When I think of business conferences I picture very serious men in very expensive suits watching even more serious men in even more expensive suits presenting a PowerPoint presentation before a bronze medalist from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics tell makes some ‘hilarious’ quips about low yield investment structure. I did not think before Friday that a business conference could be inspiring and interesting, or that the religious leader of 500 million people would be so approachable.
The Yorkshire International Business Conference (YIBC) is brainchild of gruff rough Yorkshireman Mike Firth. Something of a ‘comedian’, Mike Firth kicked off proceedings with several jokes about the Made in China products and takeaways that weren’t so much near the line but tightrope walking along it. Still, the crowd of business men and women certainly enjoyed it. Firth suggested a quick round of networking which the suits took to aplomb. Even I was networked, which I was quite surprised at, considering I was wearing a denim shirt and crumpled brown chinos but a few business cards were thrust in my direction. So far my preconceptions had been well and truly validated.
However, Clare Balding was very charming. As someone who is not a fan of sport, it was a pleasant surprise to find Balding engaging. After speaking talked about her ‘Tooth Gate’ in 2009 where she in avertedly insulted a Grand National winning Jockey to use his winnings to sort his teeth out, she told the conference that here experience as a broadcaster had taught her to be more human and less ruthless. A funny message for the ballsy business man you might think but it established a trend.
Next it was the turn of Will Whitehorn, founding member of Virgin Galactic. Whitethorn gave a lecture on the future of space travel and while extolling the benefits commerciality as an engine for progress. Although it began to smack of self congratulation, it was nevertheless fascinating. For example, Apollo 13 cost $1 billion to launch as gave off as much environmental damage as the whole of New York, the new Virgin Galactic ship Spaceship 2 cost only $1 million and the same environment effect as a 4X4, although with a very unimaginative name. Now even you can go to space, if you happen to have $200,000 dollars and don’t mind sitting next to Russell Brand.
After Whitethorn, Clare Balding brought on Steve Cram, 9 times world record holder in the 1500m. He gave and a stirring speech about inspiring the youth and driving progress through athleticism. He told the audience that the Olympics have led to Britain to entering a period of unprecedented sporting achievement. In Beijing 2008, Britain was fourth behind Russia, USA and China exceeding all expectations. We are entering as Golden Age of British sporting prowess here people. Cram signed off by delivery a warning for “Russia to watch out!”.
So far, the conference had been by a large, a rather enjoyable. Each speak was engaging and inspiring in their own way. It made me want to start a business interest or invest in a local start up company or something. Then the key note speaker of the day arrived, and turned the YIBC from a room full of self congratulating business people, to something akin to a temple.
The Dalai Lama walked on stage holding the hand of Mike Firth and a translator to raptors applause. Firth look uncomfortable but His Holiness the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama looked completely at peace, as one might expect. For a detailed report on what he said you will have to pick up a copy of our Primal Issue. What I will say here is that, well, you know that annoying white lad you know who has dreadlocks and had a bindi spot and talks about their time in India? Yeah come on you know the one. Well, they would bandy around words like aura, spiritual and it being a ‘life changing experience’. Had you told me this before the YIBC, I would have called you a pounce and tried to rub off your post-colonially dubiously bindi spot. After being in the same room and listening to HH the Dalai Lama speaking and shaking his hand, I am less weary of the word aura. Hey, if Clare Balding can use with without irony, who are we to judge?
I missed Michael Portillo as I was chilling out with Mr Lama Lama. Oh dear. But caught Mary Portas. And I was glad I did. She is clearly a woman with a mission. For those of you who have dismissed Portas as just some glorified window dresser don’t. She was quite a force on stage. As the David Cameron’s Tsar of Shopping, she is dedicated to saving our High Streets. I was started by how frank Mary was. She criticised Tesco for giving shoppers no choice and being too aggressive in its expansion, essentially bribing local councils by funding public projects like GP’s and schools in return for granting planning permission. She spoke about here ‘Portas Pilot’ schemes, whereby she intends to reinvigorate towns that have lost their city Dalai Lama , Margate and Stockton On Tees. With 50% of business leaving the high street, she has an uphill battles but if anyone can do it, Portas can. It’s not just about reinvigorating the economy for Mary, it’s about bring community’s back together. She believe that last summer riots were partly due to the fact that those youth who looted and burned had no attached to the members and local intuitions in their community.
The YIBC was actually very inspiring. Admittedly, what made the day such a once in a life time experience was the appearance of the Dalai Lama, but even without his Holiness, the roster of speakers was very impressive, each one inspiring in their own way. And not a PowerPoint in site.
You can watch interviews with the Dalai Lama, Mary Portas and Clare Balding at oneandother.tv here.