I was lucky to attend the HBS SE Conf 10th Anniversary Keynote Panel. The panel consisted of Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka and granddaddy of social entrepreneurship, David Gergen, presidential advisor emeritus and ubiquitous political commentator, Jon Greenblatt, founder of Ethos water, and Clara Miller, CEO of Nonprofit fund. More on the panel in a later post.
The hall was packed. Over a thousand people filled the room, lined the wall and crowded the passageways. It was great to see the energy behind this.
The fellow on my right had flown in all the way from Tokyo for just the weekend to attend the conference. After the panel discussion, as is typical, a large group of people surged forward to pepper the panelists with questions and exchange business cards.
It was the first time I had got to see Bill Drayton in person, having traded emails in the past. As I waited patiently to speak to him, the crowd in front of Bill kept growing. Young and old stood in line to shake his hand, share a few words, exchange cards and have their picture taken. Half a dozen Japanese businessmen, all dressed up in tie and suits, took turns to have their picture taken with him. A lady next to me said she had come up from Atlanta and was thrilled to meet with Bill. A young chap from Africa held a long and earnest conversation with Bill. Through it all, Bill good-naturedly listened to each one, provided a word of advice, or a name to connect with and handed out his business cards.
After nearly half an hour of waiting, a young Japanese fellow thrust a book in front of Bill and smiled broadly. He said the book was about Bill and, sure enough, when he opened it there was a full length picture of Bill in the front. “In Japan he is very famous”, said the young man. “He is a Rock Star”.
It got me thinking about how the rock stars of enterprise are never truly recognized at home. A quarter century ago when the auto and manufacturing companies began their struggles, the Japanese were already worshiping at the altar of Quality. Juran and Deming were household names in Japan and helped shape the future of the car industry before America was even aware of who they were.
Perhaps this time it would be different. It was good to see the attention and recognition that Bill was getting. He even outdrew David Gergen 🙂 After thirty years in the trenches it was gratifying to see this happen for some one who has helped put social entrepreneurship on the map.