Editor's Note: The following article is part of a series written in connection with the American Express OPEN "Adventures in Entrepreneurship" event.
If you are coming to this site for the first time, please read my previous articles in the following order and everything will make more sense: "What Would You Ask Richard Branson?", and "Adventures in Entrepreneurship Part 1: Meeting Richard Branson." (Remember, this is a "blog" and everything appears in reverse chronological order.)
After leaving the backstage area, Rob the BusinessPundit and I, went out into the lobby and networked. Those attending were 2,000+ American Express customers from the Miami area -- all would qualify as "small business owners" I believe. As part of the light repast being served was Branson wine. Yes, among the 300 companies that are part of the Virgin family of companies owned by Richard Branson, is a winery business.
Eventually 8:00 PM rolled around and we went into the beautiful deep-red, art deco style theater. We had good seats -- maybe 35 rows back.
First came a few announcements. The business owners attending had been given a chance to write out questions in the lobby before the event. So, those whose questions had been chosen were announced and they were requested to move to a special seating section which was lighted for cameras and with microphones already set up. (More on this part later.)
Then came a few opening remarks by American Express OPEN President Susan Sobbott. She explained why this conference was being put on (to thank customers for their business and to give them an opportunity to network with other business owners in their community).
Jane Pauley asked a series of questions, and Richard Branson answered them very naturally. His story is nothing less than inspiring: he quit school at 16 and started his first business (a magazine). From there he opened a music record store situated over a shoe store. After several decades of struggling (as he says, the name of game at first was just "survival"), eventually his businesses reached the point where they are today -- having made him a billionaire.
Now, I am not going to spend time trying to tell you everything that was said, from memory. The whole event was recorded and a transcript prepared. As soon as the transcript is available, I will provide a link to the transcript and point out a few highlights of key learning. That way you can read the discussion in their own words.
One thing I do want to mention is how much enthusiasm and energy was in that crowd. The session went longer than expected. Other than a handful of people (possibly parents leaving to go relieve babysitters at home) everyone seemed enthralled and stayed until the end.
In fact, there was so much energy that Richard Branson dispensed with the organized approach to reading questions from cards, and simply called on those in the audience to speak up with their questions. The business owners attending were not shy -- look, you can't be successful unless you know how to speak up, right?
At one point, a young man from the balcony shouted out his question drowning out everyone else, he was so excited to ask it. It turns out that he was 17 years old. He attended with his father, a small business owner. He asked Richard Branson for a job, and was extremely persistent, until Branson eventually said something like "we'd love to have you on board." Definitely the most unusual job interview I've ever witnessed.
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The facilitator and bloggers for this event have been compensated for their time by OPEN from American Express.