As any of you who follow my blog know, I use it for my rant zone…a place to vent about what’s bugging me but for two entries in a row, I have nothing negative. This will not be a trend, just a coincidence. Darlene and I just returned from what can only be described as a new high point in our personal and professional lives. I was one of 16 main-=stage keynotes honoured to present for the 2012 Global Leadership Summit for YPO/WPO in Singapore. Amazingly, I had never heard of this group but guaranteed, I will never, ever forget them. With very due respect to every event I have spoken for (over 8,200 in my career), this was simply the best.
It started with the city of Singapore. We had never been there but heard about this place that some decribed as too good to be true. Well, it is true, at least most of it. Having heard of the police state (drug possession is a death penalty), we were a bit concerned about customs, but it had to be the easiest and least intimidating ever. Maybe the United States should take a lesson on welcoming visitors into their country as the immigration agent was delightful and didn’t ask one single question…amazing. The walk from the plane, through customs and to the luggae was seven minutes and our bags were already on the carousel…amazing. We’d heard about how clean the city is and the limo ride to our hotel confirmed it. But not only was it clean, it was what every big city should be. Great roads and for a city of four million, seemingly little traffic. The truth is there is lots of traffic but the roads are designed and built for more than 6 million people so it is over-engineered ad built…amazing. We also noticed very quickly that these awesome freeways were not built at the expense of their beautiful ancient trees. In fact, all of the roadways incorporated trees, hedges and flowering bushes so if felt like a drive in the country, not a concrete jungle…amazing.
We had heard about the architecture but seeing the creativity of the skyscrapers was awe-inspiring. Other than the typical, boring high-rise apartment buildings, the office towers were more like works of art than buildings. But if there were ever a buidling to take your breath away, it was our hotel. We’d seen the website but seeing it in person was beyond description and you could see it from a long ways away. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel has three seperate towers and they are joined on the 57th floor by what can only be a described as a big ship almost two football fields in length. Opened two years ago, it boasts almost 2,200 rooms and pulling into the drive gave me goosebumps. It is opulent but not pretentious and the staff were immediately welcoming. Our beautiful room was on the 37th floor and faced the strait where I have never seen so many ocean-bound container and tanker ships. We were pretty tired but had to go to the roof where we witnessed a truly one-of-a-kind…an infinitie pool the length of three olympic-scale swimming pools on the 57th floor…amazing!
The hotel is attached to a very high end shopping mall and a state-of-the-art convention center. Every step we took we saw something that made us go wow! But the real wow was yet to come.
YPO is otherwise known as the Young Presidents Organization and WPO is the World Presidents Organization and what happens to your membership when you reach the ripe old age of fifty. They are all CEO’s of companies employing over fifty people and grossing more than $10,000,000 a year. Most important, to be a member, you must complete a vetting process that has very high standards. Most impressive of the standards for me is the emphasis on character. Let’s be blunt here; Donald Trump may be very successful but he seems like quite a dick-head! The types of people involved sounded good on paper but what would they be like in person?
My time slot had me fifth in the openeing morning program and following me was Stephen Attneborough, Sir Richard`Branson’s partner in Virgin Galactic, the enterprise that will see private citizens flying into space as early as late 2012…amazing.
I got a big surprise at 6:30 in the morning before my scheduled start of 11:10; could I switch slots from number five to number one? Could I start the conference? Could I be the lead for a list of speakers that would include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Waleed Rashed, the co-founder of the youth movement that led to the Arab Spring and ouster of Egyptian President Mubarek and 2006 Nobel Prize winner and creator of micro-loans, Muhammad Yunis? I would get another surprise; I had 20 minutes and I absolutely, positively had to be on time because immediately following me would be a live interview via Skype with Burmese political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi…amazing. Could I do it? Absolutely.
It was the fastest and most amazing 20 minutes on stage I could ever have imagined. I got an immediate and spontaneous standing ovation from a group that doesn’t give them out gratuitously like a professional speakers assoctaion of my acquaintance. The organizers asked just one thing…make them go “wow”. Well I may have done that but it was me (and Darlene) that kept saying it. Wow after wow after wow. It was the other speakers including a 14 year old from Germany. Felix Finkbeiner started “Plant-for-the-Planet when he was just nine years old and his group whose motto is, “Stop Talking, Start Planting” now has members in 101 countries and it’s volunteers have planted over four million trees…amazing. What was going on? It all of a sudden hit me! There wasn’t one single speaker talking about making money. They were all there to challenge the delegates to commit to makng a difference for the planet and the planet was there. I have difficulty describing what it feels like to be around almost 2,500 driven, successful and ethical over-achievers from every corner of the earth. I thought they’d be arrogant and annoying but they were anything but. As an audience, they were awesome but one-to-one, they were even better. They were kind, generous and surprisingly humble but more than anything, they were refreshing. They weren’t cynical, or jaded and did they ever have fun…so did we! But what they really did was remind me that my life’s work is worth every single minute.
Without promoting myself at all, I have always believed that the world can do better. Not just because I have, and you have to admit, I was born without arms and have managed pretty well, but because the cliches are true. My parents said, “There’s no such word as can’t” and they meant it, so I embraced it and proved the words. Sometimes, I feel very frustrated that so many give up on themselves and grow angry and cynical. It takes a lot of work to ignore that outlook and even more to live every day with a state of gratitude and joy. The energy required is quite taxing so I want to simply say “Thanks!” Thanks to the organizers for inviting me (us). Thanks to the staff of the Marina Bay Sands for your outstanding service. Thanks to the people of Singapore for making us so welcome. Most of all, thanks to the members of YPO/WPO and the delegates of the 2012 Global Leadership Summit; you renewed my faith, energy and idealism. You were, simply…amazing!