Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You can't make this stuff up. Well, you can ... but in this case, I didn't.

A few months ago I commented about the upcoming World Business Forum and the eclectic (not really) lineup of business luminaries they'd assembled for their upcoming conference. The list of speakers included economists, business titans, artists and politicians...and one Olympic gold medal winner: Michael Phelps, giving a presentation titled "High Performance."

On the heels of this announcement came the news of Phelps' puff heard round the world and the subsequent reaction to it.

Well, the update is that the lineup has been slightly changed. I received a new mailing about the program, including a limited "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" offer and reviewed the speakers again. Surprise! No more Michael Phelps. I suppose he is now otherwise occupied in early October, or perhaps had a previous obligation come up, or maybe the people putting the conference had second thoughts. (I think it's that last one.)

Couple of thoughts: Our economy is truly in dire straits if something as prestigious as the World Business Forum begins offering 50% off tickets four months before the event takes place. It's likely that large media and investment companies supported this gathering in a big way in the past, possibly by sending some of their most valuable employees to it. I can see this type of expense being cut from a budget when someone in accounting starts reviewing then cutting expenses line by line.

And I don't know where you stand on the Phelps pot violation - maybe no where and you've long forgotten the headlines - but I have to hand it to HSM and the World Business Forum. Someone there was paying attention to ethics. And respectability. Someone decided that having Phelps deliver a combination "positive thinking" + "motivational speaker" message titled High Performance was just too much irony to bear, even for the well-heeled, cosmopolitan audience that will fill Rockefeller Center this fall.

Let's face it: Phelps filled the spot left open for the "star of the moment" for this year's event. How else could you explain having him appear on the same program as President Clinton, T. Boone Pickens, Jack Welch, Paul Krugman, Gary Hamel and Jeffrey Sachs? He was there to give the "you can do it, too" message that, in my view, is so specious it's painful.

So I say: good for you, World Business Forum. Phelps will most likely go on to additional glory in the athletic world, assuming he works out the party boy aspects of his life, at least while he's training and competing. But your program is undiminished by his absence. You can get back to your flavor of the month, 'positive thinking' speaker in time for next year. A new version of Susan Boyle should come along any day now.

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