Meet John Willding. John is a partner in the Corporate and Securities Practice Group of Strasburger & Price, LLP. He has impressive credentials including degrees from SMU, Rutgers, and Harvard. He also served in the Army and Air Force Reserve.
I first heard about John from multiple people around town on multiple occasions. He’s created quite a buzz here in Dallas, Texas. You see, not only is John a well-respected, successful business lawyer, he is the innovator behind the most popular, professional business networking event in the city!
John’s event is informally known as the “Last Tuesdays.” This is how business people in Dallas refer to the event when they are casually talking it up amongst their friends, colleagues, and connections. Last Tuesday Happy Hour at the Ritz, as the event is more formerly known, is held on the last Tuesday of the month at the Dallas Ritz Carlton Hotel.
John has seen more than 500 people attend his business happy hour networking event in one evening. The average attendance is 200-300 people, and they come from all over. John also posts the event using the LinkedIn Events Tool and blasts that link out to his exclusive email list of professional connections.
In fact, one of the reasons I was so impressed with this event was the fact that John was leveraging online social networking tools to grow his offline event. That’s the way social networking should work for business professionals.
John purchases a few bottles of wine for the event to control his costs (and it goes fast), and he has worked with the same bartender for the 11 years that the event has been running. The Ritz Carlton graciously hosts the largest recurring professional networking event in Dallas, but it certainly doesn’t hurt when many of the attendees open their own tabs, leave tips, and even stay for dinner.
The first time I attended Last Tuesday at the Ritz, I was blown away. There was an incredible amount of energy that filled the air, and being there makes you feel as if you are part of an exclusive club. This event has an elite, yet welcoming feel to it. It’s not stuffy and formal, as many professional networking events can be. New relationships are formed immediately, and business deals are getting done as well.
When John Willding actually enters the event, he’s like a celebrity walking down the red carpet. Everyone knows and loves John, although, he may or may not know them. (This is the power of building influence). The attendees seem grateful for this engaging and social monthly experience he has provided for them.
I had the opportunity to interview John recently about “Last Tuesday at the Ritz”:
Q & A with John Willding:
Q: How and why did you start this event?
A: I needed a way to build my network as a young lawyer. I wanted to create the ability to stay in touch with other professionals in the Dallas business community. I also wanted to cultivate a diverse group of people from all ages, backgrounds, and industries and bring them together. The event has grown significantly over the years. It started very small, but consistency is the key to growth.
Q: Why the “Last Tuesday?”
A: Picking a single day of the month was easy for everyone to remember. Tuesday is a night with less competition as most people don’t have plans that early in the week. It also created consistency for the event. Everyone knows it is held on the last Tuesday of every month.
Q: Did you seek out sponsors to help you with the event?
A: No. I didn’t want there to be any agenda other than networking. The Ritz Carlton has been extremely supportive and the event is held on their patio (where a new retractable roof with multiple bars and air conditioning is being built). They don’t charge me to use the facility, but in return some of the attendees stay for dinner and hang around beyond the event.
Q: Your event has garnered also some nice visibility on LinkedIn. Has the professional social network helped you get the word out?
A: LinkedIn is great because it creates that viral aspect. I can create a link for the event so attendees can share it with their connections. They can see who else is coming within and outside of their existing network on LinkedIn and even network with those people ahead of time. LinkedIn also helps to keep the event top of mind and serves as a great way to remind people about it.
Q: How has creating and sticking with this event helped your career?
A: I’ve always believed in a giving mentality. Yes absolutely business has come from the event, primarily through referrals, but I have no expectations. By helping others connect with others who can add value, everybody wins. Another twist that has evolved is some out of town connections (mainly private equity) actually plan their visits and meetings around the event! It provides a great way to network around the meeting.
Q: What advice would you give to someone else who might start their own local professional networking event?
A: It takes time. You can’t expect overnight success. It requires dedication and consistency to make it happen. I do think that social networking on sites such as LinkedIn can accelerate that today, however. You can potentially gain traction more quickly for your event.
If you’re not doing anything on the last Tuesday of the month in Dallas, Texas (or anywhere), pop on in to the Ritz Carlton and see for yourself the magic that John Willding has created! Make some fantastic new business connections while you’re there, and why not stay for dinner?