The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Gail Davis, 15 May 2015

Nando Parrado is the inspiration and reason Gail Davis founded our company.  Recently, Gail was invited as an EO (Entrepreneur Organization) member to travel with Nando and introduce him on a three city Canadian tour.  On our 16th anniversary, we want to share Gail's introduction of Nando which takes us back to how she discovered Nando, the friendship they developed and how it lead to her entrepreneurial journey of founding GDA Speakers.  

NandoIt is my privilege and honor to introduce to you our next speaker, especially to a group of entrepreneurs. The fact Nando is here today speaking to you has a very strong tie to the entrepreneurial spirit.

When Nando shares his story with you today, I want you to notice how decisions were made, how they adapted to an unknown environment and the innovation they used to lead them out of the Andes. Just like many of us, Nando and his teammates found themselves in a situation they knew little about, but their drive to get out was stronger than their lack of knowledge. With the same spirit and determination leading Nando to safety has driven his career the last 40 year. He is unlike any other speaker I represent; mainly because he isn’t a speaker. Nando runs five businesses in Uruguay. He owns a chain of hardware stores, has an advertising agency, produces a number of television shows, is involved in real estate and more. He is a typical entrepreneur who loves being involved in a variety of things.

I only joined EO (Entrepreneur Organization) seven years ago. This was later in my life than many of you. This is because I became an entrepreneur as a second career. Nando is a big part of my story. I’d like to share with you how we met and then turn the stage over to Nando to share his story.

When I graduated from college I went to work for a world famous entrepreneur, Ross Perot. I worked at EDS for 20 years. I was responsible for the sales recognition event. One year the chairman issued a challenge. He asked me to find a speaker who was new and different. Someone no one had heard but everyone would like to hear. He also wanted someone who was global in their appeal.

A month or so later, completely unrelated, I had rented the movie Alive. Early on in the movie the friend I was with said, “hey what about this guy for your meeting?” I look puzzled and said, “Ethan Hawke”? My friend said “no” the real guy. Honestly, my initial thought was mmm maybe you better stick to HR and I’ll do my thing with meetings and speakers. But by the end of the movie I thought the idea was so good, I thought it was my own!

Now this was 1994. There was NO Google. If you wanted a speaker you had to go through a speakers bureau or speakers agency.

I reached out to all the major bureaus and they all discouraged me and my idea telling me it was risky because he was an unknown. They cautioned me just because a book is written about someone does not make them a speaker or just because a movie was made does not make them a great speaker. I had seen an interview with Nando and I had no concerns.

Meanwhile I told the chairman my idea. He loved it. I would see him in the hallways or on the elevator and he would inquire, how is it going with our new speaker? I would confidently say, no worries it is in the bag! Meanwhile, I was running out of time and could not find Nando.

Four months later my dad was visiting me. I was studying the movie credits from the movie Alive. I was strategizing a plan to go to Hollywood and track down the producers to help me find Nando when my dad from Altus, OK says, “hey weren’t those boys from Uruguay?” I am like, yes. He says, “didn’t they play soccer?” I am like well really it is rugby and he says I know the ambassador from Uruguay. What? Genius!! Monday morning I called the Uruguayan embassy in Washington D.C. I was given a number to reach Nando and when I called, even with my broken Spanish, I knew I had called the wrong Nando Parrado I called back to the embassy. I explained I am looking for the Nando from the Andes. Nando Parrrrrrrado!! They embassy politely informed me they could not give me the phone number. They had to protect the privacy of the survivors. The guy told me Barbara Walters and Oprah would love to call Nando.  I was so close. I just sat there saying nothing. Finally, he offered me a piece of information. Nando has a television show on Channel 12 in Montevideo. I said, does Channel 12 have a number? I got the number and called. Another conversation and I had Nando’s direct line. I then dialed a phone number that would change my life.

Nando’s secretary Sondra was trained to get rid of people like me, but she was off that day and Nando answered the phone. When he answered, suddenly I had no idea what I was going to say. I had been searching for him. I had never thought of what I would say when I found him. I remember a billboard flashing in my mind saying “Establish credibility”. So in Spanish I begin to explain I worked for EDS and we were owned by General Motors. Nando quickly interrupted my Spanish and said, “Hey. I went to high school in Ann Arbor Michigan. We can speaker English.” I then made my request and he kindly said no.

He told me the crash was the worst experience in his life and he had no desire to be a speaker. I remembered a line from an interview I had seen with him saying he did not want to be perceived as a hero. I addressed why I thought he had a message others would want to hear. It wasn’t about being a hero, it was about giving others hope. He began to open up to me. He agreed to think about it. I got his address and he said I could send him some info.

I called my boss. I was doing back flips. I found him!!!! I found him!!! And she asked, "did he say Yes?" I said, "no…..but he will!"  My boss suggested I send him the book Ken Follet wrote about EDS called On Wings of Eagles. It was about Ross Perot’s rescue of two employees in Iran. I sent the book along with an annual report to Nando.

I called him a week later and asked what he thought. He told me he wasn’t finished with book and to call back tomorrow. I called back and he said, “well, I think those guys could have used me on the rescue.” I knew he was hooked! He told me there was about a 20% chance he would be able to do it. I did not give up. I stayed in contact with him. When my print deadline arrived, I had Nando to the 90% mark. I told him I like to live on the edge so I put his photo and bio in our brochure. When he faxed me his flight schedule he made a note the corner saying 97%. When he got off the plane in Maui he had a sign that said 100%.

He delivered beyond 110%. The chairman suggested I retire saying I would never find a better speaker.

As Nando and his wife were leaving Uruguay he said, “this has been a great experience. Come visit us in Uruguay sometime. One month later I took my entire family to Uruguay. That began a friendship that turned into a decision for me to leave my 20 year career at EDS and start a business doing what I love - inspiring others. Nando was my first speaker. Sixteen years later I run a large speakers bureau and have been the president of the International Association of Speakers bureaus.

Nando has given me more than a business. He has exposed me to the beautiful country and people of Uruguay. I have a wonderful friendship with him and his family. I was part of the journey to his New York Times bestselling book, Miracle in the Andes, and also the wonderful history channel documentary, “Alive.” He was my own personal advisor as I built my business from a small office in my home to a business that represents over 5,000 speakers.

The man you're about to meet is ANYTHING but ORDINARY. In fact, what you are about to hear is nothing short of EXTRORDINARY. I'm very privileged and pleased to introduce to you my friend, fellow entrepreneur and guest speaker, Nando Parrado.