This 5 Minute Email Changed My Life

The content of the email wasn’t what did it.  It was the speed at which the email came back to me.  Let me explain the whole story.

I’m attending George Mason University to earn my Masters in Business Administration (MBA).  I will graduate in May 2013.  This semester I’m taking a leadership class from Richard Klimoski, who is by far the most connected professor I’ve ever met.  He brings in guest speakers for the first part of our class every week.  The guest speakers are all very high executive types with very interesting careers and stories.  We’ve had executives from IBM, the Washington Post, and others.  The guest speakers are worth the price of admission all by themselves and I’m seriously considering retaking this class every time Professor Klimoski teaches it just so I can sit in on the guest speakers again.

A few weeks ago we had someone in who has founded a successful IT firm.  He was very engaging and interesting and he talked a lot about his charitable work in addition to his professional work.  That made an impact on me.  I emailed this person after the class, thanked him for his time, and shared a few of my charitable activities with him.  He was very nice and emailed me back letting me know if I ever needed anything he could help me with to please reach out.  I saved his email and figured I would, but wanted to think of something that would be useful to me, but low impact for him.  He doesn’t really know me after all, having just met me in a class.

Then a week or so ago, I read an interesting interview on the NY Times.  They interviewed Joel Babbit who I don’t have any idea who he is, but his interview was interesting.  The comment he made that stuck with me the most was:

You meet with the C.E.O., it’s 10 minutes. That’s how it works. By the way, you often see the same thing with returning phone calls: assistant vice president takes four days; vice president takes two days; the C.F.O. in one day; and the C.E.O. calls back in 10 minutes.

Q. Why is that?

A. I’ve debated this with some friends. Did the C.E.O. get to where he is because he returns calls in 10 minutes, or does he return calls in 10 minutes because he’s C.E.O.? My opinion: because that’s how he got where he is.

His view that a CEO got to the top because he returns calls in 10 minutes is not scientific.  But it speaks to the meticulous nature of good executives.  I thought about that for a bit.  I definitely need to do better about returning calls sometimes.  On purpose I try to answer emails in bursts so I can focus on things and not be distracted by incoming messages all day long.  But that’s what email is for:  the ability to communicate with people succinctly and at a convenient time (as long as you do respond within a timely manner).  So I’m working on it.

Back to my new friend, the founder of the IT company.  I finally figured out what I wanted to ask his help for and I sent off an email to him with a request.  Made it clear there was no time frame required and he could take as much time as he needed.  I included an attachment in the email.  Then I went on to another task, fully expecting to get a response in a couple days.  This person is a CEO after all, and extremely busy.

I was stunned when less than 30 minutes later I had a reply in my inbox, with a lengthy response to my request.  He included links to assist me.  His entire response showed that he had read my entire attachment carefully and thought about how to respond to me.  It probably took him five minutes to read my email and 10 minutes to respond.  Add a few minutes for email systems to operate, run things through spam filters and route to the boxes, and he probably read my email the instant he received it.  And then he took valuable time out of his day think about a response and give me something that was a hundred times more valuable to me than I was expecting.

So did this person get to be CEO because he returns emails and phone calls within a few minutes?  I’m not sure, but I know that he is a rare and amazing person.  I hope that I can do something in return one day for him, although I am positive it won’t be nearly equal to what he’s taught me.  I also hope I can be like this to others who need/want things from me.

If you give me a call, I’ll try my hardest to call you back in 10 minutes.