Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of articles written in connection with the American Express OPEN “Adventures in Entrepreneurship” event. Background about the event can be found here at “What Would You Ask Richard Branson?.”
Last evening I met Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur, and renowned journalist Jane Pauley. I have to say, it was a memorable encounter just to see how poised and yet down-to-earth they were.
The evening started at 6:30 PM. I and my entourage were driven in a luxurious limo to the event — OK, OK, so I exaggerate. Actually what happened was that another blogger (Rob, who is better known as the Businesspundit) and I and some people working for American Express walked several blocks from our hotel to the Jackie Gleason Theater, where the event was held. We entered through a side door for American Express employees and media. There we were given green colored wrist bands, which were our backstage passes.
In the theater lobby, over 2,000 attendees were networking. We made our way through them to a staging area where there were various people from American Express and members of the media.
After a while in walks Richard Branson, with Jane Pauley on one side and Susan Sobbott, the President of American Express OPEN, on the other. It was just like celebrities arriving on the red carpet on Oscar night, with camera flashes going off and shutters clicking. After posing for photographs, the three of them separated and began to answer questions from the media. At this point our little blogging group was standing off to the side letting the journalists do their work.
One particularly notable comment he made during the press interview when asked what advice he had for American entrepreneurs was: “The U.S. is the land of entrepreneurs. I can learn as much from U.S. entrepreneurs as they can learn from me.”
Eventually someone prodded me to go up and ask Richard Branson a question. So I sidled my way up to the front with the press, and managed to squeeze in one question. Now, I know you are dying to know: given her one shot to ask Richard Branson a question, what profound entrepreneurship insight did she ask about? Well, the journalists ahead of me had asked some great questions, and as I did not want to repeat them I asked something a little unusual about current culture, since he seems to be such a clued-in guy. I simply asked him if he’d ever read blogs. With a kind of half-chuckle he laughed and said, “No, I don’t believe I have.”
By and by, Jane Pauley made her way around the room and graciously introduced herself to everyone. I said I was a blogger, and she smiled (she looks exactly the same in person as on camera) and said, “Oh, I don’t think I’ve ever met a blogger before.” Then Rob put out his hand and said, “I’m a blogger too.”
One notable thing Jane Pauley said was something like “I don’t think news has ever been so well covered. The Internet can be sloppy and messy and sometimes you can’t tell lies from the truth but with so many people out there involved and discussing it — the truth will be uncovered.”
Our time backstage lasted 15 minutes. Richard Branson then left and made his way out into the crowd in the lobby, cameramen behind him, and talked with guests — quite a genuine thing to do. Among the guests were a few contestants from his short-lived reality TV show, and so he wanted to greet them.
In part 2, I will tell you about the event itself, which is the real meat of this story.
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