The Man on the Train

I want to talk briefly this week about Networking.

Networking is a vital part of all business in the early part of the 21st Century and with the digital age in full bloom, I believe is an even more important facet of business now and into the future. Done properly, Networking can be a ‘pattern-interrupter’ and as such can set you and your business apart from the herd in a positive way. Done badly, it can also set you apart from the herd, BUT have entirely the opposite effect, causing your prospects to avoid your advances like the plague!

In my book, Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business despite the Roadblocks I touch with the subject when I introduce the reader to The Man  on the Train.

Below is that snippet from the book for you to enjoy. 

For context, we had moved to Limerick from Dublin in 1998 to take on the Bewley’s Cafe Franchise there – our first venture away from the relative safety net of the corporate world. The business failed finally in 2005, having lumbered to a slow painful death following a ridiculous rent review in 2002 that pushed our rent to €1,000 PER TRADING DAY!

At the time I met The Man on the Train, I already knew my business was in trouble, suffering from the early signs of what became our Perfect Storm. Those early signs included falling sales due to new customer eating habits at the turn of the century, a massive 20% drop in sales during the Foot and Mouth Disease, followed by zero recovery after 9/11 because the Midwest didn’t receive the usual influx of American visitors. We had re-branded our cafe from Bewley’s to save money and had exported our new brand, Cruises Coffee Co. to Dublin.

Despite outward appearances and an inner belief that all would be well, I was worried and open to new ideas.

The man on the train

“What does this mean?” he asked.

“What?” says I.

“This. Here on your business card. It says, ‘How can I help?’ What does that mean?”

“Oh that? That’ll mean something different to everybody I meet. It’s my offer to the universe. You might need a ladder some day, or an electrician, or anything and perhaps you’ll call me. If I can help, I will; if I can’t I might know of someone who can. Simple.”

“Okay.” He smiled as he pocketed my business card.

I hate driving! For me it’s such a waste of time with one notable exception – you can choose to use that time wisely by studying using cd’s instead of listening to the radio (which a lot of the time can be negative because negative sells). And it was precisely because I hate driving that I was on the train from Limerick to Dublin that fateful morning.

I was en route to meet Donal and Richard at Cruises Coffee Kiosks on the boardwalk so taking the train from Limerick to Heuston Station and then a bus down the quays was the simplest as well as my preferred travel option. On the train I could think, drink coffee, work on my laptop, read, drink coffee, snooze, drink coffee, think…you getting the picture?

As fate would have it I sat beside this man, both of us facing forward, he by the window, me in the aisle seat. I can’t remember whether I had pre-booked the seat or whether I simply sat down, however we exchanged pleasantries and got on with our respective train journey stuff. At some point in the journey however we got chatting and it became appropriate to swap business cards, as is protocol when two people engaged in the economy meet.

He was an O’Brien too – good start – Gary O’Brien working with Paul Partnership, a not-for-profit organization working to bridge the divide between society in general and areas of disadvantage in Limerick, me a budding capitalist.

I was back from Florida. Our new brand was beginning to grow legs. The rent arbitration was still some time away. It looked like we might make it and so it was precisely because I was feeling rather blessed with prospective opportunity that the offer to the Universe was on my card. But it was also this very offer to the Universe coupled with that very fateful meeting that created the thread, that led to the lifeline, which led me to the school lunch business and has led to me eventually – exactly 10 years on as it happens – sitting in a café overlooking the Mediterranean Sea writing this chapter. This stuff must work J

Colm and Gary parted ways at Heuston Station. Three months later his boss rang me.

 “You met a man on the train,” he began. “He has left Paul Partnership but left me your card. I see you are in the food business. Are you interested in tendering for a Healthy School Lunch pilot project in a school in Moyross?”

“Am I WHAT? Er…YEAH!” I thought. The Limerick cafe business was dying! But I was cool and responded instead “Yes. We could probably look at something like that.” – code for “I’m a Businessman, GET ME OUTA HERE!”


If you enjoyed that snippet and would like to find out more about the story and see yours truly teach the lesson by video, click: 

If would like a complimentary copy of the book in audio, narrated by yours truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here: 

If you’d like to find out more about my one-day Seminar in May for SME Business Owners and Senior Professional Managers called ‘Take-Off’ visit 

Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly


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7 Responses to “The Man on the Train”
  1. Richie Walsh

    Thanks Colm another fine nugget of wisdom! Really enjoyed the story. Richie

  2. John Whelan

    Hi Colm, I really enjoyed your latest video. Reminds me in a way of the tongue in cheek definitions of fools and geniuses. The former make simple things look difficult and the latter make difficult things look simple. Your material is easy to understand yet profound in content. My all your readers have a man on the train experience. Like him we do not always reap where we have sown!

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