By James Orsini

I recently attended my 35th year high school reunion. Often times it takes occasions like this to have you reflect on life. It was great seeing old friends again. I was struck by the fact that we all came together under a common banner that night. There were no cliques, jocks, or nerds, just alumni singing alma maters and sharing life experiences.

As I shared my 30 year business career journey, I realized how networking played such an important role virtually every step of the way. It all started in 1984, a time when my peers easily found jobs. Career centers in our colleges and universities only needed to help you with a resume and give you a few interview pointers and off you went-- far cry from how it works today. I pity the graduates who have not been taught proper networking skills because networking has been one of the main catalysts in my career trajectory.

My career began with an internship in public accounting at KPMG, which I landed from networking at the career development center and with fellow Seton Hall University alumni. After several years, I found myself on Wall Street working for Goldman Sachs, where the head of human resources at the time was the sister of a friend of mine from Seton Hall University. She called to tell me about a pilot program they were kicking off and thought it would be a good fit for me.

I left Goldman Sachs a few years later to begin a career in marketing. It all started with a call from a colleague whom I’d worked with at KPMG. He said, “The Saatchi brothers just bought a single public relations firm in New York. They want to build a worldwide company. If you leave Goldman, someday you can be the CFO!” I left Goldman Sachs, and within five years, we had built the fifth largest public relations firm in the world and I was a global CFO before I turned 30.

Many years later it was time to stretch again, so I left Saatchi with a promise from the top management that I’d always have a job there. I networked through friends and colleagues into Interbrand, a branding company in the Omnicom family. It was one of my favorite companies to work for and I still remain very close to many of the people whom I worked with there.

One day, the phone rang and I recognized the caller ID. It was that same Saatchi executive who promised me that I’d always have a job there. It was now six years later and that promise came to pass; they called to welcome me back with another opportunity. This time for the advertising company. Again, my authentic network showed its true value as I transitioned back to a senior role in a familiar environment. During my tenure there I began my work with youth--giving back in various ways to Seton Hall University and Seton Hall Prep students. I was fortunate enough to be able to mentor many folks along the way…hold that thought.

Another half dozen years and another phone call: this time from a west coast entrepreneur who connected with me through a college friend who was working for him and another who was also a former Saatchi colleague of mine. My colleague happened to be an investor in this small, publicly traded mobile media company. The entrepreneur asked me, “How would you like to try your hand as a CEO?” After trying to say “no” on three separate occasions, I took the plunge. They networked me into a new challenge in the mobile media space. I had spent three and a half years at Sito Mobile when, you guessed it, the phone rang again.

This time, the call was from someone I had mentored while at Saatchi, AJ Vaynerchuk. I met AJ by sitting next to him at a Seton Hall University basketball game one night, and would later frequently invite him to Saatchi to share my experiences at a time when he, his brother and three friends had started a social media advertising company. This time the call was, “Have you ever met my brother Gary Vaynerchuk?” I responded, “No.” “Have you ever heard of my brother Gary Vaynerchuk?” I responded, “No.” “Why don’t you Google him… he won’t be hard to find”. I did, and he wasn’t!

That wonderful networking opportunity led me to VaynerMedia, where I currently serve as COO of the media kingdom the Vaynerchuks are building, and where today we employ more than 700 people across 6 offices, with much more still ahead. And there you have it; a 30+ year wonderful networking journey with the best still yet to come. A far cry from that New Jersey school yard where the business world seemed so distant and daunting to me and my fellow students. Here’s to the 50 year reunion fellows! Looking forward to sharing further networking stories as they unfold.