BUTTE – Some of the most influential dynamos in the business world converged on this unlikely mining town Monday as several thousand people turned out for the Montana Economic Development Summit.
The free two-day event was hosted by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, on the campus of Montana Tech. It is the sixth time Baucus has hosted a Montana Jobs Summit, and this was the biggest yet.
It drew thousands of attendees, who heard a celebrated slate of entrepreneurs discuss breaking both technological and social barriers to achieve excellence in business and as a society.
Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg and Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk were joined by CEOs from major companies like Ford, Boeing, Delta Airlines, FedEx, electric carmaker Tesla, ConocoPhillips and Hewlett-Packard.
Invited by the retiring Baucus, who admits his influence over tax and budget issues helps draw the business leaders to Montana, the keynote speakers were joined by five U.S. ambassadors from Japan, Peru, Canada, China and Germany, who landed in Butte after touring the state with Baucus.
The latter, Peter Ammon, Germany’s Ambassador to the United States since 2011, paid a visit to Kalispell to announce that a German-based software company was awarding $46 million worth of computer software to the Flathead Valley Community College in an effort to train the next generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs.
It’s precisely the kind of investment that Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors and CEO and CTO of SpaceX, said would equip future generations with the skillset to break new barriers.
“You have to really believe in what you are creating and know in your heart and mind that this is something that matters and that it’s something the world ought to have,” Musk said.
In 1995, Musk believed so deeply in the Internet and its ability to connect information hubs that he started his own company, helping to put media conglomerates like the New York Times Co. online. He then sold the company and started PayPal, changing the way the world does business over the Internet.
In hindsight, he says the only reason he started the Internet company was because no one else would hire him.
He also took major risks, Musk said, investing every last dollar he made through PayPal into Tesla Motors, which revolutionized the electronic supercars industry.
“With Tesla I invested all the money I had. I literally had to borrow money from friends,” Musk told a packed audience Monday, Sept. 16. “The fact that I was all in made a huge impression on investors, who saw that I was committed.”
He then turned his sights to the sky, and started a rocket company with the goal of “developing technology that will allow a permanent, sustainable city on Mars.
“The future of humanity depends on it,” he said, adding that it was critical not only “to have life insurance for life on another planet,” but simply “for the adventure of it.”
“It would just be a great adventure,” Musk told the audience, the front row of seats filled by his five sons – one set of triplets and one set of twins.
“A recurrent theme of this job summit, and I think frankly in life, is to think big,” Baucus said. “Think big and believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, whatever they are, believe in yourself. Because if you do it’s going to happen.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg thinks big, and although for her it has certainly happened, she hopes to see more future generations of women in executive leadership roles, too.
“Men are expected to be leaders, and women are expected to be caretakers,” she said, calling for a social paradigm shift. “When little girls lead we tell them they shouldn’t, we call them bossy. Women are told they are too aggressive at work. Instead of calling a girl bossy, she should be told that she has executive leadership skills.”
Sandberg, whose book “Lean In” encourages women to express themselves ambitiously, wants to strip feminism and gender equality of their negative connotations and make them part of the conversation.
“I was told that speaking out about equality for women would ruin my career,” she said. “This gender stereotype is holding us back all over the world. The good news is, I think we can change it.”
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