Dinner And A Kiss With “Mary Ann”
I was standing in the small room of an obscure restaurant in Los Angeles going over a revolutionary mobile app with the CEO of a tech company. The room was private. However, it had dim mood lighting and music that was loud enough to compete with the conversations we were having. “I sure hope they turn down this music,” I was thinking. “We have some important information to tell her when she gets here, and I want her to be able to hear us.” There were only six of us in the group that came to meet her. There was me, various members of the board and the founder of Generation E.
I admit that there was a part of me that had been waiting to meet the woman of the hour for a couple months. I was hoping to meet her ever since Generation E became my client and I discovered that they had any association with her. A year prior she had come to a fundraising event to help launch the program. The founder and other board members had stayed in touch with her ever since. We had traveled to Los Angeles from Phoenix just to have this dinner with her. We needed to update her on the progress that the organization was making to help youth and young adults learn how to be entrepreneurs in the midst of the changing economic landscape of our country.
The tech CEO had just finished his mobile app demo when the star walked into the room with her manager only a step behind her – it was Dawn Wells, the actress who played Marry Ann on Gilligan’s Island. She was wearing an all-red two-piece evening ensemble with her hair down and a bright smile. The outfit and hair obviously weren’t the classic leg shorts and pony tails that made her iconic, and at age 77 she did look slightly different from the character she played on TV at age 26; but the smile was easily recognizable.
I was the youngest person in the room (34 years), but I’m still old enough to remember a time without the internet when kids would watch reruns on television. Gilligan’s Island, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and other classics are still quoted among my siblings since they are shows that were commonly watched within my household growing up.
I probably watched too much television as a kid, but that may have played a part in my fascination with marketing. I don’t just remember some of the shows but also commercials. There was one particular commercial that comes to mind that probably aired in the late 80s or early 90s, which is about 20-30 years after they filmed Gilligan’s Island. In this particular commercial, two guys are playing billiards in a bar while comparing some of their favorites. Naturally, one of them asks, “Ginger or Mary Ann?” Of course it was Mary Ann. It was always Mary Ann. She was the girl next door who was just as beautiful as the movie star but somehow more approachable, even to the point where a goofy guy like Gilligan could have a chance with her.
When Dawn arrived to dinner, I was one of the first to greet her and self-consciously I worried about shaking with my cold hand since I had been holding a glass of ice water. For me it was a first-time introduction but everyone else in the room was well-acquainted with her. She gravitated to them and spoke to them as if she was everyone’s favorite aunt just showing up to a family reunion. I quickly learned that that is simply her way – to be warm and caring to everyone that she comes in contact with.
I didn’t say very much during dinner. For at least the first 15 minutes all I could do was watch and admire the energy that she brought to the table and to the conversation. In some ways she’s younger than I am. She was sitting at the head of the table and I was sitting directly across from her at the foot. Since the room was dim I couldn’t see all my food very well, and there were a couple moments when I had to choke down a fatty or tendinous part of my steak because I didn’t want Dawn to see me pull a half-chewed piece of meat of my mouth.
As the dinner conversation carried on we covered a variety of topics between Dawn’s business and community efforts and the progress of Generation E. Dawn has been involved with projects such as buying tents for the homeless and designing clothing for elderly women. The clothing is designed so that a nurse, family member or assistant can help dress the woman easily. It’s also designed to look good. Even elderly women deserve to look good and maintain their dignity whether they’re at home or in a care facility. That’s something the woman’s children should consider once they take control of her finances. (She dressed you at one time. So when it’s time to dress her, dress her in what she wants).
Charter schools were introduced to the conversation because that’s how Generation E is penetrating the market with their product of entrepreneurship education. The curriculum for Generation E is fully accredited, so it can be used at any school, whether the school is private, charter or public. However, charter schools have less administrative “red tape” than public schools and they’re more open to adding specialty programs such as one that teaches entrepreneurship. These are reasons why Generation E may currently only be found in Arizona charter schools. The plan is to expand to additional schools in Arizona and subsequently nationwide. The desire is to help as many youth as possible, but success is measured with each young person individually.
Some may question, as did Dawn, why a program like Generation E is necessary. Take your pick of answers. Graduates from high school and college are generally lacking certain skills in finance and business which are required for success in the modern economy. The age-old advice to “go to school, get a job and retire with benefits after a long stay in the same company” just doesn’t cut it anymore. More and more students don’t get a job related to their degree. They usually switch jobs about every 5 years, and less and less companies are offering retirement benefits. The costs of education are continually rising while the debate also rises that a college education doesn’t produce a good return on investment. It certainly doesn’t produce the return that it used to. Generation E teaches the needed skills of finance, business and entrepreneurship through classes, workshops, and mentoring. On a regular basis they hold an activity where they play a finance game called “Thrive Time,” created by Sharon Lechter. Often the parents who are present at the workshop ask if there is a similar game for adults.
The youth and young adults who follow through with the complete program at Generation E will have an operating business by the time they’re done. They essentially create jobs, instead of simply taking a job.
Dawn is the kind of person that this group of people could talk to all night long. The workers at the restaurant were very tolerant of us leaving late and if we weren’t conscious of the fact that they probably wanted to go home, we would’ve kept talking. Dawn is so pleasant to be around. As we got up from the table I went to shake Dawn’s hand again. She told me that my children are lucky because I have cute dimples, which is genetic.
Even as we were leaving the restaurant, the conversation continued as we slowly migrated to the parking lot. Dawn affectionately gave me a hug and a kiss goodby right after we walked out the door (in a European way that my wife would have absolutely nothing to worry about even if Dawn and I were the same age). Yet, since we kept talking (and after a photo op), enough time had passed by to merit the actual farewell. So Dawn gave me a hug and a kiss again. It was fun to think that that the boyhood crush of practically every man alive told me I have cute dimples and kissed me on the cheek — twice!
Dawn has an open invitation to always be involved with Generation E in some way. As a marketing person, my personal hope is that she will become an official spokesperson. In a similar way that Tommy Lasorda started his career in baseball but eventually became “the Slim Fast guy”, I would like Dawn to be the one who started as Mary Ann but also became “the Generation E lady”. Of course, it depends on her availability. However, as a business woman, as a beloved icon on screen, and an amazing individual off screen, she’s the perfect person to be telling people to support Generation E in their mission to educate and empower youth and young adults to become entrepreneurs.
Generation E (generatineusa.org)