Business & Money

Etiquette and Networking – The Secret Society of Business

By Cedric Muhammad | Last updated: Dec 11, 2009 - 7:46:12 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

( Yesterday, at a certain point during the second part of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan's historic lecture series “The Time and What Must Be Done,” the Minister made an important point regarding the strength and vitality of the Black community in America relative to other immigrant and ethnic groups. He made clear that an indication of the spiritual condition of a people is their level of social cohesion, community and economic development. While he made this powerful point I thought to myself, ‘a major reason why the Black community has not been more successful in business is because we are not more like him.'

What I meant by that, is that aside from following the Minister's guidance on how to improve ourselves and build our communities we have not really appreciated something about him that he really can't easily teach about himself – his extraordinary manners. I am among those who have been blessed to be with Minister Farrakhan in more private settings – one-on-one discussions, coffee talks, dinners and business meetings, and I have formed the opinion that he has the best manners of any human being I have ever met. It actually can be unnerving how considerate he is of guests' needs, how carefully and intently he listens to anyone speaking to him, and how well he guides group discussion.

When I share with people how kind and considerate Minister Farrakhan has been to me, they almost can't believe it.

With tears in my eyes, earlier this year I thanked him, struggling to articulate exactly what it is that he does (smile).

A dear friend of mine told me once after watching a video of Minister Farrakhan interacting in a social setting, where he shook hands or hugged all, beamed his beautiful smile, listened to, and shared encouraging words - ‘He knows who he is dealing with – how beaten down we are, and how little we think of ourselves. He knows the only thing that will touch and reach us are expressions of his genuine concern and love for us.'

The Minister is a lover of people, regardless to status and takes the disposition of a servant – doing kind to all. His social skills are unusual.

His pattern of conduct is beautiful and exemplary.

This is not just an opinion of him held by those who follow, support or already love him.

As I write this, I am reminded of one very wealthy and successful Caucasian businessman who met Minister Farrakhan at a Polyconomics' client conference hosted by the late economist Jude Wanniski in Florida last decade, who indicated to me that he initially had a negative view of the Minister – which was erased when he had a chance to interact with him. This gentleman told me how struck he was by Minister Farrakhan's manners and most of all how carefully he listened and how quickly his mind grasped new concepts. He told me it was so impressive to him, even shocking.

Others are first-hand witnesses of the Minister's appreciation for and even mastery of etiquette when traveling abroad. One day that story will be told.

A comprehensive and definitive biography, so to speak, of Minister Farrakhan has yet to be written, but it would have to include this area – his extraordinary manners and etiquette. From his own words – in interviews and books like Closing The Gap ( we already do know that the Minister credits the strong rearing of his Mother, a native of St. Kitts, and the teaching and unusual training of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He has also acknowledged the effect of the discipline he observed practiced by his mentor - while he was with the Nation of Islam – Minister Malcolm X. To understand the effect the Minister's unspoken example has had on those who are half his age or more, you only have to listen to an untitled track on Nas' last album which the streets have ‘officially' re-named ‘Louis Farrakhan' (

My Mother was born in Panama, where she lived until she was 7 years old. She then grew up in Jamaica, before coming to the States in her teenage years. She told me she was taught etiquette from her Uncle and Aunt who raised her in Jamaica. My father was born in Harlem and raised in Brooklyn, he was reared by his grandmother who instilled values and discipline in him. He served 27 years in the U.S. armed forces where he traveled the world receiving thorough military training, retiring as a Command Sergeant Major.

In my household my Mother was the ‘CEO' – Chief Etiquette Officer – and my Father was her enforcer. With that foundation or regime (smile), my big Brother and I traveled the world, experiencing multi-course meals in France, and watching my father bargain or negotiate prices with vendors on the streets of New York and Rome. He learned to become fluent in German just by going out and speaking with the people of the country.

My father taught me an appreciation for culture no matter where – on the streets of America or abroad. He is a master networker, with great manners and fast thinking on his feet.

When I was 17 I met my life-long mentor, Frank, who built on the foundation my parents gave me in the area of personal and social manners teaching me business etiquette. He taught me everything from what kind of ties to wear, what shape my business card holders should be, and the appropriate manners involved in conducting business over meals and in social settings.

The importance of this subject cannot be overstated, especially for young people. It is not taught in school (in America) and it is something that few successful people seem able or willing to share with others, when they explain reasons for their success. In that sense it is a secret. This is one of the reasons I am happy to see individuals who are influential with young people being more honest about how the way you conduct yourself affects your success in business. Jay-Z and 50 Cent are recent example.

That is why I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book, The Entrepreneurial Secret. In a chapter entitled, ‘The Secret of Etiquette and Networking – The Culture Of Doing Business,' aside from lessons I learned in networking from Method Man and Raekwon of Wu Tang Clan, I feature in detail a discussion between my mentor, Frank, and myself, about the hidden or less visible aspects of how business decisions are made through personal conduct and social networking.

That is why I had a big smile on my face when I saw two articles that bear witness to the importance of this subject.

The most recent was the November 25, 2009 Wall Street Journal article, “What Facebook Can't Give You,” a story about a group of men, who over 52 years of meeting and networking evolved as power brokers. Here is an excerpt:

Before there was Facebook, there was the Wednesday 10.

In 1957, as men in their late 20s, they began meeting—initially over breakfast, then over dinners held at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel or at the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan. Few were born to means. Many were sons of immigrants. Most went on to become luminaries in their fields—presidents of television networks, partners at banks, editors of magazines.

On occasion, they shared their influence with one another. When member Mort Janklow made a career switch from corporate attorney to literary agent, a fellow member, columnist William Safire, offered himself as a famous first client. When Robert Menschel, a senior director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., was considering deals involving large consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble, he would pick the brain of fellow club member Ed Meyer, the former chief executive of Grey Advertising.

In a day when “social network” is a buzz term from colleges to board rooms, the members of Wednesday 10 show the benefits of old-fashioned networking. “We were all young kids starting out, and it is easy when you are so involved in building your career to lose touch with other people who are outside your field,” says Mr. Menschel, who has been at Goldman Sachs for 55 years. “It helped me to understand why other people do what they do—which is important in life and in business. You don't learn anything from talking to sameness.”

The Wednesday 10 comprised, at various points, more than 20 men; the goal was a number small enough to maintain intimacy yet large enough to ensure that at least 10 members would show up for each of the monthly Wednesday-night meetings. No more than two representatives of any one industry were permitted. The idea was to combat insularity, to keep the men connected to people and events outside their own professions.

The other article of great relevance to me appeared in the November 13, 2009 Financial Times magazine, How To Spend It. In the column, ‘The Captain's Table,' Vanessa Friedman focuses on the view of John Demsey (group president of The Estee Lauder Companies), on the subject of the importance of the business:

“There are people in this world for whom meals are the nexus of how they operate in business, and they have restaurants that function almost as canteens or conference rooms…

At this point in time, there's less of everything: fewer suppliers, restaurants and magazines. This consolidation of the world has lessened the networking opportunities available, and this is a huge part of the purpose of lunch. It's important to get out of the office and find out what's going on. It's easy to get so involved in your own world that you forget about all the other things you should be paying attention to, and simply by virtue of seeing someone across the room, you get a new idea.

This is important in my business, which is all about people and what's new. I'm not trying to get deals signed; I'm trying to seduce someone into doing a project, or get information. If I want to find out what's going on with my competition, the absolute best tactic I know is to go out to lunch. It's much more effective than reading the newspaper.

…Where you eat says something about who you are…Going back to the same place makes you feel at home, and provides a comfort level that allows you to concentrate on your guest. It's like Cheers: you want to go to a place where everybody knows your name.

…The truth is, almost every meaningful person I've hired, every important celebrity relationship Lauder has started, has happened after a lunch. It adds the personal connection to the business connection – and that makes all the difference.”

Knowledge of financial statements, cultural trends, and tax policy is important but sometimes nothing matters more in business than the size of your business card, how likable you are, who you know, whether or not you know where to get rid of that chewing gum and in what direction to pass the food at your table.

If you do, you have entered successfully into the most secret part of the society of business.

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is author of the book, The Entrepreneurial Secret ( His talk show, ‘The Cedric Muhammad and Black Coffee Program' can be viewed every Wednesday from 12 to 5 PM EST (USA) at: