2nd October 2015

Joker Of The Pack – Joke Writer Turned Worldwide Financial Networker

Trust is the most important factor in building a business from the ground up. As the CEO and founder of Opportunity Network, creating a sense of total trust is critical to my business.

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Joker Of The Pack – Joke Writer Turned Worldwide Financial Networker

It’s exactly by providing trust that Opportunity Network adds value to its members, by unleashing the potential for their companies to do business with trustworthy business partners worldwide. This has enabled Opportunity Network to grow to be valued at over $100m.

This company is the coming-together of all my business experiences. Several years back, I worked for my family’s corporate event business in Italy, organising meetings and fairs for international clients. Later, as a private equity associate in New York, I evaluated investment opportunities in multiple sectors and helped launch big projects for portfolio companies. This meant working for a number of years with world leading companies, devising and executing planned strategies for corporate mergers, across a myriad of industries.

The problem with deal-making. Those experiences changed the way I looked at medium-sized businesses; they fueled ideas for how things could be improved, and how I could help.

In everyday life, the world now seems a lot smaller and we think on a global scale. The availability of flights to anywhere in the world, the ubiquity of the internet, even in the farthest flung parts of the world, are a testament to this changed mentality. By contrast, traditionally, businesses have focused nearly exclusively on trade growth in their own backyards because geographical proximity meant familiarity and trust. This is something I believe has to change.

Nowadays, global digital networks have made growth opportunities just as possible in far-flung corners of the globe. Your company can strike a supply agreement, enter a partnership with or be acquired by another one on a different continent entirely.

But how do you trust potential partners when you have never met face-to-face, when you have not yet established trust? World Economic Forum research have proven the hardest part of making business happen is finding a trustworthy counterpart to do business with.

My idea was to tap into existing networks and to extend them in order to create a broader one characterized by trust.

I began this journey by tapping into existing Family Business Clubs of top MBA programmes. From this essential starting point, I then expanded Opportunity Network by securing the top clients of the best financial institutions and professional service firms around the globe. I took this approach in order to maintain the high quality and broker trust among our members.

Opportunity Network is now a world-leading platform that enables companies globally to achieve growth through partnerships, M&As, and supply trade agreements.

Trust is the fuel of business

It is a members-only platform that enables CEOs of middle-market companies, family offices and ultra-high-net-worth individuals to share business opportunities with one another, anonymously and seamlessly.

We have a deal flow of roughly $15bn. When members look for an opportunity, no matter how exotic, they are usually able to find something. And all interactions are opportunity-centric, so it really sorts the wheat from the chaff.

As a clearing house that brings together global networks from the top financial institutions and service providers around the world, the trust and opportunities within Opportunity Network are by default maximised many times over. In our first year, we added over 40 such partnerships. The network now counts thousands of companies from more than 75 different countries.

Everyone is able to find trustworthy partners wherever they want to achieve growth. We have many success stories and hundreds of thank-you notes.

The make-up of a CEO

I used to think that the best thing about being a CEO was being fully responsible for developing an idea, and being the owner of all my company’s decisions. But that was before I became one. Now I understand that there are so many external and internal factors that impact on a company beyond your control, that is not realistic to think you can be across everything fully.

A CEO should always have three things uppermost in mind. First is to think about long-term growth strategies. Second is communicating them properly, so that they are clear to everybody. Third, is all about hiring the best talents and providing them with the resources and freedom to express as much as possible their knowledge and potential, while being there if they need support.

Turning org charts upside-down

At Opportunity Network, I have implemented an atypical organisational structure. Usually, companies have their most senior people at the top of the tree, but we are the reverse – we put our most senior people below our juniors. Some people who are three reports away from me are paid more and have more experience than people who are closer.

Usually, companies hand junior workers routine tasks and occasional decisions, leaving senior executives’ energy cluttered up with frequent important decisions. The management team, however, may need spare capacity to tackle unpredictable events. So we drive as much business-related decision-making as possible down to our experienced executives, leaving those farther up the ladder to think bigger. We find it’s a very efficient way to work.

This is the approach I try to bring to my work. Trust is key – you need to trust the people you work with, both within your organisation and with clients and suppliers. The result is achieved collaboration and collective growth.

Overcoming international barriers

In the business world right now, we are in front of an unprecedented moment – we are living the fourth industrial revolution, fueled by digital economy. The world is changing at a speed that humanity has never experienced before and this is translated in the speed and number of opportunities that can be captured to grow your company.

More and more countries are emerging and growing, thanks to their demographics and investments. After the “BRICs” of Brazil, Russia, India and China, just look at the growth of Indonesia, or Nigeria, for example. Growing countries represent new opportunities for ambitious CEOs in developed markets.

But, although the world has become smaller through globalisation, it is still full of barriers to companies. Fragmented national laws, cultural unfamiliarity and opaque foreign markets challenge companies to grow overseas, despite clear opportunities.

The future is bright

The future is full of opportunities and Opportunity Network wants to help seize them. Our mission is to stimulate economic growth by removing barriers and brokering trust among businesses from all over the world.

We have become familiar with the idea that there are six degrees of separation between people. In the business world, we want to reduce them to just one, trustworthy, degree of separation. We hope that what we are doing will have a long-term effect on GDP growth at a global level.

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