Tales from the 2009 EO/British Airways Contest
2009 EO/British Airways Contest
In 2009, EO partnered with British Aiways to offer select EO members an opportunity to travel to London and abroad for networking and business building. Here are a few testimonials from some of the contest winners.
Partnership Building, Courtesy of EO
In July 2009, I received an e-mail from EO Global regarding a chance to win a free trip to London, United Kingdom. Normally, I don’t pay attention to such “too good to be true” offers, but I’ve learned over the years to never ignore anything from EO. As it turns out, British Airways developed a program called “Face to Face” that gives away free trips to qualified business owners; the goal was to increase flyer-ship and analyze the impact of networking. The application form was barely two pages, so I completed it quickly and promptly forgot about it. A few months later, I received the good news: I was a winner!
Even with restricted dates and departure locations, the contest turned out to be a phenomenal business opportunity. My responsibility in the entire engagement was simply to purchase my own ticket to one of three departure cities (in my case, Chicago, Illinois, USA) and then select a return date from London. British Airways took care of the rest.
I flew into Chicago from Portland, Oregon, USA, and headed straight to the British Airways lounge for a special reception. Upon dropping off my bags, I proceeded to knock back a fantastic meal in the café prior to the festivities. After a few drinks and conversations with fellow fliers, we boarded the Boeing. The relationships I formed on the plane ride, combined with the roomy seating, made for an easy flight.
Upon landing at Heathrow Airport, we zipped through customs and boarded chartered coaches for a ride to the Hilton at Hyde Park, where British Airways paid for an overnight stay. When we arrived, we were provided a tasty buffet breakfast prior to the morning speakers.
The day after the event, I scheduled a new business meeting with a local boutique hotel chain, which went quite well and may result in a new client for my search engine marketing agency. What’s more, I met with a current UK-based client. The face-to-face discussion over tea turned into additional client work by the time I returned to Portland. To top it all off, my wife arrived, and we spent a few nights in London on a kid-less vacation.
Overall, the experience was phenomenal. At both receptions and on the flight, I met a handful of wonderful people. I even met a Face-to-Face participant on the return flight home, with whom I am discussing various partnership opportunities. I’ve already followed up with a few of my new connections and look forward to building lasting relationships. I would have never known about the British Airways contest without EO, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
How to Disappear from Business
When I was chosen for the 2009 EO/British Airways contest, I decided to visit a long-time client in Sydney, Australia. It was my first time on that continent and my first time being away from my business for so long— two weeks straight! Though having some face time with a far-away client was rewarding, the greatest value I received from the trip wasn't the client visit itself, but rather seeing how well my company could operate without me.
Since I was in a much different time zone, I was forced to communicate minimally with my employees back in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. This wouldn’t have been possible without the organizational changes that I had made earlier in the year. I knew that for my business to operate well without me, I would need to have a strong “second in command.” We had many strong managers and executives, but unfortunately no one with the time, knowledge and inclination to make the full range of decisions that I make as the company’s founder and president. So, I came up with another solution— build a strong leadership team.
I started to promote or hire leaders within the company to take on the various responsibilities that I held. This included a CFO accountable for our financial management and some HR functions; a sales director accountable for our sales and business development; an operations director accountable for our project management, IT and analytical staff performance; and a marketing director accountable for our marketing and new product development initiatives.
In my 15-person company, I went from having nine direct reports to only these four— a big improvement! These positions freed up vast amounts of my time, allowing me to truly start working “on my business” instead of “in my business.” It has also allowed me the luxury of stress-free time away from work. With our leadership team in place, just about any important business decision can be made without me. In the rare event one of the leaders doesn’t feel comfortable making a decision on his own, if I’m not available for a quick answer, he’ll simply consult with his colleagues. Truthfully, as a group, they often make better decisions than I would have anyway.
Of course, there are checks and balances in place to assure that every member of the leadership team does his or her job well. Everyone has metrics that they’re accountable for, as well as real-time reports I can access to check their progress. For our CFO, it’s our financial statements; for our sales director, it’s a sales dashboard in our customer relationship management (CRM) system; for our operations director, it’s our client satisfaction survey results; for our marketing director, it’s our marketing performance dashboard. I trust that my leaders won’t drop the ball, but if they do, I would see it very quickly.
As a result of the new structure that I put in place before my EO/BA trip, and how well it worked while I was gone, I now feel emboldened to travel more often, both for business and pleasure, without worrying about how the business is doing without me. It's a great testament to the quality of our leadership team and the value of delegating decision-making authority throughout an organization.
Spreading Your Cultural Wings
In 2009, British Airways was kind enough to offer select EO members a few seats on a November flight to London, United Kingdom, and then tickets to anywhere they would like to go to do business "face to face." I was lucky enough to win a seat in the contest!
The second that I stepped into the British Airways lounge in Chicago, Illinois, USA's O'Hare International Airport, I knew that there would be no sleep for 24 hours. The rooms buzzed with the energy of ideas and new relationships created with like-minded people. I was introduced to several people, returned the favors and made my way around only a very small triangle of conversations. Throughout the afternoon, I made plans to meet with some of these new friends in the future. As I listened to people spouting on about their passions, I spouted right back, and we flooded the room with ideas, dreams and ambitions to revolutionize nearly every sector of business, government and philanthropy.
We continued chatting while boarding the plane. I was disappointed that I was going to sit by somebody that I didn't know. That somebody I ended up talking with for hours, we hung out in London, he invited me to meet with the EO London board, we had dinner, and so on. We now have plans to discuss business in New York, USA, in December. I love the ease with which we all connected and how one conversation flowed into another for days. At the end of the trip to London, I felt like I had met exactly who I was supposed to meet, and things couldn't get any better. My next step in doing business “face to face” was in Barcelona, Spain.
There were four of us who went to Barcelona, and we stayed in an apartment through an EO connection. Then through another EO connection we were introduced to the directors of a government agency that has an incubator for entrepreneurs in a special development section in town. We took a tour of the facilities and were informed that if we were to start a business in Barcelona, we could qualify for reduced rent for three years in this special incubator. The thought that went into the planning of this agency and its projects is like nothing I've seen before. They have a media quarter that houses Europe's largest sports media firm, as well as a media university, student housing, shopping and restaurants— all in one location. This gave me a new perspective on how to partner with somebody in Spain.
After my educational trip to Barcelona, I flew to Amsterdam, where I felt right at home. I took the train to Rotterdam to meet with an EO colleague, listen to him describe his business and see if we could share a platform that will assist in spreading the word about his business. I believe that if I give to others without asking anything in return, that it will come back to me tenfold. At dinner with another EO member, I had the opportunity to pick his brain for resources and platforms that could help build my new business. He was the one person in the world that I knew would be the right person to talk to, and I'm so glad that I decided to visit.
After venturing out into Amsterdam and doing some shopping, I met an EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP) classmate at Envy, an upscale, cozy restaurant. Over a delicate multi-course meal we discussed business, relationships, dreams and passions. We tossed around many ideas throughout the night. I was so energized by our conversation and the ambiance! As we were leaving, my friend said that I was a real Amsterdamer, because I chose to walk back to my hotel despite the rain. That was my favorite comment of the trip!
All in all, this EO/BA trip confirmed my status as a global citizen and the desire to remain one for the rest of my life. I can't imagine ever having a business with geographical borders and no cultural considerations. I love the idea of learning what works in different cultures and leveraging that to move revolutionary ideas forward. I'm grateful to have this opportunity to connect with people face to face. Thank you, EO and British Airways!
Networking, EO Style!
I love to travel and, given the chance, am always willing to visit different places. As a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization, I was made aware of a special contest that British Airways (BA) was sponsoring to invite entrepreneurs to travel internationally to help promote their businesses overseas. To enter, an essay was required outlining the purpose of the trip and the locations to visit. The parameters required that it be anywhere in the world that BA flies, beginning with a stop in London and then one additional leg before returning to the United States. BA had three chartered flights as part of its contest, with the first departing in September and a second in October. Because I was already traveling overseas at both of those times, I opted for the November trip.
For me, the essay was fairly easy. I wrote about visiting my distributor in the United Kingdom as we prepare to launch a new product with one of its largest customers, and then I wanted to continue onward to visit the Czech Republic. I had never been and had always wanted to visit, but, more important, one of our customers works closely with Coffee Heaven, a chain of coffee shops based in Poland that is spread across Eastern Europe, and I hoped to see what had made them so successful. Also, there was talk of our possibly working on a joint project.
Several weeks prior to departure, an e-mail was sent from one of the winners of the contest to the rest of us. In the e-mail, he introduced himself and talked a bit about his business and where he was headed from London. This triggered a flurry of return e-mails, and soon thereafter, each day I was reading another e-mail with another fascinating story from an entrepreneur headed with me to London. Several documentary filmmakers wrote about their films in production. Another was an entrepreneur born overseas but living in the United States whose back-office functions for medical billing are still processed in Sri Lanka, where he was born. There was another e-mail from a lawyer specializing in patent law who was going to meet a large customer in Tel Aviv to discuss their new technology. The energy was amazing!
The trip started Tuesday, 17 November in Chicago, Illinois, USA, where we all met for the first time in the British Airways lounge. It was something of a reunion as we put faces to stories. We were addressed by several speakers touting the ease of doing business in the United Kingdom, and how proud British Airways was to host us on our trip. That theme continued once we boarded the flight, as the cabin crew made extra effort to make sure we were comfortable. Once airborne, I got up and started talking with the new friends I had met in Chicago. Several were also EO members, and soon we had a group trading stories about what we did and where we were going. Never have I had an international trip pass so quickly! With an hour to go before landing, I returned to my seat to take a quick nap, knowing that Wednesday would be packed with activity.
Upon landing, we were directed to buses that took us to the Hilton Park Lane at the edge of Green Park, where BA was putting us up for the night. Arriving at the hotel, we were directed to the ballroom where breakfast was waiting, along with a program that included three speakers. The first was Sir Clive Woodward, the coach of the British rugby team that won the Rugby World Cup. He spoke about identifying character traits of great employees and leaders, and what he looked for in the making of a champion.
The next speaker was Digby, Lord Jones, a minister in the Brown government who had agreed to serve for 18 months and had just stepped down. His portfolio was British trade, encouraging both export and investment in the UK by foreign firms. Remarkably, as a proponent of trade, he noted that he had taken 45 international trips in 18 months as minister. Finally, Andrew Sherman, an American attorney specializing in international law, talked about some of the pitfalls of doing business overseas, such as not being aware of cultural mores and taboos and mistakenly insulting people.
As the talks wrapped up, we had two hours before the next reception, just enough time for a quick nap. At 3:30 p.m., we were bused to Kensington Palace, where we were addressed by Lord Sugar. With wry humor, he described himself as the second-most well-known entrepreneur in Britain, after a chap named Richard Branson. However, since BA had invited him to speak that evening, he wasn’t even sure he could mention the name of its well-known competitor! He also talked of the importance of international trade and doing business in an international marketplace, as he has done so successfully for so many years.
The return to the hotel was subdued as jet lag began to sink in, and it was a quiet dinner that evening. The BA program was now complete, but we all talked about how much we had enjoyed what it had created and done for us, and the people we met and the stories that we shared. It was a remarkable, memorable experience, and I am thrilled I was one of the winners of British Airways’ Face of Opportunity contest.
The Flight of a Lifetime
EO New York
When it came to the EO/British Airways contest, I had no idea what to expect, other than that the flight would be seven hours long and the experience would be a cool one. Moreover, I had no idea what I was about to learn. Looking back, I learned more than I could have ever imagined!
It was just after 7 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 September, when I arrived at the British Airways terminal. With my bags in tow, I proceeded to the business lounge and assumed my place among the other contest winners. We were excited and ready to learn more about the adventure we were undertaking. In minutes, we were welcomed by the executive vice president of British Airways North America, the brainchild behind the endeavor. He promptly introduced us to the mayor of London and the founder of Think London, a foreign direct investment agency. He explained the purpose of the event was to stimulate networking and international business, and the he wished us safe travels on our journey.
Once on the plane, I sat down and waited for the seatbelt light to go off, just itching to get up and mingle. When it finally turned off, I ran to find the other 19 EO members who were intermixed with other contest winners, and began to chat about the cool things that awaited us. A little into the flight, there was a buzz throughout the plane about this mysterious “EO.” What was this organization? Who were these energetic entrepreneurs? I grabbed my special copy of Octane and shared articles with those who wanted to know more about this alleged “Entrepreneurs' Organization” and the amazing benefits it offers. The other passengers were excited to learn about EO, and I was proud to serve as an EO marketer at 37,000 feet. It wasn’t just my job, but the job of every EO member on the flight to convey a level of immediate trust and respect to as many others as we could. And boy, did we succeed!
When we finally touched down in London, somehow we felt that we had truly arrived. We grabbed our stuff, checked into the beautiful hotel and made our way to the learning event, which was hosted by EO London and various others. You know a company and airline cares about you when the CEO takes the time to address each gathering. Then again, having a Lord and Ambassador there to reinforce the support is a bit telling, as well. During the event, we heard from a Harvard Business Review representative who shared his findings as to why face-to-face meetings are so important. We also heard from Andrew Sherman, EO’s General Counsel, who provided us with a number of informative business insights, among other business experts.
All in all, British Airways put about 300 entrepreneurs up in a hotel for the night, kept our bellies full, our minds racing with excitement and the champagne flowing. The next day was filled with informative meetings and endless networking opportunities, culminating with a welcome session by the EO London chapter. That, in particular, was a highlight. EO never ceases to amaze me. In the end, what did this journey teach me? Never underestimate the power of EO!