People, more than process, drive business decisions.

John Mack, former CEO of Morgan Stanley, tells a great story that illustrates the point.

Mack was working with Wang Qishan, who later served as China’s vice president, to set up the first investment bank in China.

Mack described the effort to Barry Ritholtz on the Masters in Business podcast:

Wang “flies over to New York, and we’re sitting in my office on whatever floor at Morgan Stanley. And we’re there for about an hour and a half, we’re making zero progress. We’re not getting anywhere.

“I’ve been in Europe with him and talked to him over there. We were making progress. And now here he is in New York and there’s like a big heavy stone on him.

“I looked at him and I finally figured out he’s a chain smoker. I said Qishan, light it up. He said, I can’t do that. I said, what do you mean you can’t do that? He said, in New York, you can’t smoke inside. I said: In my office, you can do anything you want.’”

Mack said that Wang took out a pack of Lucky Strikes.

“He lit up; we got the deal done.”

Ritholtz, who has a great sense of both humor and timing, asked the obvious follow-up: “No filter, right?”

“No filter,” Mack confirmed.

Mack said the moment reminded him: “You have to pay attention to the person in the room.”

You never read news articles that say Morgan Stanley got a big deal done because Mack let Wang smoke in his office.

Often, the media latches on to a narrative that overemphasizes strategy versus personal connections. It’s about the ROI and synergies and the strategy that justifies a deal.

And yet, so much happens or fails to happen in the world because of how we connect to specific people at a specific time and place.

Sometimes it’s the ability to tell another person to “light it up” that makes everything possible.