Interview: Graham Weihmiller, Chairman and CEO at BNI, on the Business of Referral Networking

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In this candid interview, Graham Weihmiller, Chairman and CEO at BNI, briefs us on the business of referral networking, and the key role that networking plays in the development and success of businesses across the world

BNI is one of the largest and most successful business networking organization in the world. Just to give you an idea on how big the BNI network is – it’s the world’s leading referral organization, with over 250,000 members in 70+ countries. Members generate word-of-mouth business for each other through structured, results-driven groups around the world. In 2018 alone, members generated over $15 billion (USD) in revenue for member-businesses.

Graham Weihmiller, Chairman and CEO, BNI, was here in Dubai recently for the International Networking Week (INW), a global initiative that encourages business networking and relationship building among professionals who may otherwise not have participated. INW is an annual event that takes place the first full week in February, globally.

Prior to BNI, Graham served as the CEO of a 32-year-old nationwide franchisor of homecare services. While there, he was a founding director of a foundation that provides homecare to those who cannot afford it. His previous leadership experience includes roles with Pioneer Equity Partners, American Franchise Company, Bank of America, Booz Allen and JP Morgan.

Dubai was chosen as one of the cities for Graham’s worldwide trip known as a “Connect 5” trip along with stops in Manhattan, Guangzhou, Bangalore & London. The goal of INW is to celebrate the key role that networking plays in the development and success of businesses across the world.

We had the chance to interact with Graham in Dubai. Here are the excerpts from his interview:

AG: What is the main objective of the International Networking Week event?

Graham: International Networking Week was created by BNI’s Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, Dr. Ivan Misner, to celebrate the power of professional networking and global connectivity. BNI now has around 250,000 members in over 8,800 communities in more than 70 countries around the world. That kind of connection and interaction is absolutely something to celebrate!

AG: Please tell us more on International Networking Week.

Graham: BNI recently enabled the functionality for our members to search for other BNI members from anywhere in the world and pass referrals to each other. In 2019, I wanted to celebrate that functionality by leveraging our “Connect 5” concept and visiting 5 countries around the world in 5 days. In each location, I met dozens of BNI Members and Directors and had a lot of ideas for referrals, professional connectivity, business advice, and more. It’s a beautiful thing to see the way BNI brings together like-minded business professionals from around the world to further business success and celebrate community interactivity. One example, when I was in Manhattan, I put a member looking for non-profit connections in Uganda in touch with our Master Franchisee there, who is a leader in her community.

AG: Can you tell us why someone should join a referral network such as BNI?

Graham:

1. To increase referral potential to grow your business.
2. To cultivate quality relationships with other like-minded professionals.
3. To improve your ability to talk about your product or service.

BNI is specifically helpful in providing expertly engineered training to take your professional development to the next level. BNI has a global network that allows you to make connections across your BNI chapter, across your region and even across the world. Our service is a proven system to provide a structured, professional meeting that allows you to talk about your business in a productive, efficient way.

AG: How are the cities in the “Connect 5” chosen?

Graham: In 2019, we selected cities highly active in BNI around the world that also represent key business hubs for many industries. I traveled to New York City, New York in the USA; Guangzhou, China; Bangalore, India; Dubai, UAE; and London, UK. These cities are all well-known globally for the professional talent and development found there, and they are also important locations in the BNI community globally.

AG: BNI in the UAE. What are the latest trends in referral market in the UAE?

Graham: Networking in the UAE plays a huge part in generating referrals. There are over 100 networking groups of all kinds with over 30 networking events happening each week. In this environment, anyone who is relatively new in the networking scene can easily get lost. Furthermore, it can be very confusing as to which group to be part of or which event to attend. In BNI the focus is purely on credible long term relationships and the BNI community in the UAE has over 500 members who meet weekly over breakfast and on average generate over AED 10 Million in business every month.

AG: How is your past experience with some of the top US companies helping BNI achieve its goals?

Graham: My past experiences have taught me 4 key elements that I carry with me in my role at BNI: process, company culture, focus on people, and hiring strong leaders. It’s important to have processes in place to ensure continued progress in normal circumstances, and to ensure consistency when special situations or unforeseen circumstances arise. The other three items really tie into the people you have both on your team and throughout your company. It’s incredibly important to build a strong team, support that team, foster a strong team culture, and keep your focus on people at every level in the organization.

AG: What are BNI’s plans for the UAE and the region?

Graham: Currently BNI’s strength is in Dubai with 450 out of its 500 of its members based in this city. Over the next 5 years, the plans are to grow the community to over 2,000 members and expand into Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ajman. With the Expo2020 around the corner, BNI UAE also plans to host a global event to invite over 5,000 global members to visit the UAE and explore opportunities for trade and commerce.

Graham concluded the interview by saying, “I invite you to visit a BNI chapter and check it out for yourself. It’s easy to find a chapter near you by inputting your area code at bni.com or by contacting your local leaders: Bijay & Ana Shah. I didn’t fully understand what BNI was until I stepped into a chapter meeting and experienced it first-hand. There is nothing more invigorating than witnessing referrals being passed, connections being made, and business gets done.”

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