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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Late Bloomer

By Danielle Lum
Hawaii Bureau Chief

If today’s Ric Cornell could give advice to 18-year-old Ric Cornell, it would be to “start building your networks early.” He laments, “Outside my family, I didn’t have a network until I was 37!”

The then cocky 18-year-old know-it-all didn’t see the need for any networking. As a self-proclaimed “military brat,” Ric Cornell’s first job was stocking shelves in the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) store in Honolulu while he was still in high school. With his “whatever it takes” attitude, he soon moved from a part time position to full time, then continued to move up the ladder. In record time, he was the youngest AAFES store manager in Hawaii. His work ethic was all he needed to further his career.

“What I didn’t know then was that a network could provide me with all sorts of information that I didn’t have,” says Cornell. “There is great benefit in knowing where to turn and a network would have helped me tremendously.”

His AAFES work soon led him to Johnson Island as an assistant manager. But the political and economical landscape soon escorted him out of AAFES and into a company that carried out government contracts. When operations on the island shut down in 2003, Cornell headed back to Honolulu where he tried his hand at his own business.

“I spent 12 years overseas. I had no network and no connections,” says Cornell. “I finally joined Business Networking International (BNI) to start building a network. It was around that same time that I concluded my business was not working well and I needed to find something else.”

Although BNI could not help with the business he was in, it led him to QMerchant Solutions, a credit card processing company. He began as an agent and then worked his way up. He is now president of the company.

Cornell laughs and blames his success on a character flaw, “I tend to take charge.” He also acknowledges that 80% of his business is generated through referrals and word of mouth marketing. “BNI helped me develop contacts and find referral partners.”

Cornell expanded his networks by serving as an Ambassador to other BNI chapters of BNI and later worked as a BNI area director. As an area director he helped to create four chapters and assumed responsibility for two others.

Networking vs Needworking

He says the key to networking is staying in touch when you’re busy and business is good. “We all know people who only call or email when they need something,” Cornell says. “That’s needworking. It’s very different than networking.”

To avoid “needworking,” Cornell takes time to keep in contact with the people in his network. “I have the strongest connections with the groups and people with whom I meet most frequently,” he says.

With others, Cornell maintains connections with a phone call, selected email, or mailed card. “I try to keep it flowing,” he says. “Just touch base with people and follow up on promises.”

He cautions people about email indiscriminately. “Be selective about the types of emails you forward. Be sure that the recipient will be able to benefit from the content of the email. That way you become a valued source of information. Otherwise you could be labeled a nuisance,” he says.

And what happens if he neglects his networks?

“Business falls off and I find myself having a lot of free time.”

Sage Advice

Most recently, he began teaching effective networking techniques with the Referral Institute. His best advice for networkers is to find a good, structured networking group. “It doesn’t have to be BNI,” he says. “Whatever organization you choose, make sure it is structured because it will help learn and develop the right habits.”

He also recommends taking a class in networking. “Not sales,” he says. “Networking. There is a big difference.”

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