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The First Four Minutes

October 29, 2018


In a recent column in the San Diego Union Tribune, the author spoke at length about the status of automobiles. He observed how, in California’s car culture, the age, make and model of a car can have deep meaning for those whose business success relates in large measure to first impressions for both prospective and existing clients.


The type of car you drive needs to reflect the image you want to make, and, most importantly, the image you want your client to have of you.


I often use Mercedes Benz as an example. They manufacture cars that sell for $33,000 to $200,000. Each model has its own image, and aficionados immediately recognize even subtle differences…most likely because they either own a Mercedes or know numerous colleagues who do.


Thus, though of equal quality, the difference in status between an “A” model and an “E” model is enormous, even though they are only $20,000 apart. “E” Class Mercedes reek status; “A” class Mercedes do not.


Several decades ago, when I was first starting my consulting career as a real estate economist, I enrolled in an all-day seminar at UC San Diego Extension. The seminar was called “Contact – the First Four Minutes.” The seminar was conducted by the author, a psychiatrist named Leonard Zunin.


His thesis was that you only get one chance to make a first impression and that you have four minutes in which to make that impression. He related the first impression not only to business but also to virtually all occasions when you meet somebody for the first time and want to make a good impression. He stated “Four minutes is the average time, demonstrated by careful observation, during which strangers in a social situation interact before they decide to part or continue their encounter.”


In business, that first impression may not even relate to talking. It may be the way you are dressed or what you are driving, or even if you look approachable.


Zunin says you want your dress and drive to match the dress and drive of the business persons you want to impress. Driving a Bentley to meet with a group of middle-income businesspeople may send the wrong message. As would an Armani suit.


Even car color makes a difference. Someone driving a black Bentley has a distinctly different aura than if the Bentley is bright red.


Dr. Zunin asked the students to determine the profession of the other students in class. Someone guessed that I was a beach bum. That was a wake-up call. And yes, I lived at the beach and was dressed accordingly.


That comment aside, I took Dr. Zunin’s seminar to heart. Within the next few months, I traveled up the road to Beverly Hills and bought a new wardrobe. And then I made the big buy: a bright yellow Ferrari. (with personalized license tags: NEV 1).


Within a few months, I had attracted a group of new clients who previously wouldn’t give me the time of day, and I doubled my billing rate.


I finally sold the Ferrari when it hit 120,000 miles and now drive a very nice Mercedes; however, this month I am going to the Ferrari Museum in Modena, Italy. I just may have one more Ferrari in my future. Maybe a red one this time.


And I still believe that you have only four minutes to make a positive impression on a new encounter.


Mr. Nevin is Director of Economic Research for Xpera Group, a major provider of construction consulting services to developers, investors and lenders. He holds advanced degrees from Stanford and American University, and is a co-founder of the UC San Diego Economic Roundtable.


You can reach him at, online at, or by phone at (858) 295-8451.

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