Lessons from a visit the Odyssey Network Business Retreat, a legendary gathering of multicultural women changing the world.
For 17 years Odyssey Media, founded by Linda Spradley Dunn, has gathered the brightest and most successful women in the country for an upscale getaway to replenish and build relationships. And the 2016 annual Odyssey Network Business Retreat held at the Ritz-Carlton on Florida’s Amelia Island with 400 multicultural female leaders overflowed with sisterhood and true star power - the first African American female astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison was honored by MIT researcher Yari Rodriguez, who is a candidate to help charter the first civilization on Mars. Diahann Carroll, Gladys Knight, Cookie Johnson, Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour and many more revealed the highs and lows of their journeys and words of wisdom. Check out five success secrets from these incredible women.
#1 Connect with Your Tribe
None of us are meant to go far alone. From Gladys Knight sharing how the Pips roughed up a record executive who tried to add sleeping with her as part of a deal to Coca Cola vice presidents Lauventria Robinson and Raquel Harris Mason sharing how they have supported one another in the workplace, it was clear the women of Odyssey discover true success through a supportive circle. My Odyssey experience began before I even set foot at the resort. The women I rode with in a shuttle were warm and welcoming, and shared the energy of the event and quality of the attendees keeps them coming back. The Retreat is designed for authentic connection, with a sleek app to quickly contact other attendees and a lounge with Coke and coffee after dinner keeps you energized to chat with new friends.
#2 Be Present to This Moment
The Odyssey Network Business Retreat provides rare air to be surrounded by some of the most powerful women in the world. And if you’ve never heard about this epic event, it’s by design. Attendees are fully present to the experience and not documenting the sacred getaway on social, and high demand forgoes the need for much marketing. I would love to share an epic picture of Dunn and Dr. Jemison jamming to Usher’s “Yeah” on the Odyssey dance floor, but there are no images because everyone lived in the moment. Phones were put away at dinner and real conversation flowed. My first night I sat next to Pam El, the Chief Marketing Officer of the NBA and it was one of my favorite dinner dates. Each day is one we will never see again. Sometimes Facebook and Twitter scrolls can wait till later.
#3 Lift As You Climb
The welcome dinner sponsored by Johnson & Johnson featured Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour. She shared how seeing a photo of a female pilot inspired her to get her wings and become America’s first African-American Female Combat Pilot with two tours of duty in Iraq. “I never met that woman but she changed my life,” Armour shared, who now travels the country as an empowerment coach and speaker. “We all have to stand up and be counted, because you don’t know who is counting on you.” During an interview with Prudential Foundation chair and Prudential Financial senior vice president of human resources Sharon C. Taylor, Gladys Knight revealed she was done talking about the kids in her North Carolina community and doing something for them by reopening a closed school. When the mic was passed to ask questions, the crowd wanted to know how they could support the school. The women from Scholastic pledged to provide books for her library and the Comcast NBCUniversal team offered support for a theater. As we all cried, a woman stood to share how Gladys Knight changed her life by agreeing to sing at the first Super Bowl gospel concert sanctioned by the NFL. “You didn’t know me, but you said you would support another Black women.” The seeds of service and sisterhood Knight planted were blooming in front of our eyes.
#4 Always Be Learning
Truthfully the women who attend Odyssey could never do another thing and all be considered success stories. And yet, a unifying trait of attendees was a hunger to learn more. These ladies keep sharpened their skills throughout the weekend. ESSENCE editor-at-large Mikki Taylor taught one of the morning sessions on being camera-ready and telling your story. “Hope is not a plan. Prepare for your moment. Your gift goes with you wherever you go,” she shared. Walmart hosted a session on how to get your products and services to the Fortune 1 company NBC Weekend TODAY anchor Sheinelle Jones moderated a powerful conversation on busy women staying healthy. After speakers including Cookie Johnson, Susan Fales-Hill, Ilayasa Shabazz, Christina Lewis Halpern and more, the ladies break for afternoon excursions. The options included wine tasting, tennis lessons, a bike riding, surf lessons, a tour of a local plantation and interior design.
#5 Build Your Dream
The theme for the 2016 Odyssey Network Business Retreat was vision and thanks to futurist Nat Irvin, attendees are keenly aware that the world is rapidly changing. And with vision, we can create what isn’t yet here. The idea of 400 multicultural women, many who look like you and me, selling out a Ritz-Carlton hotel on Amelia Island, one of the last places African slaves were imported, and bringing retailers like St. John to create their own mini store with support from sponsors including Prudential, Intel, Mars, EMC, EY and AT&T was once just a dream. “Being a visionary means daring to dream and act on what others tell you is impossible,” shares Odyssey founder and CEO Linda Spradley Dunn. “It’s running past gatekeepers and breaking down any barrier that stands in your way. Being visionary is fun, scary, courageous, exhilarating, isolating, tiresome, humbling and most of all getting back up every time you fall.” Do add Odyssey to your bucket list. And let us know, what will you build?