Most everyone at breakfast at the Royal Oaks Golf Club in Moncton is dressed to the nines, with the notable exception of the star of the show, Sir Richard Branson, who has on a dark jacket, white shirt open at the front, and jeans. His mostly grey hair is long and his goatee short. His blue eyes sparkle and he smiles a lot. He moves quickly, with an animal vitality. Not your typical tycoon. His Virgin group of companies brings in $36 billion a year.
Branson is the main draw at the Atlantic Dreamfest, conceived by 21 year old entrepreneur Brad LeBLanc and assisted by his partner, “sales guru” Phil Calvert, slightly older. Like Branson, they are unusual characters. Leblanc is a born speaker, motivator, and idea guy. Phil has turned into a brilliant marketing strategist with a determination as fierce as his partner’s.
David Hawkins of PR firm Colour heads the advisory group for the show. He explains some of the history. Brad’s idea is only six months old. A lot of the strategy and planning happened at Hawkins’ pool with the BBQ fired up.
I speak with Kevin O’Leary of the Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, another lead speaker. He tells how NBA franchise owner Mark Cuban is routinely fined for his antics, a way to generate buzz and therefore draw for his team. It works.
As he leaves I have a quick chat with Branson and hold the door for him as he gets into the car. Then it is off to the Coliseum for the big show. It is a huge success. Branson comes from another planet. He wants to put tourists in space. His speaking fee will set up a fund for homeless lids in Canada.
He is great at the Q&A. His heroes are Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu. He loves intelligent risk, like skydiving and ballooning. He is like a restless cat, enjoying himself but always alert—watching for the new, new thing.