WeAreTheCity speaks to Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist, about his career.
Andy is also one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming WeAreFutureLeaders conference on 24 May.
Labelled ‘Mr Network’ by The Sun, Andy Lopata was called ‘one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists’ by the Financial Times and ‘a true master of networking’ by the Independent.
A very experienced international speaker, Andy is the author of three books on networking, has been quoted in a number of other business books and is regularly quoted in the international press. His fourth book will be published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2019. Andy is a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and of the Learning and Performance Institute and a Master of the Institute for Sales Management.
He is also one of just 23 recipients of the PSA’s top honour, the ‘Award of Excellence’.
At the conference, Andy will talk about the how’s and why’s of networking. He will also make it easy for you to meet others and create relationships for the future. The slot will also feature a session of speed networking to enable you to further develop your skills. Discover the full agenda for the day here.
WeAreFutureLeaders, now in its third year, is a conference aimed at women (below Director level) who wish to progress in their career or who are preparing for promotion. This is not a conference that labours about the lack of women in leadership positions, this full day learning event where our guests will gain real tangible skills that they can take back in to the workplace the following day.
You can find out more about the conference and book your place here.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you’ve come from, where you’ve worked, how you got to where you are today?
I’ve been involved in business networking for 20 years. My father co-founded a business network in 1998 and I joined six months later in May 1999. We built the network to be one of the largest of its kind in Europe before my father and I sold our shares to our business partner in 2007. Apart from a brief and painful excursion into the world of social networking, I have been focused on speaking, writing, training and mentoring about networking all around the world ever since.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No. I left university early because I wanted to work in the music industry and had an opportunity, and lasted three months! After that I didn’t stay in any one job in my twenties for more than two years before stumbling into networking.
I do have a clear vision of where I want this business to go through and have done for many years.
What inspired you to get involved with in motivational speaking?
I fell into speaking. I was invited to give talks to promote the network I was running and then, in 2003, I was introduced to The Professional Speaking Association. That was a huge turning point for me.
Do you have a favourite experience from your career?
So many! The feeling of seeing my second book at Number Two overall on Amazon for 48 hours or my third book at Number One in WH Smith Business Charts would be up there. And some of the talks I have given have given me a huge buzz, including being the ‘warm up guy’ for former South African President FW de Klerk, speaking to an arena with over 1,000 people in the audience and twice speaking on the stage of one of the grandest theatres in Stockholm.
Possibly my trip to Irkutsk in Siberia where I spoke for three days at a conference and was treated so warmly by everyone there is a standout experience.
What do you think WeAreFutureLeaders guests will gain from your talk?
If there’s one main thing I’d like to change people’s perceptions of networking and, in the process, increase enthusiasm for and confidence in building networks.
What are your top three tips for success?
Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, what you need to do to get there and how other people can help you.
Seek to support other people without an agenda or an expectation of something in return.
Know when it’s OK to ask for help and be confident enough to do so. But ask in a way that makes it easy for people to help you.
What has been your biggest challenge during your career?
The nature of many small businesses is that success ebbs and flows. We have had some amazing times and others where cashflow has been extremely tight and once or twice where we’ve had to look very seriously day-to-day at whether or not we can continue.
Luckily the absence of a ‘Plan B’ has meant that we’ve found a way through the tough times and hopefully come through stronger and more resilient as a result.
Which female role models are you most inspired by?
I have a big problem with the portrayal of women in business in the media, particularly on shows like Dragons Den and The Apprentice, where old and hackneyed stereotypes of aggressive women are repeated endlessly. The message seems to be that women have to take on ‘masculine’ traits in order to compete with men. I don’t believe that is true.
Instead, a lot of my role models are people I come across in my daily life, like my friend who has built a successful business while coping with tremendous personal tragedy and sharing her journey of failed IVF, miscarriage and still births publicly to help others. Or many of the women I work with who invest a huge amount of time and effort to voluntarily build successful women’s networks while managing their own career and a stressful day job.
In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle for women at work and how can it be overcome?
I interviewed a number of women around the world for my new book about the need for vulnerability and asking for help. One of the main themes that came up time and again was the need for a change in attitudes of middle management in large organisations. The suggestion was that many people in senior management recognise the need for a change in culture and attitude while people coming into the workplace bring a different approach with them.
But there is a ‘marzipan layer’ in the middle, of people who have been in their job for decades and still carry old attitudes to gender roles in the workplace. They are hugely influential in the daily working of a business, resistant to change and can impede progress.
Over time that group will naturally diminish and hopefully newer perspectives can take hold as the dominant culture. Can that be sped up by men speaking up for and supporting their female colleagues and a more proactive and meaningful lead from the top? I would hope so.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Coming from a networking perspective, create more opportunities for people within organisations to collaborate, share and support each other. I see more competition than collaboration within so many organisations and that creates a toxic culture that doesn’t allow progress in any form.
If we can move to a more supportive, transparent and honest culture, one where it’s OK to be wrong or not to be sure, one where we recognise the importance of working together to grow the pie rather than just concentrating on the size of our own slice, then I believe that gender will become less of an issue and the right person for the right role will be seen as far more important.
We need to focus more on rewarding collective achievement rather than solely fuelling personal ambition at all cost.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t plan your career to satisfy other people’s expectations, work is something that is going to take up the majority of your waking hours so find something you love doing and do your best to excel.