A varsity football and baseball player at Wesleyan University, Gary Tier of Grey Elephant Consulting acknowledges that he hated golf when he was in his first job after college. But four years after his 2002 graduation as an American government and politics major, a client called and invited Tier to join him for a golf game with a potential client.
“I was totally against it,” says Tier. “I had tried golf a few times, but it was slow and didn’t really do it for me.” But he did end up agreeing to play with his client.
Late to the golf course, he remembers running to the first tee and showing up out of breath. “I thought it would be poor etiquette to show up late,” he says.
He did pick up the client, but was still not so hot on golf. “The game itself frustrated me like no other,” he says. “I didn’t understand it, and it was very long.”
But the positives actually balanced out the negatives of the game that day. “I got to spend four and a half hours with the guy, out of the office, in good weather,” Tier says. “I’m a big advocate, because when else are you going to get that kind of time, in that setting, with someone you know?”
So he decided to take the plunge. Thinking about golf and at the same time looking at wedding venues, he decided to join Jasna Polana in Princeton. One reason is that its course is a Tournament Players Course, owned and operated by the PGA, which has a nationwide network of courses. As someone who travels a lot with clients all around the country, Tier explains, he can take clients to courses in other places or send them to courses even if he can’t go with them personally.
At the club, he took lessons with a few pros, but says, “For me, a lot of it was just getting on the course and playing.” To help others get started on golfing, Tier’s firm, based at 100 Overlook Drive, is sponsoring “Swing into Success,” an efficient introduction to golf for new players or a tune up for a regulars, using indoor simulators, Thursday, August 21, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Princeton Country Club, 1 Wheeler Way, off Canal Pointe Boulevard. Cost: $55, includes networking, simulator and instructor time, a light dinner, and two drinks. For more information, call 609-924-1776. To register, go to www.princetonchamber.org.
Tier offers a few tips on how to get started in golf and use it as a springboard to develop and grow a business:
Learn to play. Go get a few lessons as a starting point. “The biggest thing for people to realize is that other people for the most part don’t care about how good you are, so don’t worry about that,” says Tier. He explains that golf is unique in that people are not playing against each other, as they are in basketball or tennis. “We are playing against a course,” he says, noting that this allows people of all skills and age levels to play together.
Get a handle on the etiquette. Golf lessons will also share the dos and don’ts out on the course. Here are a few from Tier: Don’t distract a player who is setting up to hit by getting in their sight line; by coughing, making noise, or moving; or by standing directly behind them (because when they swing, they turn). Know the order, i.e., whoever is farthest away from the hole is the next person to hit. “Pace is probably the most important thing,” says Tier. “It’s okay to not be very good, but you don’t want to be very slow.”
Find your own way of talking (or not talking) business. There are lots of chances to talk, for example, riding in the cart or walking to where the balls are. The most important take-home from the day may be the opportunity to get to know your golf partners. “For me, one of our biggest clients that we picked up — I ended up playing with their CFO,” Tier says. “We played together four times over two years, and I never once asked him about business.” They talked about family and about the industry in general, but, he says, “I never made the ask and promoted what we do.” Nonetheless, he had laid a foundation.
But the golf interactions can also end up being about nuts and bolts. “Sometimes they say hello, and they want to get right into the business part,” Tier says.
Tier graduated from South Brunswick High School. His father has been in sales for his entire career, and his mother in advertising and writing. After college Tier went to work as a customer service rep for Commonwealth Business Media in East Windsor, a publishing and data company. He did this with the thought that he might go to law school and figured the job would just be for the summer. But it turned out he was good with people, clients, and business development, and he stayed for five years.
Then he approached the CEO about buying the product he was working on, a directory called “Forwarders List of Attorneys.” Since the company was largely focused on trade and transportation, he knew that the directory was not something they wanted to grow. So in 2007 Tier bought the directory and founded Tier Publishing.
Several years later some law firm clients approached him to do projects unrelated to the directory. They wanted help developing clientele in the areas where they already did business or opening up an entirely new area of work.
This was the genesis of Grey Elephant Consulting, named for the elephant-themed room of his son, Samuel, who was born in December. Tier’s firm helps its clients develop their businesses and build relationships. Today it is not limited to any industry or business. Tier’s wife, Lanhi, does commercial litigation through the Saldana Law Firm in Forrestal Village.
For now, golf is serving Tier well. “Almost all of our biggest and/or most important clients either started from golf or have been strengthened or grown or further developed from it,” he says. “People are relaxed out of the office and feeling good,” he says. “It’s good for getting to know people and that makes business a lot easier.”