In the new economy, everyone is a business ambassador and expected to network. The question remains how. Events billed as “Networking Events” often turn out to be business card exchange feeding frenzies, and participants brace the next morning for the inevitable phone calls of people they met not wanting to buy, but wanting to sell.An alternative to an unfocused and scattergun approach to networking is quietly offered by The Ontario Club. In fact, it has been a way of business life there for almost the last 100 years.
“Private clubs have always been a powerful tool for focused and effective business development,” said Stephen Lautens, a past President of Toronto’s downtown Ontario Club. “It has traditionally been the place where top level business people meet each other, make new contacts and make deals. Its value as an effective business development tool is only now being rediscovered by a younger generation of executives and entrepreneurs who have never been exposed to the benefits of club life.”
Lautens acknowledged that private clubs remain shrouded in mystery that some people have found daunting. “Private clubs have traditionally been seen as very closed and exclusive communities,” he said. “The reality is that a place like The Ontario Club is very friendly, and exists to help its members pursue their business goals through personal introductions, events and the day-to-day rubbing shoulders with the people who can help you both personally and professionally. That alone is worth hundreds of cold calls and dozens of early morning networking meetings.”
A tour of The Ontario Club reveals members and guests having lunch or discussing business over a drink. The private rooms hum with activity, both social and business. There are a surprising number of young faces. On this day members of Toronto’s Consular Corps – who make The Ontario Club their home – are having a reception. In addition to the diplomats, The Ontario Club is also home to a number of other professional associations. Lautens refers to them as “clubs within the Club.”“We see a real benefit to our members to be able to access not only our own members, but to widen the circle of business contacts to reach other important and influential groups. These include the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada, Club Las Americas for Latin American business leaders, the Toronto Press Club, and others.”
Part of the mystery of private clubs has included both the membership process and the cost. Breaking with years of tradition, The Ontario Club publishes its membership fees on its website (www.ontarioclub.com) and encourages potential members to contact the Club secretary to introduce them to the Club. Membership in The Ontario Club is surprisingly affordable, especially for young professionals. For people aged 26-35, annual dues are $430. This entitles a member the use of the Club’s 25,000 square foot facility on the top floor of the Commerce Court South building at Bay and Wellington, including access to the three main dining rooms, a dozen private meeting rooms and the Club’s busy calendar of social functions.
Through a wide range of “reciprocal” agreements, The Ontario Club has over 600 affiliated private clubs around the world, available for members who travel for business or pleasure. Many of these reciprocal clubs offer hotel-like facilities at reduced costs, as well as providing an impressive “base of operations” for business travellers who don’t want to use anonymous hotel meeting rooms to conduct business on the road.
“To be able to meet the right people in a private setting is what private clubs have always been about,” Lautens says. “For the last almost 100 years The Ontario Club has provided business and social opportunities for its members. Younger professionals are starting to understand what their grandparents knew – its all about relationships, and there’s no better place to develop them than in your own club.”