Sunday, April 14, 2019

Chris Johnson: Founder of Chat at 8 & Mingle at Midtown Networking Groups - Episode 1011

Howard Fox:                    Hello, everybody. This is Howard Fox, your host of the SuccessInSight podcast. I hope you are having a fantastic day. I am so very excited to introduce to you a gentleman that I've gotten to know over the past couple months through some networking interactions that I'm participating in on a monthly basis.

                                           This gentleman is managing three networking groups, and just the welcoming nature of these groups. I'm really excited to introduce to you Chris Johnson, the Market Director of the Leader Builders Group. 

                                           Chris, welcome to the Success Insight podcast.

Chris Johnson:                 Howard, how are you?

Howard Fox:                    Doing well, my friend. As I was doing the introduction here, I was thinking about the reason why I thought I would love to have you on the show is just that networking in this day and age where there's so much angst in how we live, what we do, where we do it, and Networking is such an important part of staying connected to people, and what you're doing with the folks and these groups is so very powerful.

                                           I'd love to learn more about you, how you got started and how you got into planning, executing and promoting this idea of networking. Just really, the demonstrate the effect that you're having on other people's lives. So let's start with your story. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Chris Johnson:                 Thank you. Thank you for that. I'm very grateful that you and I had a chance to meet a couple months ago. I don't even know how you even got introduced to the group. I mean was there somebody that you knew?

Howard Fox:                    I think it was Brandon and Amanda knew, Grandma's Wealth Wisdom. Brandon and Amanda actually own the coffee shop, The Overflow Coffee Bar, which was, that was my second office right around the corner from me. Yeah, literally it was a second office.

Chris Johnson:                 They're awesome people. Brandon and Amanda are very integral part of what we do with Chat at 8 and then we also do Mingle at Midtown. We have two groups, Chat at 8 Northbrook, Chat at 8 Burr Ridge, and it's something I'm very passionate about. Something that allows me to have tremendous impact on people, and I hope they feel that when they come in.

                                           We try to be extremely welcoming to folks, and then we find that introvert, which I think that happens. You go to a Chamber event or you go to some other networking event, we see that all the time. You'll have an introvert and they'll stand there in the corner and feel a little bit out of place.

                                           But we take tremendous pride in grabbing that person and introducing them to somebody like you and finding synergy where they can meet other folks that they can do business with. But our whole thing with networking, it starts with people.

                                           Everything in life is about relationships. I don't care what business you're in. And I've been in several in my career. Had an entrepreneurial background, but as far as building networking groups and building synergies and alliances, I mean I find that to be really one of the most satisfying things that I do.

Howard Fox:                    Excellent. In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually am a classic introvert, and it is probably through being an entrepreneur myself, owning my own business and having to do it all, sales, marketing, execution, is you have to also learn how to network. It's actually fun. Is it easy? Sometimes not so easy, but it's a lot of fun and I think as an introvert, we start to kind of build that muscle so to speak.

                                           We learn how, "You know, this is not so bad and I enjoy doing this." So I definitely, you know, for all the introverts out there, when you're in the Chicagoland area, the Chat at 8, and the Mingle at Midtown. These are great events to go to and start to network. And I am curious though, is how did these networking events come about? Had you been a part of another networking club? What was the brainchild behind this?

Chris Johnson:                 The networking thing is something I've done my entire 20 plus year career. You know, you go to Chamber events, you see things that you like, see things that you think you can improve on, and that's what we try to do. My background is in clubs, so I spent 12 years in the club world and studied this for a very, very long time. I've been around some really great people, Howard, in my life, you being one of them, that you just add on to that trend. But I've had awesome people that I've been around and I try to emulate a lot of those things.

                                           I had a gentleman named Erik Hultman that ran a club, ran our group in Northbrook. He does voice-overs and those types of things. He's got a wonderful voice, but he just was a great leader, and how he carried the group and how he began it and got a lot of people involved.

                                           He was another one of those guys that was very welcoming and friendly to people and really made, gave everybody a part of the group in some way by finding out what their strengths were and then bringing that to the group. Getting everybody involved as possible.

                                           I think a guy that runs a good group is almost like a point guard in basketball. You try to get everybody involved in the game, and that's what we try to do. But my background with the clubs for many, many years, and my influences with a gentleman named Tom Deere that I just thought the world of, and he was one to say, "What are you gonna do to be creative?"

                                           So that was one of the things that we started to do was do groups and then to invite other people in that we felt like we could help. So that's how it all evolved. Then when I started out with Leader Builders Group with Ryan, I mean I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do.

                                           That was one of the first things that we talked about. How do we get synergy and people excited to work with Leader Builders? You know, it all starts with what you're gonna do for them.

                                           So when we sit down with folks, we bring them in, we didn't talk about ourselves. We talk about them first. And again, all this stuff that I'm talking about is a very simplistic thing, but I think a lot of folks don't do it that way. You go to a network group, people hand out their business card, and you don't even know what they do.

                                           So for us, we wanted to make it about them first, and then once they find out that it's about them and you help them generate business or help them get a connection or a lead if you will, they'll be forever indebted to you or they'll buy into what you're trying to do in your vision with the networking.

                                           It's easy to get somebody to come one time to a network group because you know. The question is how do you get them to come continuously and to come all the time? And if you don't help folks with a nugget as we say in the world, of networking, give them a nugget that they can take home with them or learn something.
                                           Or if you can't help them get business in some way, I think you're really gonna struggle. So you get people to come once, that's pretty easy. If you get them to come all the time is the most difficult part of what I call social capital.

Howard Fox:                    Sure. And I really look forward to attending the events. I love the fact, if not the first week, the second visit, etc.,  that over time you start to have conversations. You kind of gravitate to people. I love the fact that you said some folks go to network events. They hand out the business cards. Here's who I am. This is my title. Titles mean nothing.

                                           As a LinkedIn guy, I see titles all the time, and they don't give me any idea of who this person is, what they do. And most importantly, we don't know what they care about and what their needs. And the people that they're looking to meet, what those people are.

                                           So it's not you, it's your clients. What do your clients need? How are you gonna solve their issue, their concern? And what I love about finding out about people and having those conversations is that I'm not necessarily looking to sell them business or to become their coach or write their LinkedIn profile.

                                           What I'm looking for is, "Is there some way I can help you? Is there somebody you would like to meet? Is there a problem you need to have solved? I'd love to understand it, and then maybe I know somebody that I can introduce you to." And that's what I love about this style of networking. It's not forced, but it grows organically, if you can use those choice of words.

Chris Johnson:                 Yeah. I appreciate that. Some folks, there's groups where you go to and we know the corporate name of those groups. But they're exclusive, right? To whatever business you're in. Some folks get a kick out of, for us there could be nine kitchen, or whatever remodeling, whatever it may be. But I mean there's enough business to go around. And we will find something in common with one of those nine other kitchen or remodeling companies that we can help them with.

                                           So there's enough business for everybody. I'm confident enough because the way we do things, that we would be the choice anyway. We just thoroughly enjoy that aspect that it's not exclusive. So for my dream is to have 100 people in every single room and finding those other 99 folks in the room business. That's what I get joy out of, and hopefully they find something interesting in the group or someone in the group that can help them.

                                           Or if someone's down for that day, and they come to the group and they get uplifted by something I said or something you said. That's a valuable thing and that's why we do it.

Howard Fox:                    Excellent. And I definitely share that dream with you. I am curious. The networking, being a business professional, it's not your first rodeo. Somewhere way back when you were a little kid, who was the major influence on you and how did that kind of inform the work you're doing today? With Leader Builders, with the networking. Who was that significant mentor in your life?

Chris Johnson:                 Well I mean I would be the first one to say that I'm not embarrassed to tell anyone this. I love my mother and I love my father. So I came from Southern Indiana. I grew up in Bloomington, so 50 miles south of Indianapolis. Just came from a really strong background. My mother was someone who had tremendous influence on me.
                                           She was a teacher's assistant for many, many years. Never made a lot of money, but just someone you want, if you have an issue or you need to talk about something, like most mothers, she was the one that you would chat with. My dad's more the black and white person. So for him it was about Indiana basketball and about the news.
                                           I don't think my dad's watched maybe three movies in his entire life. But to this day, my father and I still speak once a day. So my whole background was about Indiana basketball. Growing up in Indiana, that's just what you did. I probably went to 150, 200 high school games a year.

Howard Fox:                    So Hoosiers.

Chris Johnson:                 Yeah. So the movie Hoosiers is a very strong depiction of how it was to grow up in Indiana. But we would go take a look at certain players. Coach Knight was there back when I was a kid and he would walk into the gym, the whole 8,000 people in the gym if you're in, say Seymour or Newcastle, they'd turn their head."Coach Knight's here." 
                                           So a really big deal. But even to this day, my father and I still speak almost every day, I mean at least once a day. And it's something I look forward to. When my parents pass, I can tell you this in all sincerity, it will be the saddest day of my life. So I just came from a tremendous foundation.

                                           My wife too. My wife grew up in Columbia, Missouri and her parents are tremendous people and she also has a tremendous foundation. So I've always, if you hang out with winners, your mom and dad's a winner, I strongly believe that you're gonna have a lot of that stuff rub off on you.

                                           You come up with hardships and negativity and your mom and dad were smokers or whatever, that's not the end of the world. But negative things rub off on you. My dad is one of the most positive people I've ever been around in my life. Even when things get negative, he just doesn't allow himself to go there. He's always cognizant of his words.

                                           Words are some of the biggest weapons that there are. So I learned that very early on. Watch what you say to people, because some of the things that you don't think have an impact, really have a big impact on folks. You talk to your wife or friends.
                                           I mean most of what I've tried to do is try to uplift them and impact them some way. If people are down, I try to provide assistance in some way. And when people need a push, I'm not afraid to do that either. So you know, we're all psychologists in some parts of our careers and in our lives.

Howard Fox:                    Well you know, it's very interesting as you've just shared the story about words can be weapons if we're not careful. I was having this discussion. In fact it was today even, is the importance of conversations we have, even as parents with our children, or whether it's words to our kids, words to our spouse while the kids are in the room. Those little things, the littlest thing can have an impact on us years later.

Chris Johnson:                 Yes.

Howard Fox:                    And we don't, I don't think, appreciate that. We're fragile human beings and we have to at all times, be very careful of the words we use, the tone of our voice, and something we may think of as a joke, it gets taken and internalized.

Chris Johnson:                 Well there's truth to every joke, right?

Howard Fox:                    Yeah.

Chris Johnson:                 There's a little truth in every joke. So I'm very cognizant, as I said, of what I say. We have a little daughter ourselves, Beth and I, so those are things that I'm very cognizant of what I say and my actions to her.

Howard Fox:                    That's so very important. I'm curious. When we were preparing for today's interview, you shared a video with me. Obviously being from Indiana, basketball is life. By the way, I grew up in the Detroit suburbs, so don't hold that against me.

Chris Johnson:                 So you're a hockey guy. Is that what you're telling me?

Howard Fox:                    Hockey guy, Michigan fan.

Chris Johnson:                 All right. You're a Wolverine or a Spartan?

Howard Fox:                    I was a Wolverine.

Chris Johnson:                 Okay. Well been to Ann Arbor for many games up there. Beautiful campus up there.

Howard Fox:                    Oh by the way, there's also a great deli up in Ann Arbor. I don't know if you ever saw that one too. But Chris and I were talking about delis of Before. So Zingerman's Deli. We're gonna give a plug to Zingerman's Deli.

Chris Johnson:                 Zingerman's. I've never been to Zingerman's.

Howard Fox:                    So we gotta do a road trip now.

Chris Johnson:                 Is it better than 11th City Diner?

Howard Fox:                    Ah, Yeah. It's worth the wait. Oh yeah. I don't know if we're gonna edit that out. We're gonna keep that in. So you were sharing this video of this young man that, and maybe you give us a little background about it. But I'm interested also in why you shared that particular video. Because I have some ideas why, but I'd love to hear, if you could just share a little bit about the video you shared with us. We'll put the link in the transcript on our website.

Chris Johnson:                 Sure. Well it's something I do believe I saw live on CBS about 10 years ago. And I am a, like pretty much every person I'm sure you've interviewed. I know Jack Castella, my good friend you interviewed on your last podcast, is a lifelong learner, and so am I.
                                           I don't have all the answers. So believe me, I'm always looking for any sources I can get, whether it be on the Internet or something I watch or whatever. Or reading or listening to something. It doesn't matter.

                                           But I saw this live about 10 years ago. His name's Jason McElwain, and he had Autism. He was a manager for a couple years on the high school team, and the coach ended up with about three or four minutes to go, putting him in the game I think his senior year, the last game that he was in high school as a kid. Ended up hitting like six or seven three-pointers. 

Click here for the video >>>

                                           I tell you what. I watched that video probably twice, maybe once. I don't know. If I'm feeling like I'm not- I'm big on being grateful. So if I'm feeling like a little entitled or not in that grateful state of mind, I watch that video. I mean I'm an emotional guy and again, that's something else I'm not gonna apologize for. I'm pretty emotional. My wife might roll her eyes when I say that. But that one really gets to me.
                                           But he had six three's and he said, "I was hot as a pistol." From that point, I think he's now a motivational speaker. He's run the New York City Marathon I want to say. So he's taken that. He was on the ESPY's, whenever it happened right after that. I think he received an award. 

                                           So he became a bit of a, I don't know if I want to say celebrity, but he was, he had his however minutes of fame from that. But he's taken that and used it as a springboard to other things. His story I'm sure would be very motivating to a number-
                                           I mean you could do anything you want, no matter what your setback is or whatever deficiency that you've been born with. It's a reminder to me that I am very, very blessed in my life and there really is no excuse to not be grateful and to help as many people as I possibly can.

                                           Which, I'm almost feeling a calling to, I went to the Indiana - Northwestern Woman's game and I had an Autistic or special needs gentleman that went up to me. It was cold and I asked him, "Do you want to sit in my car?" And he did. So I'm almost feeling that calling to maybe work in that environment at some point. You know, special needs.

Howard Fox:                    You know, that's a story that, it's poignant. It's coming across for me in watching it, that everybody bring something to the table in an environment. We have roles to play. We can step out of those roles and perhaps try new roles. So kudos to the coach for putting the kid in and letting him stay in. And just the lifelong experience that he can then take with him and do the other things he's doing, which you just described. 
                                           What was coming to mind too as you were sharing the story, is earlier in the year I was being interviewed to potentially coach an individual who was blind, and I have never coached anybody that was sight impaired, I should say. What was interesting about this person is they were an accomplished triathlete, and they were also an accomplished Ted Talk speaker.

                                           As you were sharing that story, I was thinking, "That kid would be a great guest for this show." That individual that I was being interviewed for for the coaching, would be a great individual to have on this show because they were dealt some cards that, however unfortunate, they rose above it.

                                           That's what I got out of that story, is that kid rose above the challenge that he had. He was there. And kudos again to the teammates, to the coaches, to the entire attendees in the gym, recognizing the importance of that moment and being supportive.

                                           It is a wonderful calling. There's people out there that need what you have to give, Chris. Whether it be Special Olympics or other types of events. It's a wonderful thing to do.

Chris Johnson:                 Yeah. To add on to that, as I think about it, I think the coach now too, I think he coaches basketball. I don't know if he's the assistant or become the head coach. But it's just a really heartwarming story, and you just have to have tremendous empathy for people.

                                           Like you said, everybody has a gift and no matter what the limitation is, you bring something to the table. So really cool story and just one that I watch all the time.

Howard Fox:                    Yeah. Well I appreciate you sharing it. I'm thinking too next time, I'd love to have you on again, and I'm thinking in the world of Leader Builders, you work with a lot of the trades folks, you work with a lot of customers, and a lot of it is about managing, communicating, managing expectations.

                                           Getting the best out of the people, because your clients are spending their hard earned money to get your product produced and installed. So I think that would be a great conversation. Maybe we could delve into that on a future show.

Chris Johnson:                 I'd love it. I'd love it.

Howard Fox:                    Excellent. Listen, in the few minutes we have left, if our listeners would like to learn more about you, would like to learn more about Leader Builders, what's the best way to- or even the Chat at 8, Mingle at Midtown. What's the best way for them to kind of meet you, get to know you, perhaps even reach out.

Chris Johnson:                 Well Chat at 8 is on Facebook. We send out an invitation so they can friend me on Facebook and I can start sending out the invite that way. Same way with Mingle at Midtown. Mingle at Midtown, before you let me go, Mingle at Midtown started in Willowbrook, and I just got word right before we went on, Howard, that they're gonna do it in every single Midtown that they have. So they have one city, they spend 100 million dollars into that.

                                           I would love to help them with that, but we'll see if they ask for my guidance. They have one in Palatine and they have one in Bannockburn and they have one in Atlanta, Georgia. I think they have one in Montreal. I mean it's not a plug for Midtown, but ironically Midtown was my very first job out of college that I worked at in Atlanta.
                                           So everything in life comes full circle. Everything happens for a reason. I know it's the most misused thing, but it really is true. Everything happens for a reason. So I almost feel like it was meant to be that I was supposed to come back to Midtown and join here and start a networking group and try to impact some people in that way.
                                           So yeah. So they're gonna run it at every single club, so I guess we've done a few things right, you've been a big part of it.

Howard Fox:                    Well and thank you. Hey maybe we'll get out in a car or on a plane somewhere and go help them build it out so to speak. Listen, the last thing before we go. We ask all of our guests to kind of think about an Insight2Go. Something my business partner, Randy Ford, who I should have mentioned at the onset, is the co-host of the SuccessInsight podcast. So Randy often does a lot of our interviews. But we've come up with this Insight To Go, where we ask our guest to share at the end of the episode something, could be a book, an idea, a quote. Something that you would like to share with the audience that perhaps it's been on your mind or perhaps, "This is my mantra every day." So what would you like to share?

Chris Johnson:                 Well you know I'm a basketball guy. If I wasn't doing what I'm doing now, I would have been a sports agent. I got one buddy in Asia, I got another buddy that's a big sports writer from college. But I've been really in a Jim Valvano kick, and his Espy speech is very, very famous. He's raised, I don't know how much millions of dollars or even a billion dollars maybe, for cancer.

                                           But I did listen to one of his speeches he made before he did get cancer. He was speaking to a group of executives in a sales conference. And he just talked about how much, again, he said what I did, he loved his father, which I thought it was great that he mentioned that.

                                           But what he said, the thing I took away from it, he said, every year, his dad would say, "My bags are packed for you." And he would say, "You're gonna win the National Championship. We're gonna go to Final Four, and I'm gonna be there." He'd tell his son that. "I'm gonna be there."

                                           And Jim would say, "Well Dad, it's really hard to do it." And he said, "No, no. You're gonna do it, I'm gonna be there. My bags are packed for you." And when Valvano won the championship with North Carolina State in '83, there's a picture of his brother, who's still in broadcasting now, took a picture of him and his dad together after the game, probably by where they cut the nets down, and said, "My bags are packed for you." And he wrote that on there.

                                           And that's kind of been my mantra for every single person, whether they work with us in our company with Leader Builders, or anyone that I meet on a daily basis, my bags are packed for you and I'm interested in helping you at your success. So whether it helps me or not or whether it helps them. Whether it helps me or not is not important. What I can do to help them, subcontractors, folks in business that has nothing to do with me because I don't get a single stitch of business. Makes no difference. It's about me serving them. So I've taken that to heart with Valvano and I love that.

Howard Fox:                    Well thank you very much and I truly appreciate, and our audience will appreciate that Insight2Go.

                                           Folks, we are running out of time, and I do appreciate you sticking with us. This has been a great interview with Chris Johnson. He's the Market Director at the Leader Builders Group. He's also one of the founders of the Chat at 8 and Mingle at Midtown networking groups here in Chicagoland area. We'll put the links to those groups on our webpages so you can find us at Listen to this podcast that we just did with Chris. If you liked it, let us know. If you got some ideas for other podcasts, please let us know that as well. There's probably a good dozen or more podcasts that we've already done. So if you're in the car, listen to those too.
                                           Chris, thank you again for spending part of your late afternoon with us and definitely want to get you on again because I know there's more impactful stories here.

Howard Fox:                    You're a great guest to have these conversations with so thank you for your time.

Chris Johnson:                 Thank you, Howard.

Howard Fox:                    So there you have it folks. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, go out there, have a phenomenal day. This is Howard Fox, for my cohost Randy Ford, This is the Success Insight podcast. We'll see you next time. 


Chris Johnson is a Serial Entrepreneur and Connector. Chris hosts weekly networking events in Chicago. To learn more about Chris, you can find him on Facebook page, Chat at 8 Networking - Burr Ridge, or at Mingle at Midtown - Willowbrook

The SuccessInSight Podcast is a production of Fox Coaching, Inc. and First Story Strategies.

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