On an incredibly brisk early spring morning, I ventured out to my first ever TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) event. Much like NASCAR starting their season off with their signature event, The Daytona 500, this association starts their season with their grandest event: Georgia Technology Summit. This event also showcases the 2014 Top 40 Innovative Technology Companies in Georgia. As a Biz Dev guy, I was looking forward to some solid networking with a host of talented companies, many of whom are in our own backyard, Alpharetta, GA. However, it was the Keynote speaker I was really interested in: Ted Turner. Ever since I read his bio about 20 years ago, I was enamored with Ted; the maverick, renegade, entrepreneur, media pioneer, adventurer, philanthropist, staunch environmentalist, technology innovator and tight-lipped badass.
However, the first two speakers really caught my attention and inspired me with their speaking skills, engaging stories and humorous themes.
First up, Joe Plumeri. I had little knowledge about this character as I settled in with my coffee and Danish. But as soon as I heard that South Jersey accent, classic Italian hand gestures and “forgettaboutit” attitude, I knew I would be in for a treat. Joe grew up relatively poor in Trenton, New Jersey but graduated from William & Mary and then New York Law School. During his 32-year career at Citigroup he became CEO of Citibank North America. He would later become the CEO of Willis Group Holdings, one of the world’s leading insurance brokers.
Sure, he talked about the important role technology and innovation play in creating and sustaining great companies and leadership. But without heart and passion, these two elements fail. He talked about how his father, at age 80, still living in Trenton, wanted to start a minor league baseball team. He was so passionate about the idea; he eventually received enough petitions to turn an abandoned downtown area into a stadium. He called George Steinbrenner every day for a year to request a minor league franchise from the Yankees. Joe helped his dad secure funding for this vision and started the Detroit Tigers Single-A team known as the Trenton Thunder. In 2003, his dad received a call of a lifetime; he would now be the owner of the New York Yankees AA affiliate. Without passion and heart, this innovative man would never have fulfilled his dream.
Joe closed by explaining how he wanted to rent office space in downtown Chicago for Willis Group employees. He ended up striking a deal with the owner of the Sears Tower to name it the Willis Tower. When the media asked how he was able to rename the iconic Tower, he responded, “I asked.” Sometimes, all you have to do is ask nicely.
Terry Jones was the next impressive speaker. As a founder of Travelocity, Chairman of Kayak.com and CIO at American Airlines, Terry is on the cutting edge of innovation, technology and change in the digital age. He spoke about creating a culture of innovation. Marketing is no longer a one-way street. Customers are smarter, more savvy and harder to “catch”. As innovators, we can’t be afraid to fail. And when you do fail, kill the project, not the person. As the legendary coach Mike Ditka once said, “Success isn’t permanent and failure isn’t fatal.”
Ideas need to come from the bottom up; not top down. “Creativity is about thinking up new things. Innovation is about doing new things.”- Theodore Levitt.
The last speaker was a “fireside chat” with Ted Turner. The “Mouth of the South” can deliver one- liners that fill a room with laughter. As a pioneer of satellite cable TV and the creator of CNN, Ted knows a thing or two about technology and innovation. He went on to launch TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Ted’s Montana Grill and owned the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks among other ventures. However, the Ted Turner of today is much different than the man he used to be. He seems to steer conversation back toward his passion for renewable power and protecting the environment. He’s a wiser, older man whose heart is in the right place.
Overall, the Georgia Technology Summit was a great event. The day was filled with great speakers, very interactive and engaging vendors/sponsors and some very impressive companies on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.
Throughout the course of the event, all Top 40 Innovative companies were given a three-minute presentation to showcase their organization. This was a very creative and smart group of companies on the verge of greatness. I am looking forward to seeing what new and inspiring companies are on the Top 40 list next year. Below is a list of the 2014 Top 40:
Bright Light Systems
Competitive Sports Analysis
FotoIn Mobile Corporation
GetOne Rewards Inc.
H2O – Overgroup
Map Large, Inc.
Parkmobile USA, Inc.
SoftWear Automation, Inc.
The Weather Company