Workplace friendships are more than someone to moan about the boss, have lunch and sneak off for coffee with.
Many CEOs forged their current support network early in their career and others even found their business partners then.
It’s not a stretch to say that a sizeable chunk of businesses today would not exist without friendship, including Ben&Jerry’s, Google and Airbnb.
Evan Goldberg, the founder of the first cloud software company in the world, Netsuite Inc, knows this all too well.
If it wasn’t for a five-minute phone call with his boss-turned-friend Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, his multibillion-dollar business probably wouldn’t be here today.
How Goldberg struck up a friendship with Ellison
It all started in 1987 when Goldberg was a budding young software engineer and Oracle, which at the time was not the giant it is today, was hiring.
“I was straight out of college,” Goldberg recalls when he was interviewed for an engineering role by Ellison himself.
He got the job, of course, and says the rest was “luck”.
“I was in the right place at the right time when I started at Oracle,” Goldberg says, adding that the business’ small footprint and startup culture enabled him to develop a relationship with Ellison.
If Goldberg had joined Oracle today, he would have been one of its 170,000-strong workforce making it much harder to have a conversation, let alone become friendly, with the big boss.
“Oracle, back in the day, had a great culture,” he says. “When people are working very hard in a startup environment, you better have some degree of friendship, because you’ve been together so much under pressure cooker conditions.”
Despite moving on from the tech giant after eight years to found his own venture, mBed, the two stayed in touch.
The famous five-minute phone call that changed everything
“He would call in periodically, to see how things are going,” Goldberg says while joking that Ellison had zero interest in his business. “He used to call it my graphic stuff… But he was invested in me,” he adds.
On one catch-up call, Goldberg admitted his first startup wasn’t working out but that he wanted to build a software that’s for businesses, “because startups don’t seem to have a lot of things to use to help them grow”.
Ellison liked that idea but thought that the service would have to run on the internet because founders were sick of managing various software on their computers.
Within five minutes, the entire business model was dreamed up and a year later, it was a reality.
The business came full circle when in 2016 it joined the Oracle empire in a $9.3 billion acquisition deal.
Goldberg’s advice for befriending your boss
“You have to be proactive,” is Goldberg’s top tip to talent looking to punch above their weight and make friends with management.
But warned you “can’t force these things”, and those serendipitous moments that could lead to a connection are hard to replicate in a remote working world.
“Just having that face time is step one,” he says while cautioning enthusiastic young workers that you’re “not going to develop a relationship with every executive at your company”.
Instead, he suggests finding opportunities to connect with just one or two senior staff members and shining through your work.
It also pays to remember that the C-suite is equally invested in nurturing relationships with their future talent.
“NetSuite is 25 years old and counting – I’m still there but someday I won’t be. The company’s success over the long term is going to come from the next generation of people” Goldberg says. “So it behooves executives to help them grow, help them learn and show them the ropes.
“It’s a two-way street,” he concludes.