I went to a very fun dinner in Paris when I was there, which I wanted to share with you. A French friend had been asked to entertain a group of Americans from Los Angeles, who were members of an organization called YPO. The Young Presidents Organization. The Presidents are between 40 and 45 years old, and there is a second phase, once they pass 45, which I think is called WPO. The friend who gave the dinner recently joined the organization, in the younger group, and I had thought it was a strictly American organization, but I discovered that it exists in France too. I’ve heard about it for years, and assumed it was a businessmen’s association, in order to meet other CEO’s and presidents and make business-related connections. In fact, when the friend had asked me if I thought he should join, I told him I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to make contacts for his career, ‘networking’ as they say. And the group in Paris was there for a vacation, with their wives, my friend knew none of them, and he had agreed to entertain 12 of them at his home, which I thought was brave of him since he didn’t know any of them. And as his wife was away on a trip, I agreed to join him and lend a hand, since I speak English. I didn’t expect it to be an exciting evening, but was happy to help out. An event had been planned for them before dinner, with champagne at Notre Dame Cathedral, where they were going to hike up more than 300 steps to the top of the bell tower. I decided to pass on that, since I don’t drink, and the prospect of a 300 step hike didn’t sound like so much fun to me!!! And I turned up for dinner at my friend’s home at the appointed time.
I met 6 couples, all of whom seemed very nice, from LA, I knew because of the organization that all were Presidents of companies, and in talking to them, I rapidly realized that none of them were the heads of necessarily well known companies, but were all self-made men, who had started their own companies in various fields. (one had 45,000 employees, which seemed amazing). Their wives were very nice, and I was a little startled to see how relaxed they all were, how interested in their host, in talking to me, and they were very open, friendly and warm. Nobody was showing off, they were just very nice down to earth people. I asked about the Organization at dinner, and was very surprised by what I learned, and that my earlier assumptions about it had been wrong. One of the men explained to me that they have a 3 part purpose, and get together with their ‘forum’ of 8 to 12 people once a month. The purpose is one part business, to talk about their business problems, one part personal, and one part family. And the reason behind it is that they said being President of any business is a lonely job, all the problems stop there, and they have no one to talk to about their issues in their jobs or lives, so the monthly meetings are to give them a chance to let down their hair, meet others in the same situation, and not just talk about their work concerns, but also about their family lives, and joys or griefs they may be having with their wives or kids, and how their careers are impacting them personally, as individuals, and the problems they have. And as always, in sharing with a group, you not only learn a lot about others, but about yourself. I’m a great believer in the group dynamic and its benefits. And I was stunned by how open they were, how warm, and how interested in other people, which is to some extent an American quality, but it seemed unusual to me, even for them. They were all such nice people. There was not a single person at the table whom I didn’t like. Their wives all seemed very nice and down to earth, and we had some amazingly interesting, serious, and personal conversations at the dinner table, which seemed remarkable with a group of strangers. I also learned that there are organized trips for them to take with their wives, such as the one they were on in Paris, and family trips that are organized to fun locations with kids as well. I thought it was an amazing opportunity for them to make friends with people who have similar issues, and where they can enjoy real camaraderie, and not just ‘network’ to make new business contacts. The business side of it seemed to be the least important, and the human aspect was what stood out to me. I was bowled over by what nice people they were, at our exchanges, and how quickly a warm feeling to the evening developed. I discovered that one of their children attends the same college my 2 youngest children went to and graduated from recently, and I recommended a fantastic advisor to them for their daughter. Another couple live in the same city as one of my children and offered to invite her to their home for a weekend. Emails and phone numbers and addresses were exchanged, we sat and talked til nearly 2 am, and they were also bowled over by the hospitality of their host, who had cooked a wonderful dinner himself, and welcomed them into his home, having never met them before. We took a group photo at the end of the evening, hugged each other, and all felt as though new friendships had been made. I have rarely met a group of people so warm, so open, so modest about their accomplishments, and so enjoyable to spend time with, and easy to get to know. I went home afterwards with that warm feeling of having made new friends, and I hope I have the opportunity to meet them again.
It all gave me new respect for the purpose and goals of YPO, and taught me about an organization I knew so little about. For the moment, the membership seems to be mostly male, but they’re working on that. I was so impressed by everything I saw and heard. And we were each given a card with a rather deep personal question on it, which we answered round robin style at dinner, which gave us each further insight into our fellow guests. I had a fantastic evening, after having no expectations when I got there. It was really terrific, and I was so grateful to have gone and met such lovely people. It reminded me that one needs to stay open to new experiences and meeting new people. It was really a blessing for me. And Bravo for YPO!!!