By Younas Chaudhary
Some relationships work like magic, while others need constant work and effort. But in life and business alike, they always matter. Why? Let me share a few examples:
In the mid-seventies, after arriving in Edmonton, Canada from a remote village in Pakistan, I found that I had to quickly find ways to adapt and survive. Like many other immigrants to Canada those days, I was hungry, broke and was a foreigner in an alien land. I survived selling cookware, used cars and by doing odd jobs including working long hours in a blood-filled slaughterhouse.
But relationships helped me to improve a lot. Knowing the power of relationships, I partnered with two of my friends in selling cookware and one of them was the investor who had the resources to buy the cookware in bulk. Together, we created a three-way partnership. In time, the business picked up, but our investor friend started developing trust issues. He started questioning when we asked him for money for gas and travel expenses (as we had to travel far to sell the cookware).
As the business expanded, we all behaved increasingly selfishly, and the investor became increasingly uncomfortable. He started hoarding cookware sets until we were able to show him that a set had been sold.
I believed that, as the main investor, he had every right to manage and account for the inventory, but it was clear that the relationship was going south. Soon after, we had to part ways, and I learned early in life to be cautious when entering into business relationships with friends and close acquaintances.
Later, when I moved to Chanute, Kansas to scout for oil and gas properties, I met an individual whose actions taught me the importance of positive thinking and relationships. This gentleman was neither rich nor prominent. He was a simple gas station attendant with a debilitating disability; he had only one arm. Yet in this small, unknown town, he built lasting relationships with people, and every customer who came to the gas station left with positive thoughts and cheerful smiles.
When he saw customers with dirty windshields on their big oilfield trucks, he would clean them for free. In the ten minutes you would spend with him to fill gas, he would implicitly teach you the power of building relationships. He talked about family, inquired about your day, and always presented a genuine, friendly, and comforting smile. He always left us with these words: “I am blessed, have a great blessed day, and good to know you.”
He was building a relationship with me- a stranger, an immigrant, and an introvert, and that boosted my spirits.
Another key figure who taught me the value of relationships was Leo, an elderly, well-respected farmer in rural Kansas. Leo lived his entire life on his ranch, except for the few times when he would make a rare trip to the big city, Wichita. I can never forget the first time I knocked on his door. Here I was, a lanky brown immigrant who looked Iranian in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis, knocking on the doors of this rural, Kansas farmer. He opened the door with a warm smile and began talking to me as if I were a part of his family. He and his lovely wife invited me to their home several times, fed me home-cooked dinners, and taught me to build relationships and to lease land for oilfield drilling, one farmer at a time.
Until then, I had hung around mostly with my own clan, the like-minded “Pakis,” individuals of South Asian descent. Leo taught me how to build relationships with the locals, understand their psychology, and build their trust. He showed me how to deal with local farmers and gave me insights into their way of life, and soon I mastered the power of referrals, networking, and word-of-mouth advertising. He knew little about the Iranian hostage crisis, had no clue where Pakistan was, and had never even heard the word “Muslim”!
I learned to build relationships working with simple rural folks like these, who were totally different from me, but had a big heart and always felt blessed helping others.
On the flip side, over the years I have experienced relationships where things did not work out the way I had envisioned. In those situations, time became the biggest healer. As upset investors turned against me in the mid-eighties, I built solid relationships with one of them who eventually convinced the rest and favored me. Years later, after retiring, the banker who had supported me in taking over my investors’ loan, asked if he could invest in one of my deals and was rewarded handsomely. I learned from that situation that fairness is key to building relationships with people and will help you in the long run.
Do you know who I have good relationships in the oil and gas industry? The pumper, the landman, and the engineering team. A pumper in an oilfield is like a high-end chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Can you open a high-end restaurant without an excellent chef? Very rarely! Similarly, a good pumper can increase and maintain production on wells from 10 barrels a day to 15 barrels a day. With his onsite vision and support, he will be able to perform preventive maintenance on your wells that can save you money and maintain your wells’ daily production rates.
I’ve often observed an average manager ask pumpers questions like, “How many barrels were produced today? Any problems?” The managers focus only on productivity and seldom care to know about the pumper’s personal life, many of whom spend their lives in rural, deserted parts of the country. I always built good relationships with pumpers, showing empathy towards them when I used to look after day to day operations of our oilfields, and this regularly helped me in my business. Similarly, a good engineering team can substantially increase productivity in the oilfields, and I am blessed to have built such a team.
To sum up, here are a few tips in building relationships:
- Do not shy away from building a trusting relationship thinking that you are an outsider. Many immigrants stay away from building relationships with locals due to an inherent complex or fear stemming from a lack of language skills or from the existence of cultural dissimilarities.
- Try to stay away from business deals built through relationships with family members, friends, and acquaintances, though it is important to counsel them with helpful advice and support when needed.
- Always value fairness and trust in building relationships.
- If a relationship does not work out, sleep over it, and let time be the healer.
- Having empathy towards others is critical in strengthening relationships, whether in your personal life or in business.
- Get out of your self-imposed ghettos and take every opportunity to meet and build lasting relationships with good people.
Find out more about me in my best-selling book “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.
Stay tuned for Blog 30 Tip 16: Stick to your core values
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.