Tony Vannicola started working in marketing soon after me early in both our careers. We quickly became friends, although unlikely ones, since there were stark contrasts between us:

  • Tony was with the company in field sales and knew many people at headquarters; I knew no one.
  • In sales, he was used to having lunches with others; as an introverted researcher, I ate cheese crackers at my desk.

When Tony arrived several months after me, he began dragging me to lunch. We usually ate with guys Tony knew from operations, the equivalent of “manufacturing” in our service company. The conversations frequently focused on how the company’s operations worked. By osmosis, I received a great schooling in the company’s inner workings, the fundamentals behind providing service, and the vital practices and metrics to driving profitability.

I’m not sure I realized it then, but Tony provided two important gifts for my career through those lunches. The first was the importance of fundamentally understanding how a company works and makes money. Many marketers view their companies superficially, focusing on classical marketing areas, leaving themselves ill-prepared to fully contribute. Absent these lunches, I might have fallen into this trap.

Secondly, the lunches reinforced the value of opening yourself up to learning by interacting with others. That’s still a challenge for me (I’ve reverted to eating at my desk again most days), but the value is clear as I’ve tried to actively increase my network and interactions with others in a whole variety of ways daily.