I had the pleasure of speaking with the one and only, Stefan Thomas.
His career path took a surprising turn when his two-decade-long career as an estate agent abruptly ended in 2007. Seeking to reinvent himself, he began attending networking events, a practice he had previously done as an estate agent.
Since then he has built a wonderful public speaking career.
Stefan's early experiences taught him so much, so join us in today’s NEXUS posting, as we delve deeper into his inspiring journey.
I first asked, Stefan, where did this transition start. He explained that he had spent around two decades, as an estate agent.
“That career came to a crashing end on May the 30th 2007. And I needed to reinvent myself.
I had recently started going to networking events as an estate agent, so when I launched the first iteration of my business I knew that networking would be a good way forward for me.”
Stefan from what I understood, saw this as an adaptable opportunity, and a chance to shift. I’m sure that time there was initial anxiety. But in the way he was talking, I feel he saw this as a next move.
He began attending networking events, to explore new opportunities. He became active in the BNI global networking organisation and other local groups, swiftly establishing a reputation for his networking abilities. Soon, he was counselling others on how to get the most out of these gatherings.
His enthusiasm grew, and he finally became the director of a business that hosted 5,000 breakfast networking events per year. Not bad eh?
How Life Likes To Work
All these accomplishments and Stefan understood what lay behind it: chance.
He might not have discovered his affinity for networking if he had excelled at the estate agency.
Even in my own work, I feel like I should know every step forward. And of course, it’s never the case. It’s a series of winding and weaving, with the majority of the time, being pulled in various different directions.
Even if we don't understand it at the time, it’s like every experience prepares us for something greater.
“…The publishers of the Dummies series of books asked me if I would write ‘Business Networking for Dummies after they saw me speaker and events…
And then my speaking career took off, so it all happened a bit by accident.
If I'd actually been good at the thing that I was meant to be doing, then I wouldn't be here.
And if my estate agency career hadn't come to a crashing end, then I wouldn't be here.
That sort of thing always intrigues me.”
The Common Truth
There a so many who make it within a certain field, with a specific business degree or prior experience.
Before starting Amazon, Jeff Bezos worked in finance and computer science. Before entering the tech industry, Alibaba founder Jack Ma worked as an English teacher in China. Spanx founder Sara Blakely used to sell fax machines door-to-door before revolutionising the lingerie market. Starbucks' founder, Howard Schultz, used to sell Xerox machines.
Not to mention Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, who launched Zip2, a company that provided city guide software to newspapers, as well as co-founded PayPal.
Yes, these are monopolised companies, that broke through, but what it does demonstrate is that success doesn’t run in a straight line.
Be willing to take chances and let the universe toss you around a little.
So what was the original stimulus?
I asked Stefan to go further back than the estate agent work, and he reminisced on how his early experiences had built the groundwork for his networking success. Even as a young salesman in a shoe store in the early 1980s, Stefan recognized the importance of building relationships with customers.
He would strike up conversations and connect with them on a personal level, and this not only helped him to close more sales but also planted the seeds for his future networking success. It was only later that Stefan realized how these skills could be adapted and applied to the world of networking.
“I think I got my first job in 1983 and I was working in a shoe shop and I learned about rapport-building stuff.
Then how to turn someone from just walking down the stairs to 20 minutes later? There's actually rapport and conversation between you and then they buy a pair of shoes and they buy something else.”
The job is never done…
Life is always a work in progress. I feel more and more by the day, how much there still is to learn.
Stefan has incredible calmness, and compassion and I can see why he has gone down the fields he has.
He observed that when he speaks on stage, he is able to immerse the audience in his world and create a comfortable atmosphere, as opposed to simply speaking at them. He admits to being scared before public speaking engagements, but he has learnt to use that energy positively.
“...when I'm speaking on stage, whether it's a couple of dozen people or a couple of 1000 people, I seem to work out how to bring that audience into my world, so that we were all in the same place… that's become a bit of a signature.”
Stefan meticulously prepares for each speaking engagement, especially the opening few seconds or minutes, and considers the anxious energy valuable. He believes that nervous energy is especially useful, and almost catalysing when speaking in such a public setting.
“Do you feel anxiety with that or have you always felt that you can sort of cope?” (Claudia asks)
“No, completely nervous about it every single time and the nervous energy is really useful.
Even for this conversation, I've prepared I've checked out who you are. I looked at some snippets of your other interviews to get a feeling as to who I'm talking to, and I I prepare a lot for speaking engagements, particularly for the first few seconds or the first few minutes of what I'm going to say.
I like the nervous energy about it. I wouldn't ever want to be not nervous or anxious about it. Not very good at sleeping the night before I get anxiety dreams.”
Structure and Building Patterns
Having structure in my life has allowed me to undo patterns, and find more of what I want, and want to pursue. I often jump around ideas and get lost in things.
He discussed how conducting a networking event for an organisation gave them a sense of purpose and order in their lives, and how they had to get up and go manage the meeting even if they were feeling down or stressed.
I asked him, what’s the one piece of advice, you would give to someone younger, or perhaps to yourself, way back when.
“The thing that I would say to people who are younger than me, is the advantages that that you have in business if it's not too arrogant of me to say so, you know, you literally don't remember when those didn't exist…
You and other people your age have grown up as digital natives and that puts you at such an advantage, particularly with what you're doing for you and for social groups.
You know, most of my estate agency career 20 years of my career was pre-internet…
But you have got such an advantage in being a digital native. My own children are aged 26 down to 19...
They don't remember mobile phones not being about to me that's my head. They don't really remember, social media not being there.”
I love this from Stefan. I love how he understood, how there are always advantages and disadvantages, but you decide what each one is to you.
Stefan's success story shows that networking is not just about collecting business cards and attending events.
It's about building meaningful connections with people, finding common ground, and being genuine.
Whether it's through a shared love of sports, hobbies, or even just a passion for good coffee, there's always a way to connect with someone. So, the next time you attend a networking event, don't forget to bring your sense of humor, your curiosity, and your willingness to connect.
Who knows? You might just discover your next avenue to head down…
Thank you Stefan for being so lovely.