Can You Power-Network Like a CEO?

Alan Brookes is CEO of Arcadis, an architecture and engineering firm based in Amsterdam.
Alan Brookes is CEO of Arcadis, an architecture and engineering firm based in Amsterdam.


Breakfast at 7. Drinks until midnight. Calendar choreography. How executives are navigating New York’s busiest week.

September in New York City is a corporate scheduler’s nightmare and a schmoozer’s dream, with Climate Week NYC, the United Nations General Assembly, Fashion Week and other events crowding the calendar.

It is also a kind of networking Olympics for high-powered people. Breakfasts typically start at 7 a.m. and leaders of all kinds run a gantlet of meetings that can end with after-dinner drinks long after midnight. In between are spontaneous chats on meeting sidelines, tête-à-têtes in hotel lobbies and countless cocktail-party conversations.

Scores of C-suiters and pooh-bahs crisscrossing the city this week say it takes getting choosy about invitations, a great opening line, an extra laptop battery pack and comfortable shoes. In high-density networking situations, executives say they have learned not to waste a moment.

Among the leaders in networking mode is Alan Brookes, the new chief executive of Arcadis, a $4 billion architecture and engineering firm based in Amsterdam that employs 10,000 people in the U.S. Between client meetings, cocktail parties and roundtable discussions, Brookes, 62 years old, says he’s scheduled for two dozen engagements over five days.

Brookes’s firm encourages all employees—even the boss—to take public transit whenever possible, so he relies on subways and buses to get to meetings, a competitive advantage when the schedule is packed and traffic snarled, he notes. Monday morning, shortly after 7 a.m., he boarded a crosstown bus moving in the direction of Scandinavia House on Park Avenue, to a gathering of business leaders held by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development.

“I don’t believe in private cars [or] even a taxi unless I have to," says Brookes, whose Netherlands-based company is helping design and build a major flood-control project around lower Manhattan. “The traffic is horrendous, so this is much quicker."

By evening rush hour, as Brookes left a meeting at the New York Stock Exchange, the skies had opened up. He ran to the subway in the rain, arriving early—and thoroughly soaked—at Google’s dinner for executives near SoHo designed to provoke a conversation about food sustainability. Executives were served salmon, chocolate and French Champagne—a “Last Supper" of delicacies, one host said, that future generations won’t get to enjoy due to ecological crisis and overfishing.

Kyle Dropp, co-founder of business research outfit Morning Consult, hosted a Monday-night soiree at his terraced Lower East Side apartment for executives and marketing gurus. Hilton showed off a new hotel in Times Square. Managing executives and expectations amid the frenzy of invitations requires ninja-like blocking and tackling, says a public-relations person in charge of his pharmaceutical CEO’s schedule.

Kathryn Wylde, who runs the powerful business group Partnership for New York City, weighed invitations to a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side along with a dinner in downtown Brooklyn.

Attending both? “Logistically impossible," she says, noting that she chose the National Grid-hosted Brooklyn dinner because she had already committed to it. “You just have to cut your losses."

Wylde compares the city’s September scrum to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Everybody’s paying attention to themselves being seen. They’ll never notice if I’m missing."

So thick are the crowds of boldface names this week that Prince William, hosting the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit, marveled that he went for a morning jog without getting noticed. (Much.)

The day before client meetings that would include swings through the redesigned Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Ave. and the David Yurman flagship store near Madison Ave.—both Arcadis projects—Brookes headed toward the East River for a tour of his flood-mitigation project, designed to protect New Yorkers from future storm surges. Next was an employee town hall and lunch with staff at the office in Tribeca.

Brookes talked with staff about why the company has taken on certain contracts, such as one to build charging stations for EVs, and took questions from employees about doing business with oil-and-gas companies.

“I want to be clear about what we stand for as a business," he says. “It’s about the projects you do and the difference you make."

With strangers, Brookes says his networking strategy is to ask what brought them to town.

“You don’t want to introduce yourself, don’t want to do an icebreaker about yourself, if you know what I mean," he says. “But people rarely will not talk about themselves."

Brookes says he’s working rooms all week to learn as much as he can, not just to pitch his company. He sparked a conversation with somebody from Deloitte earlier this week and called it fascinating to hear what projects they were involved with. “This is why I’m here really," he says.

Judith Wiese, an executive with Siemens, the German industrial conglomerate, is chatting people up on artificial intelligence on the sidelines of gatherings. She tries to end most conversations with: “Who do you get inspired by? Who would you recommend I go see?"

Her strategy isn’t only to attend meetings, but also to capture the mood. Conversations about sustainability are shifting from the theoretical to the practical, she says, because companies are getting specific about their climate goals.

“I always love these weeks," Wiese says. “You get a sense of where the conversation is moving."

Write to Lynn Cook at and Chip Cutter at

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