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You Never Say “No” for the Other Guy

written by MO.com Subject Matter Resource Sledge Smith

My 2012 began with learning the first mentor I ever had, an amazing gentleman named Bill Foster, passed away. He took me under his wing when I was all of 15 and I met him given he sat on the Board of Trustees for my boarding school. Through the power of media, we’ve all seen how personalities can receive larger than life treatment, be it movie stars, super models, professional athletes or CEOs. Today would say that status is pretty well dominated by entrepreneurs, perhaps no one more so at present than Mark Zuckerberg.

Bill Foster was an entrepreneur, and for me at that young age, definitely larger than life. I knew even then how lucky I was to have such a figure take interest in me and my potential. Admittedly, haven’t always practiced the lessons he taught, all part of growing up, but, in these trying economic times, there is one lesson I’ve never forgotten. He used to always say, “Sledge…you never say NO for the other guy.” That notion is a vitally important mindset to have as a catalyst for nurturing and capitalizing on opportunities, whether networking, selling, negotiating, you name it, as it relates to business development and especially as it relates to the development of the most important business we all have to operate: our own careers.

Early in my career, one of the hottest companies in media on the planet was New Line Cinema, which was doing a remarkable job as a small, independent studio of leveraging outside-the-box, quirky and dynamic ways to produce and distribute their own movies. New Line and Miramax were on a tear back then as iconoclasts doing things their own way as New York run companies in an industry long defined by Hollywood. New Line had this internship program I was dying to get into. I happened to have a contact who was a neighbor of Michael Lynne, the president of New Line Cinema, and I asked him if I wrote a letter to Mr. Lynne explaining my desire to work for the studio, would he deliver it to him and he was happy to. The feedback obtained from my contact was that it was a good letter…but that was about it. But what stood out most about the feedback, was it wasn’t a message of, “No..you can’t come work for my company.” So, I trained my thinking on obtaining more info as fire power to build on a positive impression.

A college buddy of mine, Denny Stanek, now a prominent money manager, brought to my attention that New Line as a publicly traded company would have to publish an annual report about their performance and that I should get hold of it to see what else I could learn about them. That was bona fide, really excellent advice. If you’re interested in working for a company that’s public, contact their investor relations department and get hold of their annual report, or, if can, download off their website. Believe me, those little kernels…that one piece of info that can be a difference maker is likely in that report. Whatever job you want, if you want it at a particular company that trades on a big board, it’s a smart starting point and it was a great catalyst for me.

I learned in New Line’s annual report that their shareholder meeting was approaching on the calendar, and that would give me an opportunity to meet Michael Lynne myself. I was lucky as often times, just because a company’s headquarters are in a particular city, doesn’t mean they don’t hold their annual meeting elsewhere. In New Line’s case, they were well-respected for their fiscal discipline and being based in New York City, they held their meeting locally which made them accessible.

In attending the meeting, I was able to use info gathered from the report to stand up and ask questions to Michael Lynne, when the floor was opened up to shareholders for that purpose, and after the meeting closed, I was able to approach him in a completely credible way. Now, had he been Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, that wouldn’t have been possible, but with the president of a maverick, growing but still small company, it was easy and invaluable for me. To say the least, when shook his hand and introduced myself, he was quite surprised, but knew who I was right away. He asked me to give him a call and a few weeks later, I was in New Line’s offices to meet with their head of development as a top down referral from the president of the company. A little less than a month later, I was offered a spot in their internship program.

All of that was possible due to a learned lesson my first mentor took the time to ingrain in me, which was imperative to my positive self-talk. If I told myself writing Michael Lynne would be a waste of time because someone in his position would never take the time to read a letter from some kid he didn’t know, or, that I would be imposing on my contact who was his neighbor, or, since Michael Lynne’s response to the letter was a compliment but not encouragement and therefore a no-go, the opportunity would never have had a chance to become a milestone.

Generally speaking in business, we will hear “no” far more often than a yes and that’s OK — because it’s not what happens, as all entrepreneurs understand — it’s how you respond to it. The important thing is to never ever talk yourself out of an opportunity with someone in a position to help, you know you can ultimately add value for. You never say no for the other guy. I hope that helps your own business development endeavors, and if it does, please don’t thank me…thank Bill Foster.

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