Networking guru: Clif Maclin a familiar face on business fronts

Clifton Maclin speaking in August before an audience at the Harvard Business School.

Clifton Maclin speaking in August before an audience at the Harvard Business School.

Clif Maclin is seemingly everywhere on the Northern Nevada business scene.

He mingles at networking events. He speaks before audiences. He’s a staple at the weekly 1 Million Cups Reno event, tossing probing questions to entrepreneurs showcasing their startup enterprises.

And he still, at age 73, maintains clients for his own consultant/strategist business, Maclin International Inc., in addition to devoting time to the board of trustees at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center and with at-risk kids in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

Slow down? Not on his radar, he insists, and flashes his recently won — for the third straight year — gold medal for his age group in the Professional Natural Body Building Association’s worldwide competition in Las Vegas.

“I pump a lot of iron and run a lot of miles. Six days a week,” he said.

Such drive, he said, is rooted to his childhood when his parents set a high bar early on in the Maclin home in Chicago. From his father, a successful African American real estate developer in the 1940s, he learned not to let race get in the way of helping people.

“My father always said labels don’t tell you anything about people. You have to walk with them,” he said. “He always said, ‘The door of opportunity is open. Walk through it.’ ”

As the oldest of four siblings, Maclin was obligated, often to his resentment, to set a good example, especially to his brother and sister 12 and 14 years his junior.

“They watched everything I did. They really did look up to me,” he said.

In the late ’60s, he served in Vietnam as an Army infantry officer, and returned with wounds that required hospitalization at the same time his aging parents were enduring critical illnesses. He made plans to attend Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and his mother asked him to take custody of his pre-teen brother, Kenny.

At the same time he was also battling the psychological effects of war. It had challenged his sense of right and wrong, morality, religion. The convergence of those challenges alongside his brother’s welfare provided a key turning point. He easily could have turned to drugs or worse, he said.

“When you return from war, it takes a very long time to re-equilibrate, unless you’ve got family. I wanted to totally let loose, but I realized my brother’s watching everything I do. I realized I had to be responsible,” he said. “My brother, he saved my life.”

It was one more challenge met that fueled his inner drive to succeed that continues now, decades later.

Armed with an MBA in finance, Maclin went to work for Bank of America in the Bay Area. There, he did the networking circuit and met an investor who ultimately took young Clif in and taught him the essentials, notably orchestrating deals.

He also advised Clif to look outside of California for opportunity. That included Nevada, and Clif saw enough established industries in Reno, and plenty of private money, to fit his needs. That was 1986, and Maclin has never left.

He worked briefly for H&R Block, then for Carson Gold Company, and then launched his brand, taking his expertise to the media, doing local TV spots as well as writing columns for several newspapers across Northern Nevada.

But it’s not about him, he insists, rather, the people he meets. And he’s not one to dwell on what’s behind him.

“My focus is on what I need to do, not what I’ve done,” he said.

And that includes mentoring. Maclin and his wife have no children of their own, but over the past 15 years he has taken in five at-risk children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. One is now a college graduate, two are attending the University of Nevada, Reno, and the youngest are ages 12 and 10.

“Those are my babies,” Maclin said. “The kids are why I do what I do. I’m not a religious person, but if there’s a God, then that God has a plan.”

He feels fortunate, too, that he chose Northern Nevada as his home. He loved the big city when he was young, he said, but the greater Reno area is a real community, especially for an African American businessman who revels in the networking world.

“One of the advantages of a community like this is it still has the best of the frontier mentality,” he said. “They don’t care what you do, but are you honest and do what you say you do.

“If this was San Francisco, I’m sure I’d be effective, but to have an impact on a larger community would be very difficult.”

Cases in point: He’s in the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter and for eight years he was on former Nevada Sen. Richard Bryan’s military academy appointment committee.

He’s proud, too, of his and his wife’s 15 years as members of the WIN organization and its monthly breakfast events.

He particularly enjoys the 1 Million Cups Reno events that give him an opportunity to mentor, through challenging questions, business newcomers with fresh ideas.

“I have a talent that’s useful,” he said. “With 1 Million Cups, nine times out of 10, people presenting do not have an understanding of how investors think. I ask questions of them to get them into that zone.”

In the end, he said, “The idea is to make a contribution to the community.”


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