Area native shares secrets for success in book
Keith Ferrazzi's kindergarten teacher told his mother that she'd like to follow him over his lifetime to see how he turned out. Years later, the headmaster of the private school he attended wrote that "I would like to buy a piece of him because he would undoubtedly pay great dividends in the future."
Both educators were correct in their appraisal of the young man's potential.
Ferrazzi, 38, grew up in Unity Township, near Youngstown in Westmoreland County. He is the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a marketing and sales consulting company in Los Angeles and New York City, where he maintains two homes.
His lifetime of professional accomplishments earned him the reputation of being one of the most connected people in business today. How he achieved those goals is the focus of his recently released book, "Never Eat Alone And Other Secrets To Success, One Relationship At A Time."
The book, Ferrazzi said in a phone interview from his home in New York City, made it to the best-seller lists in the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Last month, he was on the "Today" show.
Ferrazzi showed early signs of having an outgoing personality and a genuine interest in people.
"He always wanted to help people," said his mother, Nancy Ferrazzi, of Youngstown. "One time when he was 10, he saw a lady ringing the bell at a Salvation Army kettle, and he bought her a cup of coffee because he thought she was cold."
His sister, Karen Morrison, of Pleasant Unity, calls him "amazing."
"He doesn't judge anyone," she said. "He'll help you if he can, and if he can't, he'll find someone who will."
Ferrazzi turned those traits into the winning business strategies outlined in his book. But this is not about high-power aggression and stepping on people to get to the top. He advises focusing on other people, knowing when to ask for help, giving when asked to give and never keeping score. He supports forming relationships with people who are not only willing to help each other, but also eager to do so.
Ferrazzi was influenced by his late father, Pete, who worked at Kennametal, near Latrobe.
"He was 45 when I was born, and I was his first and only son," Ferrazzi said. "I'm not sure if he had an instinct about me, or if he was just blindsided by his own pride, as any father would be. But because he invested so much in me, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Mrs. Ferrazzi has two other children from a previous marriage. Kevin was 12 and Karen was 14 when Ferrazzi was born. Kevin eventually moved out of town with his father, and Morrison doted on her baby brother like a "little mother," reading to him and playing games.
"He was very tenacious with everything," she said. "He would not give up with even the little things, like putting squares in square holes and circles in round holes."
Ferrazzi made an impression in kindergarten, too.
"His teacher told me that she would like to see what he was going to be when he grew up," Mrs. Ferrazzi said.
A couple of years later, another teacher suggested that the boy would flourish in a private school. That's when Ferrazzi's father approached Alex McKenna, the CEO of Kennametal who was on the board of directors of the Valley School of Ligonier, a private elementary school in the Laurel Highlands. Pete Ferrazzi asked for, and received, a scholarship for his son.
At Valley School, Ferrazzi thrived under the leadership and encouragement of the late Headmaster Peter Messer. Ferrazzi also received a scholarship to attend Kiski Prep School, near Saltsburg, where he ranked No. 1 in his senior class.
"If it weren't for those two schools, I clearly wouldn't have become the success I am today," he said.
In 1984, Kiski Headmaster Jack Pidgeon wrote a letter of recommendation when Ferrazzi sent out college applications.
"This young man is some day going to be at the top of some profession," he wrote.
"And I was right, wasn't I?" Pidgeon said.
Ferrazzi is on the school's board of directors and has visited classrooms to talk to the students.
"He serves as a role model for them," said Pidgeon, who retired two years ago. "He's a fine fellow and a good friend."
Ferrazzi's education has been a lifetime process, both in and out of school. From his father, he learned how to take risks and how to ask for what he needed. As a caddy for golf legend Arnold Palmer, he learned sportsmanship and generosity. From his talented mother, he developed a love of singing and performed in school, and once at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown.
"Toad" and Julie Repasky, of Greensburg Concrete Block, introduced Ferrazzi to their friends.
"The Fontanella sisters, who were all teachers from Greensburg, tutored me in Latin, math and science," Ferrazzi said.
Pidgeon's wife, state treasurer Barbara Hafer, helped him to find summer jobs. When he was a sophomore at Yale University, Elsie Hillman, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, loaned him money, advice and encouragement to attend Harvard Business School, where he received a master's degree in business administration.
"I had been afforded one of the best educational opportunities in the world, almost purely through the generosity of others," Ferrazzi said.
In "Never Eat Alone" Ferrazzi gives credit to the people who helped him to achieve so much. He uses those personal stories to explain how to benefit from what others can offer, and how to reach out to others in need.
"Identify and be focused on what you want to achieve," he said. "Then identify the people who have already achieved that and build relationships with them through things like mentorships. Don't be afraid to ask for something. The worst anyone can ever say is no. And don't be afraid to accept generosity."
Ferrazzi's networking style aims at building a lifelong community of friends, colleagues and mentors. He emphasizes that it's useless to network just for the sake of networking for your own ambitions.
"You'll be successful only if you worry as much about other people's success as you do about your own," he said. "You have to think about how you can give back to the community, and how to make everybody around you successful before you will be a success."
And how successful has he become in the business world•
"I have made more money than I have ever imagined," Ferrazzi said. "Am I a millionaire?" He paused and laughed.
"The answer is 'yes.'"
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller is a Greensburg freelance writer for the Tribune-Review.
("Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets To Success, One Relationship At a Time" by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz, Currency/Doubleday; hardcover, 309 pages, $24.95)
HIGHLIGHTS OF KEITH FERRAZZI'S CAREER