DAN TURNER Staff Reporter
If Carl Terzian doesn’t have your business card, you probably don’t get out enough.
Terzian, who boasts that he owns the biggest Rolodex in Los Angeles, has a collection of over 10,000 cards. No, this isn’t a strange collecting fetish; over the 28-year history of his West L.A. P.R. firm Carl Terzian Associates, Terzian has developed a reputation of one of L.A.’s prime networking mavens.
Last year alone, Terzian placed nearly 300 local executives on non-profit boards of directors, and his weekly networking breakfasts are a prime opportunity for executive matchmaking. According to Terzian, over $50 million in business transactions were done last year among people who met at one of his breakfasts.
Not to mention the two marriage proposals.
Q: You’re big on networking. Why is it so important?
A: If I were to talk about one of the unique and strong marketing characteristics of L.A. that has really come into its own, it is the whole business of networking.
What ultimately leads to my giving you business is that I know you, I feel comfortable with you. One of the great assets you have today is not simply the knowledge of your subject lawyer, accountant, business person but it’s who you know.
Having been a college dean and professor, I can tell you that the value of a college education is not simply what the professor said to you in the classroom. It’s who was sitting to your left and right listening to the professor with you. It’s who you know.
Companies will pay an enormous amount of money for who you know and what they think of you. If I had my druthers, I’d teach people when they were in their early teens that throughout life, you should keep expanding your contacts. Have a system for getting business cards, and filing them when you get back to the office. Get yourself in positions to continually meet people. Every week I look at the new business cards I have picked up.
Q: You seem to find business cards very important. Why?
A: To me, there are a lot of things about the card. One is to have the right kind of card, that tells your message. Another important ingredient is the art of how you give out your card. I mean, you don’t want to run in and throw your business card all over the room. It’s the art of tastefully giving your card out, and asking for their card in return.
And the key, where many of us fall down, is what kind of a system do you have in place for keeping track of your cards. I take each business card and transfer it onto a 3-by-5 card and into the computer, because I’d like to put other information on it. If you’re married and we talked about your wife, where you went to school, what things we have in common.
I build a card file, and I keep it near my desk so when I talk to you on the phone or when I dictate a letter to you or when I’m going to have lunch with you, I pull out that card so I can refresh my mind about things we should talk about. What we’re doing is packaging a conversation so that I make it as personal and responsive to you as possible.
Q: You encourage executives to serve on boards of non-profit groups. Why is that?
A: I want to stress this, you get on a board for the right reasons. I don’t want someone to write a headline saying, ‘You get lots of business by being on a board.’ But if you do it for the right reasons, there are benefits most people never even think of.
When you’re president of a chamber or a hospital board, you can get into newspapers, you can give speeches, and you can meet people who you wouldn’t meet through your own business. And that gives you exposure.
I’ll give you an example. A few years ago we represented a law firm. A partner in the firm became head of the state Chamber of Commerce, the biggest chamber in the U.S. He could market himself by giving a speech to any audience in California that he wanted. Why, because he was a lawyer? Hardly. Because he was chairman of the state Chamber. He could write an op-ed section for your paper. He could appear before committees of the Legislature. And, he has a board of directors with dozens and dozens of CEOs. If he just gets to know them well, his law firm undoubtedly will get business. Just by his presence, he can market off that.
That’s also probably a 20-year investment. He had to work over the years to get to be head of that chamber.
Q: Are there other tangible benefits to a business executive of serving on a non-profit board?
A: That’s something we rarely ever think of. What does the board member get in return?
To me, there’s nothing wrong with a person getting on a non-profit board and really wanting to help abused children and at the same time get some business benefit from it in that order.
Let’s say you’re on the board at St. Vincent Hospital. What benefit does that bring you, besides a chance to help the less fortunate? Direct access to the administrator if there’s illness for you and your family. The prestige of being on the board. Your name gets on every piece of printed literature that the hospital puts out. They may give you your own business card as a board member. We issue a news release that you were elected to the board. We have a newsletter, and we feature you in it so the hospital family can read that you are the head of an ad agency or whatever maybe you can get some business from that.
But the biggest reason you get on that board besides fulfillment is networking. Who you meet to your left and your right. So I want to make sure that the board meets enough times a year that you can get to know the people.
Q: What are the members of non-profit boards expected to do?
A: One of the big failings with getting people on non-profit boards is, you get someone who, No. 1, may not be passionate about it so he drops out eventually. Another big problem is, people don’t tell the board member what is expected of him.
When he comes on board, he assumes always, ‘They want my money, or my ability to get money’ and that’s always there. But it’s often not precisely told him. So he gets on the board, and the next thing he knows, he’s expected to raise money and he wasn’t prepared for that.
The other thing is, we put people who are successful in business on these things and assume that they will be successful as board members. Not necessarily so. So we provide half-day, full-day seminars, lectures and retreats about how to be a successful board member.
Q: What would you say is the most prestigious board in Los Angeles to sit on?
A: You know, when you sit down with someone and ask them to be on, they always want to know, who else is on the board?
I think it depends a little bit on what one considers prestigious. Historically, I think a lot of people have looked to culture. They’ve looked to the art boards, the museum boards, the music centers. I think that’s a special category. But those boards usually require a special kind of person, particularly those who are well-off. University boards are often prestigious.
Company: Carl Terzian Associates
Title: Chairman, founder
Born: Hollywood, 1935
Education: B.A., political science, University of Southern California
Hobbies: Public speaking, travel, reading, politics
Turning point of career: When his former boss, architect Charles Luckman, urged him in 1969 to do something he’d never thought of before start his own P.R. business
Personal: Wife, Joan, one son and one daughter