Greetings. Making the right connections is essential to our business and personal success. In fact, it is probably much more important than the classes we took in school, the grades we earned, the first jobs that we held, or the specific expertise we developed along the way. Not that classes, grades, working hard, and gaining knowledge and experience aren’t important. But in today’s fast-paced world, who you know—or more appropriately, who you could know—turns out to be vital to making things happen. Connections create opportunities. And the right connections can open doors that we would have trouble opening on our own, or might not even know existed.

One could also make the case that achieving success is harder for some people simply because they lack access to the right connections, not because they lack the talent, drive, grit, or ingenuity to accomplish great things.

To illustrate this point, I would like to share a short video about a young woman named Malaysha White who is about to graduate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with a degree in computer and information sciences. I met Malaysha after getting a call from my sister Sandy, who wondered if I might have any connections with companies looking to hire interns in something related to computer science. I should note that Sandy came into Malaysha’s life as the Director of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program—a pioneering program that creates exciting opportunities for undergraduates, with a focus on students from diverse backgrounds, to work on research projects in science, technology, and a range of other fields.

During the weeks that followed, I called Malaysha several times to build a bond and learn about her interests, talents, hopes, concerns, and the areas in which she might need a bit of additional support and encouragement. I also learned about all of the connections she had already made and how this network of devoted people had helped her to navigate the journey from foster care to academic success at a great but challenging university. I then connected her with a colleague at Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest technology companies…and the rest, you might say, is history (of the somewhat recent variety).

As you watch the video I would love you to think about the remarkable potential in everyone. I would also love you to think about your own ability to make the right connections and be part of the puzzle for someone in your community or from a high school, college, or university you went to or are committed to. Someone filled with promise who might simply lack access to the right connections.

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All of us have the ability to open doors to people, places, companies, organizations, and possibilities. Connections that can make a compelling difference for everyone involved. And it is often simpler and way more rewarding than we might imagine.