Chu – Hong Kong-born, with English as her second language – recalls sitting in a meeting with a director at her firm where she was unable to communicate. “I couldn’t say a single word, so I had to do something … I needed to find my confidence,” she said.
The business development manager at advisory firm Equi Wealth begun sending LinkedIn messages to dozens of businesspeople, telling them about her goal and asking if she could pick their brains over a bite.
“Most people said ‘OK, why not?'”, she said.
“Sometimes I’ll be with a senior manager of a big company and the whole conversation may have nothing to do with work – it’ll be about life and their wife and kids … It’s something I look forward to every day – what will I talk about, what will I learn?”.
Chu says the exercise had an immeasurable impact.
“It’s helped me enormously both professionally and personally … I’ve become a more rounded, different person. I’m more confident speaking to people,” she says.
“It’s also led to increased business with people referring clients to me.”
Chu’s expedition had her sitting across the table from people as varied as Tansel Ali, a four-time Australian memory champion, and Ray Malone, founder of crash repair giant AMA Group.
Malone knows about forging success against the odds.
Orphaned at 11, he left school in year nine. In 2010 he took control of a crash repair roll-up company with a turnover of $2.4 million and around $20 million worth of debt.
The company is now worth almost $700 million, and Malone puts much of his success down to the characteristics he sees Chu emulating.
“I’ve done a lot of listening to other successful people over my life – it’s super important. Even when people fall over, I learn a lot from that,” he said.
“What Chu is doing, is gathering tools to get exactly where she wants to go in the fastest time.”
Malone said he wasn’t a personal devotee to the mid-week business lunch. “I was too busy for lunch … I was one of these people who think you need to put your you-know-what on the chopping board and work hard.”
He isn’t alone in being too time-poor for a weekday knees-up. Restaurant and Catering Industry Association of Australia deputy CEO Sally Neville said, “There’s a shift from multiple-course, two bottles of wine, big-end-of-town lunches to a lighter, more casual, vibrant style.
“It’s now more efficient, less extravagant, lighter lunches in response to consumer demand … and the general tone of workplaces where you need to be productive when you get back to the office.”
But Malone said he wishes he had undertaken the same exercise when he was Chu’s age.
“When I was young, if I’d had 100 lunches with successful people, I’d have listened to the top 20 things they told me and would have gone from there,” he said.
“She’s looking at the top 2 per cent of people and picking their brains.”
Paul is a reporter for The Age.