Business lunches are lawyer’s recipe for learning, networking

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor

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Innovate Clark County

Innovate Clark County is The Columbian’s online community for entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and others interested in fostering business innovation and growth in Clark County. In partnership with PubTalk, the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council’s bimonthly networking event, the site offers entrepreneurs a place to connect and interact with each other. You’ll also find relevant content, such as potential funding sources, hiring resources or business war stories specific to Clark County.

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For most professionals, the lunch hour signals a break from the day. But for Bill Dudley, lunch is time to gain valuable business insights that benefit his clients.

Dudley, a business lawyer with Landerholm, Memovich, Lansverk & Whitesides in Vancouver, can be spotted at various eateries around town every day with a different business person. Accountants, bankers, business advisers, reporters, real estate and insurance agents, educators, government officials and business owners are all on the short list for a lunch invitation from Dudley.

“If you talk to these various people, somebody will tell you their new strategy for dealing with things or the trends about what is successful,” Dudley said. “Everybody brings something different to the table.”

The meetings are strategic. At lunch with a banker, for example, Dudley might learn whether the bank’s lending has loosened up, what its strategies for lending are, what it’s charging and what types of businesses it does and doesn’t want to do business with, Dudley said. He can then use that information to help his clients.

The meetings are also delicious. As a professional business luncher, Dudley knows all the best lunch spots in town. After one such meal with The Columbian, we followed up with Dudley to detail his networking strategy.

How is eating lunch part of your business?

To be a really good business attorney, you have to help businesses with their issues, whether or not you do it yourself. And also that’s what makes the business climate here successful: putting businesses in touch with resources. The one group I didn’t mention was investors. It’s pretty hard to go to lunch with a particular investor. That’s the beauty of PubTalk (a networking event sponsored by Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council), because you have investors and entrepreneurs all networking. It’s been a piece that’s been missing in Clark County for a long time.

Why is lunch better than a plain old office meeting?

You’ll find all those people I’m talking to may not be willing to give part of their work day because they’re busy, but they’re certainly willing to give the lunch. Everybody has to eat.

What if you can’t eat out every day?

Identify who it is you really need to talk to, maybe the top five, and do it over a couple-month period.

Why not just do coffee?

Most of the business consultants do coffees because they have a little bit more freedom in terms of their time. Somebody like me, I have to be here to take phone calls. If your day is really busy, it’s hard to put the topic you’re dealing with aside and go engage. Lunch is a natural breaking point in the day. For a while, people were doing breakfasts, but people find that interferes with their day.

What are your favorite spots and why?

Downtown, I like the Hilton, Tommy O’s, Tiger’s Garden and Charlie’s Bistro. The reason is everybody knows them and they have good food. The Hilton is very big and the booths are very quiet. I used to go to Stanford’s at Jantzen Beach, but now everybody goes there. You can’t have a discreet conversation.

If you could have lunch with anybody tomorrow, whom would it be and why?

The governor, because I’d like to talk to her about business. That would be a rare opportunity. She’s been invited down for group meetings where you’ll have 15 or 20 business leaders that talk with her, but it’s never one-on-one. In general, it would be about encouraging small business in the state of Washington.