As I walked into my interview with billionaire Ted Leonsis and his son Zach for Uncommon Drive, a video series at USAandMain.com where we talk to inspirational founders and creators, I had a major assumption — the secret to the elder’s business success is primarily based on his networking skills.
Ted Leonsis owns dozens of companies across an array of industries including film, finance and media. The largest is Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE) where he has majority stakes in several sports teams, including this year’s Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals NHL team; the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Additionally, through MSE he owns one of the largest sports venues in the world — Capital One Arena in downtown Washington.
Overall, Leonsis controls several billion dollars of assets. Not bad for a guy who came from working-class parents and was the first in his family to attend college.
So how did he do it?
He timed his entry into emerging markets with perfection – Leonsis, a former America Online executive, is considered one of the founding fathers of the internet. He is a brilliant thinker – Leonsis graduated at the top of his Georgetown University class. Ted is also an exceptional leader – recruiting site Glassdoor ranks him among the best managing CEOs in the country.
While all of these aspects clearly play a role in his success, nothing, in my opinion, has been more important to his rise to the top than his ability to create, build, and leverage relationships. Networking is in his DNA and he has successfully passed it down to Zach.
I presented my theory to him in our interview for Uncommon Drive and his response was memorable. I point blank asked if the first page of the Leonsis playbook to success was networking?
Without hesitation, Ted smiled, nodded in confirmation and then launched into a masterclass on how he used networking to amass his fortune.
Here are the top three tips he mentioned:
— Don’t be a “living vampire”. He believes a major mistake people make is asking for something before adding value to a relationship. Before he asks for anything, he first figures out how he can help his connection get closer to some goals.
— Connect authentically. Forget “networking events.” Instead, participate in projects you’re passionate about and connect with people who genuinely share your same interests. To increase opportunities to meet people, Leonsis believes it’s important to have interests outside of your work. He then shared a story about how his passion for music and charity led to a connection with Jon Bon Jovi.
— Follow up with a thank-you note – Even though his schedule often requires working around the clock, Ted always blocks time to personally send thank-you notes. He believes that because most people don’t send follow up correspondence, it’s a simple yet powerful way to stand out in your connection’s network.
To learn more from Ted Leonsis and his son Zach about how they’ve built one of the most valuable sports companies in the world and to hear their advice for entrepreneurs, check out their Uncommon Drive interview on usaandmain.com.
Paul C. Brunson the host of USA TODAY’s video series Uncommon Drive, is a serial entrepreneur with three exits and a pioneering matchmaker (yes, he is the real-life “Hitch”). He also is building a school in Jamaica. Follow him on LinkedIn or Instagram for behind the scenes footage and insights from his interviews and travels.