Vancouver…I could get used to this!
Sunday 25th May brought a beautiful morning in Dublin. After arising from a fitful sleep, I set about gathering the last few bits and pieces before heading off to the airport at 7am. As I wait, slightly anxious of what lay ahead, time seems to be dragging. Then, before I know it, the group arrives and I am caught up in the fuss and excitement and the time begins to fly. Following a quick jaunt to London we embark on a short 9 hour flight to Vancouver giving us ample time to bond with the entrepreneurs. As we arrived at the Four Seasons, the heavens quite literally opened but this did nothing to dampen our spirits. For those of us lucky enough to be on the early flight, the afternoon/ evening was spent gathering our thoughts, drinking tea and preparing for the evening’s festivities.
The rest of the group arrived late in the evening and we went straight into drinks and dinner where we were briefed on Monday’s activities and introduced to some of the finalists. Feeling a little worse for wear after the travelling, it was an early-ish night for most as we wanted to reserve some energy for the jam packed week ahead. After all, the CEO Retreat is a marathon, not a sprint. Day 2 brought another restless night for me, as I attempted to wrap my head around the events of the past two days and what the next few days would bring.
Appealing to my academic side, the majority of Day 3 was spent in the University of British Columbia. Ann Stone, former VP of Coca Cola, gave an energising and inspiring talk on ‘Building a Global Brand’. Her delivery was second to none, and one that could only be conveyed with a passion for your subject choice. She engaged the audience wonderfully and the fact she distributed sumptuous Zingerman’s brownies certainly helped boost our energy levels. That afternoon was the first of many talks on the hot topic of Big Data. Kent Langley, founder and CTO of Ekho Inc. and lecturer on all things cloud related in Singularity University, portrayed the power of Big Data when understood and used correctly. In particular, how it can be used to add value to your customers and, by extension, to your business.
The group then split for different activities, some went to EA Sports for a tour, some for a cycle around the scenic Stanley Park and the foodies, including myself, to Urban Fare. We sampled luxurious handmade chocolates and bought water that came in a cardboard box. The evening was then spent in the beautiful Salmon House on the hill which has a breathtaking view of Vancouver.
Day 4 brought a very early start with a breakfast visit to Hootsuite HQ. We were given the grand tour before breakfast and it was obvious that culture plays a big role in everything they do. There was a feeling of youth & vibrancy as Steve Johnson, CRO, discussed the challenges and rewards of working with a start-up. He was joined by the lovely Ambrosia Humphrey, VP of Talent, who discussed the importance of people and culture to the company’s success. These guys even have a nap room, as a fan of napping; this is a culture I could get on board with.
We quickly dashed back to The Four Seasons for a session on Quantum Computing with Geordie Rose from D-Wave and then loaded up the buses and were on the move again. From land to sea, we travelled to the Granville Island Market via ferry for a delicious last meal in Vancouver accompanied by an inspiring story from another Atlantic adventurer, Tori Holmes. Her story of rowing across the Atlantic is a perfect example of triumph over adversity. We all came away with the feeling that anything is possible. What an amazing lady!
It was time to say the long goodbye to Canada (longer for some than others), and make our way south. We gathered the flock, checked and re-checked lists to make sure everyone was accounted for and sent them on their merry way. My colleague Claire and I were driving down separately from the buses in case someone in the group had trouble at the border crossing and would delay proceedings for the rest of the group. Never for a moment had we considered that someone might be us, which of course it was. The immigrations official was firstly suspicious that we had no luggage as our bags were all packed away on the buses, and became more troubled after asking if we were transporting any products, to which Claire replied “No, just people”. A second inspection ensued. After an hour or two, and a few grey hairs for Claire, we were on the road to Seattle.
Come back Friday to hear about the last leg of our amazing journey…