly been envious of those people at points through my career.
But I think there are plenty of other people who are trying to sort of find something that is going to be satisfying to them, and be in a place where they can constantly be growing, and learning, and be creative, and have supportive colleagues. That’s a journey. Mentors are an important part of that journey. If I think about the different transitions I’ve made, from one industry to another, I think at each point, it has been facilitated by a mentor, or somebody.
I guess, one kernel I would give is, be open to mentors that might not be obvious. Like one key mentor of mine, I met, he was sitting next to me on an airplane. Another important – be open minded to always learning something from kind of somebody who’s in your orbit, wherever you’re working. I think if you let curiosity be your driver. Curiosity, and this sort of impetus to always be providing value, to a certain extent, it should take care of itself. I think something that you realize maybe later in your career, I’m impressed by some of the people who work for us and with us who seem to have figured this out very early in their careers. But like, if you can be making somebody else’s life easier in working, whether it’s an outside third-party client, or somebody within the organization, that goes a long way. You’re providing value to the organization.
I think if you’re always looking for a way to contribute, and provide value, and you’re following your natural, intellectual curiosity, you’re going to, I think, kind of number one, find the path, but also find those mentors who can kind of help open the door to the next interesting thing.
[00:39:07] AD: That was excellent, excellent advice. I really appreciate the being open minded to who a mentor might be and where they might fall within your orbit. Because at the end of the day, I think all too often, I’ve certainly done this in my life, and I know many individuals who have. Where you can say, “I want to find a mentor,” and you have this perfect image of who the mentors should be, or what role they should have, and what experience they should have. Then, you try to get that person to mentor you, and it’s always easier said than done. Then, it doesn’t turn out to give you as much wisdom as you thought it would.
When, to your point, when all of a sudden, someone that you would have never even thought of as a mentor that you just strike up a conversation with and they say a couple things and you’re like, “Wow, that was really insightful and I really appreciate hearing that,” because you’re open minded enough to hear it and to be there for it. I think just keeping that open mindedness is really important in recognizing that you can learn from a lot of different places.
[00:40:05] GS: Yeah, and different people connect on a – I mean, you gave the example here of kind of ideal. It’s funny, because that idea of looking for, “Okay, I want this person to be –“ Some people are really successful at that. Some people are really successful at like, “That managing partner of the law firm is the person I want to be my mentor, and I’m going to make that person my mentor.” Some people are really great at that. But you may not be great – I mean, I wasn’t great at that. But I think there were other people kind of in my orbit who, I don’t know, took a liking to me. It’s different strokes for different folks.
Just understanding that human relationships are such that some people gravitate toward personality types, and some of this stuff is like not even ascertainable. It sort of exists on another level of consciousness that we may not fully understand. But just being open minded to that and open minded to different perspectives, and being forthright, I mean, “Hey, I’m struggling with this, I’m trying to figure this out.” I mean, there are going to be people who just connect with because they’re on that same wavelength of communication, and transparency, and whatever else, and just understanding that those interactions may be serendipitous and kind of having your eye out.
[00:41:21] AD: I could not agree with that more. I think that is excellent, excellent advice for anyone listening, the serendipity. Serendipity is a very powerful thing and being – conscious serendipity, being aware, trying to look for it, intentionally finding it, and letting it happen, and having that open mindedness can go a long way. George, I really appreciate you coming on here. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. You had some great wisdom and we learned a lot along the way here. For our listeners. Can they find you on LinkedIn? Is that the best place to find you?
[00:41:51] GS: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks so much, Alex. This was a lot of fun.
[00:41:54] AD: Well, again, I appreciate you being on here and sharing your thoughts with us today.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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