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Suggestions on How to Successfully Initiate a Relationship: Be Low Key and Listen

by | May 1, 2023

Some examples about how to initiate a relationship in a conversation.

I was fortunate to know the late Lou Simpson, who was a “Hall of Fame” Investor and a true gentleman. It’s been reported that Lou’s stock picking returns outpaced those of his boss, Warren Buffett’s, but since Lou was only a few years younger than Warren, he wasn’t selected to succeed Warren.

I overheard the following conversation between Lou and a friend of mine who had only just met Lou right then. My friend asked Lou: “What do you do?”. Lou: “I work at GEICO.”. My friend: “What do you do there?” Lou: “Administrative stuff. What do you do?”.

Lou clearly knew who he was. One of the best investors of all time. Yet he had no need to show that off. Rather, it was important to Lou that he demonstrate his interest in my friend and get to know him.

Early in my career, I was the most junior person on the investment banking team when we invited a CEO to lunch to discuss capital structure. I had done my homework and read that he had attended the University of Arkansas. I waited until the luncheon dishes were being cleared. I then offered: “You really destroyed LSU last weekend!”. Game over. I had shown that this Ivy League kid, me, knew about SEC football, followed it, and respected the University of Arkansas.

“Damn right we did!” was the CEO’s response. From that point on all we discussed was Arkansas football, since that was what the CEO really wanted to talk about. He could have cared less about “capital structure”. That was for the CFO to focus on. I demonstrated that I cared about what the CEO cared about and that I was “OK” and worthwhile developing a relationship with. We communicated on a different level from then on despite the fact that I was the most junior person.


Jeff Balash achieves results that change companies by applying his EQ and IQ. He gets to know people easily, appreciates their personal and their firm’s challenges, culture, and competitive environment to develop breakthrough solutions that can be understood and implemented.

Jeff has done business on six continents and has consistently been an innovator. He uses Design Thinking to develop creative and innovative solutions and strategies. McKinsey research: over a ten-year period, design-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent.