Peter J. Burns III: The Lost Art of Gratitude


We're all guilty of it, not being thankful or even acknowledging the help we are given from another. Now, I'm not advocating the constant reaffirming of another's good deed into perpetuity but when a glaring omission just stared me in the face on another's blog entry yesterday I must admit, I was more than a little annoyed. 

Five years now, after a random coffee break at Starbuck's with a friend (I thought), we discussed the plight of entrepreneurship in the state of Arizona. Each of us lamented the fact that while there were efforts in several individual silos, there was virtually zero collaboration and as a result, Arizona lagged far behind almost everywhere else in the country as far as a unified entrepreneurial effort was concerned.

My friend had been involved in helping start-ups and had actually founded several successful businesses over the 40 years she had been living in Phoenix. I was a relative newcomer to the area but in the five years preceeding, I had managed to start half a dozen businesses, sparked the entrepreneurial movement at ASU through my program of four classes at Barrett Honors College and even founded the first accredited College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, for starters.

We both agreed that the answer to unifying the various entrepreneurial forces would be to host a consortium or a conference of sorts. Thus, the "First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" was born!

Both my friend and I went to work marshaling resources. I reserved the Ritz to host the Conference for several thousand dollars on my credit card to reserve the date. Next, I started to bring in sponsors like the Phoenix Business Journal, Jim Riggs of Shea Commercial and a host of others. The operations aspect and roster of workshop speakers, except for the main attraction, was left to my friend to execute. I bagged superstar Michael Gerber to be our keynote speaker, as well as the most prominent and financially lucrative sponsor, Grand Canyon University.

Next, we started the campaign to bring in attendees, who would pay a fee to attend the many workshops that my friend planned. Others were recruited to help the Conference from a logistics standpoint. I left the minutia in their capable hands. However, when it came to filling the place and footing the bill, all eyes looked to me. When the dust cleared, I had reached into my pocket to the tune of $12,000 and personally covered the cost of 150 attendees out of a total of around 450 that attended our November 2006 function.

To add to my contributions, I recruited key student members of Club Entrepreneur to perform much of the "gut work" to make the first Conference run smoothly. With my connections at Thunderbird, I was able to bring 20 Afghani women in full tribal wear, who were members of Barbara Barrett's pilot program to educate Afghani war widows into entrepreneurship. I also brought the Hollywood premier of "Bella, The Movie" to the Ritz, with the stars in attendance, for a presentation of the Big Screen movie in one of the rooms decked out as a movie theater, complete with snacks and popcorn! That cost me a few more grand, which I happily forked over for the good of the Conference.

In any case, the "First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" was a smashing success and its leaders were excited to continue this event in forthcoming years. During the day long Conference, I noticed that the only so-called Arizona entrepreneurial group that was not in attendance was EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) aka YEO or the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, of which I was a founding member back in 1987. I'd been having some pushback from that organization's executive members, ever since I had moved to AZ and joned the local chapter. It seems that my initiatives in entrepreneurship, which I managed with no help from EO, had basically eclipsed their nearly decade old efforts in the State. So they boycotted the conference to basically shun me. Well, let me tell you what resulted from that slight.

At the Conference, I looked around and saw the numbers of bright and eager Club Entrepreneur members from ASU that were helping out. I decided then and there to expand Club E to the general populace. With my ASU members gathered around me, we decided to hold our first open event in February, a couple or three months from then. The gang got to work and at the February 2007 event at the now defunct Tempe restaurant , Grilled Expeditions, we packed the house with over 200 entrepreneurs from every age and business stage. The press was there and Club Entrepreneur was born. In a few short months, Club E's membership overtook the local EO chapter's membership tenfold and today, less than four years from it's launch, Club Entrepreneur's Phoenix-area membership rivals the entire world membership of EO, which has been has been in existance for 23 years! Needless to say, I never looked back, left EO in the dust and more than a few former EO members are now part of Club E.

So, to get back to the point of this blog, gratitude, or the lack thereof. The 2nd Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference became a different animal when my friend decided to take over the Conference herself and make the thrust of that event tech-related only. Same with the 3rd and 4th year events and I'm sorry to say, they bombed, compared to the first Conference. Now, I'm not going to claim that without my spirit, connections and financial backing, the subsequent Conferences were a mere shadow of the first one in which I staked but...

However, I politely withdrew from anything to do with the Conference after the first year, mostly because of the antipathy directed towards me from other Conference do-nothing, busy-bees. I didn't have time anyway, as I was focusing on Club E and my other entreprenerial initiatives. I kept my distance and let the "glory" remain with the others.

Well, yesterday, a blog from my "friend" got my "Irish" up. The subject was the upcoming 5th Annual Entrepreneurship Conference, with flattering, nearly obsequious mentions of everyone that had made the Conference series possible, .except for yours truly. That's right, not one mention of the man that co-founded the event five years earlier, who was the largest financial contributor, not to mention the provider of 150 attendees plus the lead speaker and most, if not all of the paid

The blog went on to whine that only 100 attendees had registered so far, the event was coming up right away and blah, blah, blah. I pack 'em in my events every month, over 200 last Wednesday, in fact. My weekly round tables and "Fridays at 5" social hours for Club E regularly enjoy 40, 50, 60 and sometimes as many as 80 attendees.

So, the "5th Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" will come and go soon and I expect the memories of this event will fade as fast as my "friends" at the 1st Conference "forgot" my involvement in the project's even getting started in the first place.

Gratitude, it really is fleeting.

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts, Personal History.