I realised from week one of my work placement with EOY that it was not for the faint hearted. It was a ‘sink or swim’ situation with my first event ‘The Spring Energiser’ on my fourth day. It was a great introduction to the programme: familiarising myself with the alumni; the calibre of executive education provided to the alumni network at these events; and learning how the EOY team functions.
Gradually I became more comfortable in my role and the Meet the Finalists dinner and CEO Retreat seemed to come around almost immediately. I really enjoyed the Meet the Finalist event and felt I really jelled with some of the finalists and alumni. There was a great atmosphere in the room around the CEO Retreat and everyone was asking was I coming to San Francisco?! I must admit by the end of the night I wished I was joining everyone on the Retreat. To my surprise, the following week, at the end of a team meeting I was asked – of course I jumped at the opportunity!
The weeks leading up to the Retreat seemed to go by in a blur of craziness. It was a lot of hard work but everyone on the team chipped in: with putting together the brochure; organising flights, venues, speakers, and team packs; finalising the agenda; and dealing with queries from the attendees.
Before I knew it, I was at the airport with Siobhan and James meeting and greeting, and handing out gift bags. Eimear and Bastiaan had already taken off with the first group and now it was our turn.
We arrived in San Francisco, shepherded the group towards the bag collection point and then on to the buses. From my first glimpse of San Francisco during the bus ride to the Ritz Carlton I felt like I was on a movie set – the quintessential San Francisco fog, cable cars, rolling hills, and the traffic!
From the minute we arrived in the Ritz the team hit the ground running, from getting everyone sorted in their rooms, to organising the table tents for dinner. Our first networking event got under way with a drinks reception on the terrace of the Ritz. Even though everyone was tired, people put their best foot forward and started to get to know each other. The chime soon sounded for dinner and everyone seated themselves in the outdoor dining area for our first speaker Barry O’Brien, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Bank. Barry spoke to the group on how San Francisco and Silicon Valley has changed since the last time the group were there in 2012; and about Irish business people and entrepreneurs in the Valley.
Monday was planned as a relaxing day of networking; with a conference in the morning and a trip to Napa Valley in the afternoon. The morning kicked off with breakfast in the hotel and the start of our conferencing, with an introduction from Kevin and Sean who lead the EOY programme. Consul General Philip Grant was first up and officially welcomed the group to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Then Páraic Hayes from the IDA gave the inside track on the IDA and on how they bring foreign direct investment from the USA into Ireland. This then lead into a ‘fireside chat’ between Sean and Denise Tormey of PlanNet21, an Irish EOY International Finalist in 2015. Denise gave an interesting insight into the Irish alumni in the Valley.
After a quick coffee break we then had an EY session on Innovation Strategy from Mike McKerr, Country Managing Partner of EY Ireland. I feel like everyone learned a lot from this part of the morning with the slides containing statistics that everyone wanted to make a note of. The morning then finished off with the highly anticipated TRACOM session with David Collins, the Executive Vice President, who introduced the group to Social Style and Versatility. Prior to this session everyone had completed a survey on themselves and had to get a minimum of three people to complete the survey based on their opinion of that person. This was an interactive session that really got the group involved with each other – discussing their various social styles.
After lunch the group all loaded onto buses and headed to Napa Valley. The bus was filled with the noise of everyone chatting and swapping stories. It was really exciting to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and everyone was straining to get pictures of it. We arrived in Artesa Winery which was surrounded by amazing views of the vineyards around us. Our exuberant tour guide Freddie really pumped the group up with excitement for the evening ahead and guided the group around Artesa explaining the different parts of wine production. Down in the cellar we were greeted by Michael McKinley, Artesa’s Winery Manager, who told us the history of Artesa and explained why we could hear the chant of monks in the background. Then we had the first of our finalists’ pitches. This is where each finalist gets a few minutes to explain their business to the group.
Dinner was in Hurley’s of Yountville, a picturesque village in the heart of Napa. Everyone gathered in the outdoor area for drinks, canapés and more pitches from the finalists. Napa was definitely the ideal location for everyone to network and the perfect end to our first full day of the Retreat. The group boarded the bus at the end of the night buzzing with anticipation of the week to come.