Guest Speaker Kingsley Aikins – Thriving in a Networked Age

Kingsley Aikins Lincoln
Kingsley Aikins is a prolific and lifetime networker. He was until 2009 the President and CEO of The Ireland Funds, based in Sydney and Boston among 10 other cities around the world, facilitating the funding of over 1200 projects in Ireland worth over a quarter of a billion dollars. These projects were as diverse as Peace and Reconciliation, Arts and Culture, Education and Community development. The Funds are now active in 39 cities in 13 countries around the world. Aikins is now involved with the Hireland initiative, which is aiming to encourage businesses to hire one person each this year in an effort to kick-start job creation across Ireland.

“Ireland is something quite extraordinary”, says Kingsley Aikins. Our reputation and population has spread worldwide and we have developed communities of Irish descendants in all corners of the world. This is similar to many nationalities – over 215 million people live in a country that is not the one they were born in, which is a three-fold increase in the last 25 years. “In the United States, 12% of the population were born elsewhere. Over 80 million people in the world claim to be of Irish heritage, 40 million of these are based in the US. The UK has nearly 1 million first generation Irish- born people, compared to 127,000 in the United States. 5 million people in the UK have a direct relative who is Irish. Our widespread nationality is simply staggering.”

Utilising These Networks of Irish Around the World

In Ireland between the 1950’s to 1970’s, remittances from Britain were so important that they were a line in our National Exchequer Accounts. In the 60’s in particular, these remittances exceeded the amount of money the State spent on education. The money sent home to families in Ireland was spent on sending children to school and purchasing consumer goods. This kept businesses going, and it enabled a generation of Irish people to get a university education and create the basis for Ireland’s success in the Celtic Tiger era and beyond.

When Aikins arrived in Sydney to head up the Australia Ireland Fund, he didn’t know anyone in the city. Eager to formulate relationships and get investment opportunities going for Ireland, he set up the Lansdowne Club, a business network of Irish or Irish-Descendant business people in Australia that now meets regularly and hosts the largest networking event in the world every St Patricks Day, attended by over 2,500 members including members of Parliament.

It was his experience in Australia that led Aikins to believe that emigration can be a great thing – so good in fact that we should actively prepare and educate our children for it. In Australia, more than 25% of the population is of Irish heritage. It’s so commonplace that Irish names have become mainstream. On an official visit to Ireland, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating quipped, “The funny thing about Ireland is that so many people look Australian!”

Emigrating to far-flung places around the world only expands our horizons, our experiences and our perspective, said Aikins. When Irish people travel abroad, we create connections and networks in those countries.

United States of Ireland

After Australia, Aikins then moved to Boston to the American Ireland Funds, working for Irish businessman Tony O’Reilly and Pittsburgh-born Dan Rooney (now the US Ambassador to Ireland). The vast population of Irish-heritage Americans, particularly those now considered of the “Baby Boomers” generation, have ties to Ireland that influence their decisions in investment and philanthropy. Ireland, says Aikins, is perfectly poised to take advantage of the Baby Boomers’ desire to travel the world and explore their roots, spending money in Ireland in both tourism and investment in businesses.

Utilising the Diaspora – who does it better?

In November 2011, The Economist wrote about the Magic of Diaspora [ node/21538742], and how Immigrant Diaspora Business networks are reshaping the world.

According to Aikins, there are four countries that do Diaspora-networking better than Ireland. These are Israel, India, China and Taiwan. There are four key questions that should be asked around the Diaspora networks in these countries:

  1. What makes China the greatest manufacturing power?
  2. What makes Israel the second largest country in the world for Venture Capital?
  3. What makes India a global technology hub?
  4. What brought peace to Northern Ireland?

The answer to all these questions, says Aikins, is networking with the diaspora, particularly those in the United States.

The term Diaspora was generally associated with the Jews in Israel, as the Jewish people of Israel began to spread abroad from the 1950’s. Many emigrated to the United States and Canada, and some to the United Kingdom, but Israel has maintained contact with these Israeli-descendants and actively encourage Israeli Jews to return to Israel to learn about the history, culture and religion that has shaped their lives.

After research carried out by Canadian department store Friemans discovered that over 50% of Jews were marrying non-Jews, and only 10% of those Jewish parents were planning on bringing up their children as Jewish, this prompted Israel to launch an annual programme that invited 40,000

Israeli-descendant Jews back to Israel for 10 days of immersion in Israeli culture (for free). This programme has been so successful in linking members of its Diaspora that Israeli companies have gained considerable success. 127 Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ (there were none as recently as 1990. Only 6 European companies are NASDAQ listed, in comparison).

China and Taiwan have utilized their Diaspora so that they could improve their competitiveness and businesses on an international scale. Chinese parents, since instilling their Single Child policy, pumped money and effort in to their single heir in order to gain a world-class education. Some 500,000 of these “sea turtles”, as they’re known, went to US universities, gained a top-class education and then returned to China to develop businesses with a worldwide perspective.

In Taiwan, they did precisely the same, sending their youngsters to the likes of Stanford, Harvard and Georgetown Universities. Many technology firms, who have established links with these Chinese and Taiwanese ex-pats, have set up factories and R&D hubs in China and Taiwan. The Taiwanese semi- conductor sector is booming, and more and more complex consumer electronics are made in China that once originated in the United States.

India is another brilliant example of Diaspora networking. 27 million Indians have emigrated overseas, of which 1.7 million are living in the United States. This intensely educated and smart Indian population living away from India are worth two thirds of the Indian GDP. 1 in 4 start-ups in Palo Alto California are headed up by Indians. In the last ten years, Indian CEOs have made a major breakthrough in international organizations. The CEO of PepsiCo is Indra Nooyi, considered one of the most influential women in Business today. The CEO of Mastercard, Ajay Banga, CEO of Citigroup Vikram Pandit, Booz & Company CEO Shumeet Banerji, and Vodafone’s Vittorio Colao, are all Indian.

Peace Missions and Networking

In 1997, Aikins was asked to bring the warring parties of Northern Ireland to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela. Using his connections and networks with the likes of Tony O’Reilly, this plan quickly came to fruition. However, these parties were not officially talking together, and so would not fly to South Africa together or stay at the same hotel, nor would they meet with Nelson Mandela together. However, bringing these parties together and listening to the wise advice of Nelson Mandela (separately), as well as meeting in quiet corners of bars and darkened corridors on that visit to South Africa, are remembered by Northern Ireland parliamentary leaders as the key steps that led to peace and signing the legendary Good Friday Agreement the following Easter.

DDI – “Diaspora Direct Investment”

Diaspora Direct Investment, coined by Aikins, is a worthwhile subset of FDI. Investments in Ireland have a common thread – they all are based on connections with Ireland, and decisions to invest in our little island are based on that connection and affinity with Ireland.

Like Intel’s operations in Israel, who decided to open another Fab in Israel simply because they didn’t want to lose their top engineer, Mooly Eden, who wanted to “return home” to Israel. Intel’s Israeli base is now one of their largest plants, with over 6,500 employees.

Diaspora-Direct Investment in Ireland has a lot to answer for with the vast number of corporations from all over the world who set up base here. Dan Tully, CEO of Merrill Lynch, was asked by Aikins why he chose Ireland when deciding where to set up base in Europe. In a toss-up between Switzerland and Ireland, Tully’s response was that there weren’t any Tullys in the Zurich phone book!

MBNA were the same. Their European operations are based in Carrick on Shannon, a small town in the west of Ireland with a population of about 4,000. MBNA’s decision to move to not just Ireland, but the tiny town of Carrick on Shannon, was based purely out of affinity to the place. Charles Cawley, founding member of MBNA, said his decision to move was because all four of his grandparents came from there.

The Nudge Factor

Aikins says that “Life is a game of inches, the margin between success and failure is so tight. We need everything we can get in this game. We need to know the tipping agents and the people who can nudge a deal forward in to realisation. We achieve this through networking.”

Former Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter said “we live in a networked world. The power of connectedness is above all else.” With, as Aikins describes, “creative clusters of smart people” the likes of Palo Alto, Shanghai and Dublin Docklands have more in common with one another than their next-door towns and cities. The whole economic model has changed, because of technology, communications and education.

According to Kingsley, who is really optimistic about Ireland, “I believe we’re in a pre-boom period. As Albert Reynolds once said, ‘when business is down you paint the shop’. US former President Bill Clinton, in the Clinton-Kenny meeting last week, said there are trillions of US dollars in companies waiting to be invested. The US has already invested over 1 trillion dollars in Dublin. That money is not really in Dublin, it’s booked through Dublin. More importantly where it’s not is in the United States. Within a few years, that money will find a home in investment in Irish businesses and Irish jobs.

Networking: Building Social Capital and Trust

Social Capital is the real differentiating factor for success in this century, says Aikins. “It’s not who you know, or what you know – it’s who knows you. We live in a bizarre world where we have this electronic dimension of thousands of connections in our computers and several hundred in our phones, and this has fundamentally changed how we do business. But our heads haven’t changed for 25,000 years.” With the theory of Dunbar’s number in mind (where we can only sustain 150 relationships at any one time), this clashes with the power of weak connections. We know that having a large number of weak connections can mean that we can find the one relationship to do a specific deal and focus on that relationship to carry the deal through. “Social capital is a measure of your engaged-ness.”

There are two elements of Social Capital:

1) Can you move your mind-set from one which is transactional driven to one that is relationship-driven, and
2) What is the process to build relationships?

To move your mind-set from transactional to relational is essential. During the Boom years, so many organisations focused on transactional exchanges, but it is only now that we have gleaned perspective of a harsh recession that relationships show themselves to be of upmost importance.

In developing a process for the journey of building relationships, an idea was established by the 800- strong development team at Harvard. They reached a 4-phase Relationship process that is proven to work.

Step 1: Contact (Research)

Doing Research (identifying who to contact). What is research? What role does it play in the relationship process? How do you measure its success? What does it mean to ‘rate and screen’ prospects by their ‘capacity’ and ‘propensity’ to do business with you?

Step 2: Connect (Cultivation)

Doing Cultivation (making the connection). What is cultivation? What role does it play in the relationships process? How do you measure its success? How do you take your prospects on a cultivation journey? What kind of cultivation initiatives can you take?

Step 3: Involve (solicitation)

Doing Solicitation (asking for the business)? What is solicitation? What role does it play in the relationship process? How do you measure its success? What does it mean to ask for the business? When do you know you are ready and how do you ask?

Step 4: evolve (stewardship)

Doing Stewardship (evolving the relationship).What is stewardship? What role does it play in the relationship process? How do you measure its success? How important is it in moving from a “transactional” to a “relationship” mindset? Who makes the first move?

This journey is there to develop one thing: trust. “Trust is not an event”, says Aikins. “You don’t meet someone today and trust them tomorrow. Trust is not even deserved. Trust is earned. It’s earned over a long period of time, and can be lost in a nanosecond. That’s the world we live in. Build relationships – hearts and minds relationships. Change the mind-set from transactional to relational, have a process to do it, and move up in to the engagement line, which is the most effective spot in social capital.

Integrity and mutuality are essential to building trust and trust is at the basis of sustainable relationships. Few relationships and or networks of relationships, other than those created by force or coercion, survive without trust.

Given however the increasingly short-term context within which business operates, how do you build long-term and sustainable trusting relationships?

Key to answering this is suspending what you want and being able to listen to what your network needs. People with social capital are most successful. They are leaders, their companies are the most successful, and they’re generally successful in life.”

Networking Nuggets
  • Networking is not an event but a process in which you contact, connect, involve and evolve a relationship over time.
  • Networking is not about your personality. Certain personality types are better at selling. All personality types can have good and bad relationships.
  • Networking is not about what you know or who you know but is about who knows you and what they think of you.
  • Networking is not about your ability to compete competing but is about your ability to listen.
  • Networking is about knowing the extent of your capacity to network (see Dunbar’s 150)
  • Networking is also about knowing The value of weak connections.
  • Networking is also easier for those with more Social capital as it acts a measure of trust and reciprocity in your network
  • Social capital as it acts a measure of trust and reciprocity in your network
Shay Dalton avatar
Lincoln Recruitment Owner & Founder