I’ve taken to listening to audio books while on the elliptical. For a while I watched TV, but I found I wouldn’t want to waste mental energy to figure out what’s on. So I’d end up watching whatever sport was going on at that time. Which is fine, but you don’t really need all of your mental energy to watch a baseball game. That’s half the fun of baseball.
So I started listening to audio books, even after making fun of people for doing the same.
Nice try, people who "read" audio books.
— Nelson! (@financialuproar) October 13, 2014
The added bonus of audio books is you can listen to them while driving. I’ve had to spend a few hours driving over the last few weeks, and they were a nice distraction. Better than the latest crap from Beiber, anyway.
Two things make audio books in 2016 far better than before. You can use the Overdrive app to download thousands for free from your local library, although selection may be limited. And it’s easy to speed up playback to 1.4x or 1.6x, which means the guy reading it doesn’t sound like he’s milking a $3.99 per minute 1-900 number for all it’s worth.
So I started listening to this book about the history of the Bush family. If you look on the Amazon reviews it might not be the best choice for reading about the history of this impressive family, but whatever. It doesn’t really matter if the biography was a little too nice about the family. What matters is the one important lesson within.
What am I supposed to do, not put that joke in there?
The Bush family is big on loyalty. George Bush Sr. repeatedly takes crummy jobs over his lifetime because Presidents ask him to. “You don’t say no to a President” is a quote that comes up more than once.
They’re also relatively mistrustful of the press. This goes all the way back to Prescott Bush, the first of the family to enter politics, who adopted the policy after losing a close Senate race because of some nasty rumors being spread by the press.
But where the Bush family really shines is networking.
Previous generations were good at this, of course. Samuel Bush, George Sr.’s grandfather, amassed a large number of contacts in Cleveland, his adopted home town. Prescott, his son who ended up on Wall Street before getting into politics, crossed paths with hundreds of prominent business, political, and cultural leaders over the years. Additionally, many of the Bush men ended up going to Yale, which certainly didn’t hurt their ability to have something in common with America’s elite over the years.
George Bush Sr. is the one that really kicked this operation into overdrive. He and wife Barbara would meet people, and immediately write down details onto a card which would then be deposited into–and I shit you not, this exists–the Bush family contact card catalog. This quickly grew to encompass thousands of names.
George’s MO went something like this. He’d meet somebody interesting and invite them for dinner, drinks, whatever. They’d hang out and George would collect their contact information. Barbara would be in charge of keeping touch with them every now and again.
But instead of the family getting a generic Christmas card, as an example, Barbara would consult the details in the card catalog to add a little something to it. A little note about some detail in their lives would always be included.
Naturally, the Bushes would run into these people while at various functions, and word is George would remember all of them. It’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy like me who forgets names all the time.
How this benefited the family (and you, too)
For George, the benefit was simple. When he ran for office, he had a base of thousands of people that he could call upon for donations. This worked out pretty well for him in 1980, although he did lose the race for the Republican nomination to Reagan. We all know what happened after that.
For his sons, the result was even better. George W ended up attracting capital to his first oil business by hitting up family contacts for investment dollars. Jeb’s first job was working for a bank he father helped found. Neil ended up sitting on several corporate boards in his 20s because of family connections.
A common theme emerged throughout the book. Whenever a Bush had a problem, he could call on some old family friend with connections to help him out.
One thing I’ve begun to realize over the years is that contacts are important. When I went from a potato chip salesman to a guy who writes on the interwebz, my interaction with people went from “all the time” to “please don’t bug me.” I’m naturally introverted, so I certainly didn’t mind being by myself all the time.
But I’ve come to realize that when it comes to getting ahead, it’s a terrible attitude to have. The Bush family has access to all sorts of advantages because of their network of contacts. It’s not all about contacts, obviously, since nobody is going to recommend a dumbass even if they do know them. You have to demonstrate to your contacts you do a good job.
But once you’re in, you’re in for good. You become part of the club, much to the chagrin of people outside of the it.
The tricky part is getting into the club, especially for people like me who are shy. You can’t just call up and ask. It takes years of knowing the right people and staying in contact with them. And even then, they might just be tolerating you.
You have to start small, of course. If you’re a wannabe entrepreneur, don’t start off emailing Mark Cuban. In fact, your chances of emailing most people out of the blue and getting a response that isn’t “leave me alone” is slim. Instead, focus your attention on people you already know. Get in touch with old co-workers or bosses. Touch base with someone from college or high school. Or even go to local networking events and find interesting people to talk to.
And then, keep in touch. George Bush would reportedly go to the store to pick up eggs and come back with four people in tow for afternoon drinks. He’d never miss an opportunity to cement the circle of contacts.
One of the main reasons the Bush family is in America’s elite is because they made it a point to cultivate relationships with powerful people. Us regular folk probably can’t start so high, but hey. You gotta start somewhere. Even having relationships with regular people will end up making you richer.