Bennish Brown | Crain's Seattle

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bennish Brown

Background:  

Travel Tacoma + Pierce County is the official destination marketing organization for Tacoma and Pierce County, Washington. It formulates and executes initiatives that deliver tourism to Pierce County, directly south of Seattle, and King County and the southern sector of the Puget Sound region.

The Mistake:

In college my focus was on getting good grades. I thought that if I was one of the best students, people would automatically want to hire me after graduation. So, right out of college my focus was on getting a job based on my good grades. My degree was in broadcasting, I wanted to go into radio. But then I sat at home in May, and I sat at home in June, July and August. Thinking that people were going to jump at my resume and hire me right away out of college based on my grades was a big mistake.

Finally, I put in an application for a job at a radio station I grew up listening to in South Carolina, an AM/FM gospel station, because my dad had it on in the car all the time. But one day, when I was still looking for a job, that station had an ad for a sales rep. The station was 60 miles from my parents’ home, and by the time I went off to college I was really kind of sick of hearing that music—but I really needed a job, and I knew I needed to make some money and get out of my parents’ house.

After I was hired I became close to the general manager, as well as the morning radio personality. The top salesman, in fact, was the morning radio personality, who as soon as he got off work started his sales rounds. Everybody knew him and everybody loved him. I, however, wasn’t doing so well. So after five months on the job, I was fired by the general manager because I could not really sell. I knew he was hurting because he had to fire me, but business was business.

Anyway, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and began selling fire alarms, anything I could, just trying to hang on. But what helped me advance my career was getting to know that general manager. I stayed in touch with him, and three months later he called me and said, “Bennish, I have a job for you." He hired me as the station manager, which got me into managing the same morning announcer, scheduling the music, placing the advertising breaks and so on.

Grades are great, but now I also realize the value of relationships and networking.

The Lesson:

That’s the first time that I picked up on this advice: Grades are great, but now I also realize the value of relationships and networking. People hire those whom they know something about.

If I knew now what I knew then, I would have been more forward-looking and more outward-looking when it came to the resources I had in other people around me. I should have been looking to my college professors and their resources as an undergrad. I was just focused on my grades; I didn't see the value of going out after class and grabbing a beer with the college professor.

Had I realized the value of making connections with my professors, who had professional connections, I would have had many more resources when I was searching for jobs. I don't regret anything that's happened in my career and I wouldn't do anything over again. But if I had started building connections earlier, things might have resulted in different turn.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the location to which Bennish Brown relocated to sell fire alarms. He moved to Charleston, S.C. We regret the error.

Follow Travel Tacoma + Pierce County on Twitter at @TravelTacoma.

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