What Detroit’s Smartest Execs Know about Relationship Capital


The Brief
There’s a lot executives could learn from members of the Crain’s Detroit Business Most Connected list. For starters, it’s time to start thinking bigger when it comes to your network of relationships.

You could learn a lot from John C. Carter. Named Detroit’s most connected citizen by Crain’s Detroit Business, Carter has forged countless connections with local businesses and nonprofits over the course of a very successful 35-year career in banking.That’s because Carter makes building and understanding his relationships a priority—and you should, too. To start, that means finding points of connection outside the workplace where contacts can be forged. For Carter and many of the other business leaders on the Crain’s Detroit Most Connected list, these connection points are the nonprofits and civic organizations for which they serve as board members, advisors and trustees. Here, expert networkers like Carter find likeminded individuals who can be leveraged later on for warm introductions to other industry leaders.

Of course, if Carter had focused on amassing connections purely for personal gain, his relationship pool would have stagnated years ago. But he and the other members of the list understand a key point about business development, and that is that relationships can make or break a company just as they do a career. For Carter, relationship capital has played a critical role in helping the bank he leads survive and thrive despite Detroit’s economic challenges.

Another example from the list is Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health Systems. Schlichting is connected to scores of organizations and executives through her affiliation with the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Economic Club.  The connections forged through these hubs offer access to and influence over the kinds of decision makers who can drive merges, acquisitions and partnerships.

The point is, Carter, Schlichting and the other 98 players on Crain’s list understand the critical importance relationships play not only to the achievement of their personal goals, but to the growth of the businesses they lead. And success in their businesses has bred new opportunities for connection, which in turn…you get it.

So, how do you go about putting these lessons into practice? Whether you’re an old hand or networking newbie, as you build your relationship capital, it can help to think of this collection of connections as a group of data points.

Let’s say you serve on the board of a local museum. Like you, the other board members are all C-level execs, but none of their businesses are in the same industry as yours. A shortsighted executive might discount these relationships as having little value. A savvy exec, however, knows to dig deeper.

By mapping each connection as a data point, our executive can get a handle on which of his fellow board members is in position to make an introduction to a potential client or investor. The same goes for potential speaking opportunities and media coverage for his business.

The takeaway: Carter, Schlichting and the rest of the Most Connected list know that understanding and leveraging relationship capital is critical to the long-term success of any business. Take a lesson from these influencers, and start thinking strategically about gaining, mapping and managing the kinds of connections that can make a serious impact on your organization.

RelSci helps create competitive advantage for leading corporate, financial and nonprofit organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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