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Silicon Valley Connect Managing Director Ellen Levy discusses the importance of networking at the Kellogg on Growth Forum Nov. 10.

Ellen Levy

Networking can lead to growth

Silicon Valley Connect’s Ellen Levy explains why networking is vital to growing your company

By Theo Anderson

11/17/2015 - Success in the emerging global economy requires the ability to adapt, and your power to do so depends on the vitality of your network, says Ellen Levy, managing director of Silicon Valley Connect.

“There’s a capability that very rarely gets mentioned or recognized, but is becoming more and more powerful, and more and more a strategic advantage for companies that leverage it in our technology-enabled world,” said Levy, who invests in and advises a portfolio of more than 50 startups. “And that’s the power of your network.”

Levy shared her insights on networking during the opening session of the inaugural Kellogg on Growth Forum, held Nov. 10 at the Kellogg School of Management.

Building a strong network

Discussions of networks usually focus on how to use them, Levy said, but “you have to build a quality network before you can take advantage of it,” and it must be continually nurtured to be useful. “If you only look at ways of extracting value from it, and not what you can contribute to it, then no matter what value you’ve built into it in the first place, it will deteriorate over time.”

One strategy Levy uses to nurture her own network is to set aside a few minutes each week to write a note — often “just to say I'm thinking about you” — to a few people that she hasn't recently been in touch with. She typically writes that there is no need to respond, adding: “It's a gift when someone reaches out and says, ‘By the way, I don't expect to hear back from you. I just want you to know that I care.’”

Make networking part of the culture

There is a payoff for companies that cultivate such intentionality in building relationships, Levy said, citing the example of a “wildly successful” startup that made networking central to its corporate culture from the outset. During an intense growth phase, the CEO created a policy: When the hiring process was down to two candidates, rejections had to be delivered either by phone or in person.

“The reason was very simple,” Levy said. “Though the person wasn’t going to get the job at that particular time, [she or he] had gotten that far because they were very impressive and very talented. And the CEO wanted the person to know that, while it didn’t turn out to be a fit for this particular recruiting effort, he or she was somebody that the company would love to stay in touch with and have in their universe.”

As a result, a situation that “is almost universally transactional in nature” was transformed into “one that was all about relationship building.”

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