We all know the quotation. It’s from Wall Street. Gordon Gekko is on the phone: Bud Fox stands nervously waiting to meet him. “Lunch?” Gekko is saying. “Aw, you gotta be kidding me. Lunch is for wimps.”
Later in the same film Gekko says, ‘The most valuable commodity I know of … is information.’ Not in my business. The most valuable commodity I know of is other people. To paraphrase Tony Blair my top priority in building my business was, is and always will be, other people, other people, other people.
And that’s why lunch is important.
When I left university in 1995 and realised I now had to work for a living the traditional business lunch was still very much on the agenda – not quite on the scale of The Wolf of Wall Street – but liquid certainly played its part. Nearly twenty years on I am now utterly baffled as to how anyone can drink two pints of beer and then do any remotely useful work in the afternoon.
Those twenty years have seen the increasing – and seemingly unstoppable – movement towards eating at your desk. As innumerable surveys confirm, the lunch hour is now a lunch half-hour, if you’re lucky. What we all do is sit at our desks, eat a healthy mixed leaf salad and read something useful, informative and life-enhancing on the internet.
What we all actually do is eat the same damn sandwich we ate yesterday, wonder how there can be a gazillion new pages of web copy since the last time we opened Google and every single one of them boring – and think, ‘I’ve really got to stop this and get some exercise.’
So in the interests of your health, your sanity and the success of your business, may I now paraphrase Gordon Gekko as well as Tony Blair?
‘Lunch? Great idea. Let me check my diary – and I’ve got some really interesting things to talk to you about…’
I have lunch with friends, clients or potential clients maybe two or three times a week. I see it as an integral part of my working week. It breaks up the day and makes me more – not less – productive in the afternoon. And if I don’t come away from the lunch with one new idea or piece of information I’m surprised and disappointed.
Having lunch builds and strengthens my relationships with the raw material of my business – other people. But it only does that because I make having lunch work for me. I was surprised when I wrote these down, but I seem to have ‘rules’ for a successful lunchtime meeting:
- I walk there. Wherever I’m having lunch, I try and leave my car somewhere else. If sitting is the new smoking, then I want to give myself chance to walk during the day
- I have an ‘agenda’ – but only in inverted commas. I’m not going to have lunch with you and work my way steadily down a sheet of A4 – but I have spent five minutes thinking about the subjects I’d like to cover and what we can both gain from our meeting
- Lunch is great for getting people to think differently. If I meet someone across their desk I know they’re going to think about a problem or an opportunity in the same way they’ve always thought about it. If I take them to lunch – and make it special – then I’m almost guaranteed that they’ll be open to new ideas and a fresh way of looking at things
- I want to finish lunch with some progress – we’ve agreed to meet again, we’ve decided how we’re going to move forward, you’ve (incredibly wisely) agreed to join The Alternative Board.
- Finally, the meeting has to finish at a defined time. Yes, having lunch with you is enjoyable, but it’s part of the working day for both of us – and because it’s part of the working day the meeting needs to finish at an agreed time.
So lunch really works for me: it’s another key part of developing my relationships with existing and potential Board members. Next week I’ve a couple of meetings with Board members at the David Lloyd club in York – I recommend it to you: although maybe not the Quinoa Salad, which was a veggie step too far for me…