How I came to meet and interview Governor McDonnell

Talk about making lemonade from lemons… After a morning full of no-show appointments, I was feeling a bit defeated.  Members of our think tank started brainstorming for what exactly business owners wanted most.  Well, of course they need money.  The weeks prior to this conversation I was approached by investors looking to invest in local small business.  How can I introduce investors to the best small business talent in town?  We needed a local “Shark Tank”, that show that airs on ABC-13, but what we really needed was something that could inspire, motivate, attract and connect business owners with resources that could help them.  And so EXPAND! contest was born.

So,  I started asking for prize donations and got some from great folks that wanted to help like Dave Weisman with Comcast Spotlight, Brian Duvall of Duvall Media, Leonard Wheeler who owns WFIR, Leslie Coty of Coty Connections and Barry Armstrong who owns SpiritFM.

I had help from Lynette Mutter of Xtentia.  She really was great and worked hard to design the flow so it would work well for the contestants to learn along the way and helped “walk me through the weeds” (details – I’m not good sometimes with the details when I’m running at a big idea).  She was a great help and it couldn’t have gotten past the “idea” stage without her for sure!

Then Tom Tanner and Wayne Flippen from the RRSBDC came up to my office one day (I’m in the Entrepreneur Center one floor up from them) and I told them about what I was trying to do and they were able to pull together $1,000 in cash to add to the pot so the Entrepreneur Center could be the title sponsor.  Then we were rollin’.  I feathered in calls to collect more donations as I was running pretty hard at my new start up Synergize My Business.  ABC-13 came on board, then WDBJ-7, then Thomas Becker of TBA who is just a gem said he would chip in.  My dear friend Julie Newman and her bosses at PBS Studios said they would let us use their studios and help us get some shoots of the 20, Round 2, finalists while they give their pitches to the panel of judges.

The panel – that was fun to put together!  Brian Mason was one of my first choices because he’s so smart and aggressive at business.  I love the way he leads his company with such strong and good character.  He recommended I reach out to Bill Bundy who I had never met before but found to be charming and instantly knew why he was successful at negotiating the purchase and sale of businesses for so long.  Then there was Chris Head!  What a terrific guy!  He and his wife Betsy are franchise owners for the Roanoke and Lynchburg and Smith Mountain Lake  Home Instead Senior Care companies.  They run a company that employees more than 300 people and they do it with a smile and business sense that is super educational to watch.  They started from scratch and I really admire that.  I’m not really a person who focuses on politics, but when Chris said he was running for Delegate and asked me to help, I was happy to since I think that we need more small business owners making policy decisions.

Dave Weisman was a great choice because for years he’s helped small business owners market their companies on TV.  He was also a big supporter from the very beginning of the project and BOY, do you NEED people like him to help you get started on something like this.

Finally, I needed a smart woman!  For me, one of the hardest working, tonacious and successful, local business woman I know is Linda Balentine with Crowning Touch.  She will add some spice to the panel and the contestants are going to get some great feedback from her for sure.

The Mentor/Team Captain positions are a tough ask!  Lots of time and effort will be devoted to helping the contestants create the best submittals possible to make it to Round 2.  Then they’ll have to coach them through creating great presentations to give to the panel for the first time at PBS and their finalist will have about 2 weeks to perfect their pitch to appear at Super Synergy.  Kimberly Eakin had her hand way up for this and I was so greatful!!  She is an absolute firecracker and super competitive so I know the contestants on her team will stand out if they listen to her coaching.  She built a company and recently sold it (Wine Gourmet) so I know she knows how to build something.

Bettina Altizer, for years and years, has always supported the projects I’m involved in that were innovative and especially those that she thought would help other people, companies, or charities.  This was no exception.  I asked, she said yes, and if we settle on the fact that the Mentor/Team Captain is the best place for her then I pity the people she will compete with because Bettina knows only one word – Champion!  She’s a lawyer, though and well, it will come down to time and court dates she is required to be at.  One way or another, Bettina will be help small business owners competing in this competition.   The night I asked for her help we were with Cathy LaPrade who I admire a great deal.  She’s an extremely accomplished professional and I knew if she was willing to assist us as a co-captain or in another role we’d be covered!

We have some people on the sidelines we’re looking to that will step in positions as things fall fully into place, like Lynette Mutter who is sharp as a tack, Jim Patterson, Samantha Steidle, and several others.

Now we need a TV commercial produced for the airtime that Dave Weisman has worked hard to secure to air on stations like CNN, MSMBC, FoxNews, Golf Channel, The Weather Channel and others.  My usual producer can’t do it that week and we need it quickly, so Samantha calls Mike Hanger at Virginia Video Production and he says yes!  He works super fast and gets us something right in time.  I was so greatful for what he did for us.

Prizes still keep coming in at this point – JJ White comes in on a white horse and gives us this great package for leadership training to Dale Carnegie and my dear, dear, friend Robyn Goodpasture comes through with a fantastic package to her fitness facility, FitStudio365 for a full year!  Robyn is one of those kind of people who is CONSTANTLY giving to people, to causes, and quietly stands in the background and just loves to watch folks be successful.  So many people in Roanoke have been positively effected by her generousity!

So then it happens…8am on Thursday morning, August 11, 2011, Tom Tanner forwards me this email from the SBDC that Governor Bob McDonnell is looking for BIG, BOLD ideas to help small business owners and to submit them to this website they’ve set up.  I call Chris Head and he gets started immediately.  He reaches out to the Lt. Governor’s office for us to let them know what we’re doing.  Lt. Governor Bill Bolling’s office responds in like a few minutes or something.  It was fast, really fast.  Randy there says that they want to support what we’re doing.  They want me to craft a statement though.  I was a little intimidated so I call Thomas Becker – the PR pro.  I ask him for some advice and instead he crafts it for me!  That was a WOW moment.

I’m sitting there with Samantha and Jim going – seriously!  Is the entire universe conspiring to help us today!  What a rush!

Our entire team couldn’t have been happier!  We were thrilled, but Chris thought he could do more so he called Dave Nutter who was going to have Governor McDonnell at an event he was holding at the Shenandoah Club.  Chris calls me and says that Dave invited me to the event because he really liked and supported what we were doing and he was in hope that I could tell the Governor myself about it.

So at this point my heart is pounding and I’m looking at Samantha and Jim going, really?  Pitch the Governor, face-to-face? Me???

So then I ask Dave if we could bring some other folks with me and he says yes.  This was the first time we had spoken so I thought it would be totally inappropriate to tell him I could give him a big kiss of gratitude.  So then I asked if we could bring a video camera so maybe we could capture the exchange for the website.  He said he would try.  So now I’m really loving this guy and I’m seeing that local leaders like Dave and Chris are SERIOUS about helping… not just talking about it!

I go to the Goodwill function at 5:30p to hook up with some small business folks I know and some MLMers who are honestly some of the sweetest people I know like Jeanie Patterson!  That woman is tireless!  She is always working and helping anyone that needs it.  Her heart’s as big as the whole city.

While I’m there Joyce Waugh, Dave Weisman and John Anderson with The Farm help me for like an hour to come up with what the elevator speech might be.  They’re supportive and helpful and John puts me through this process that feels like I’m on that show on ABC-13, Shark Tank.  I think I was sweating by the time he was done and I know I wanted to cry, but boy – was it super helpful and totally necessary for what ends up happening.

So I stay up til real late communicating with about the nicest guy I can imagine from the Lt. Governor’s office named Randy so I can get this statement he needs correct.  Those folks really do work around the clock.  Amazing!  My husband is totally helping me on multiple levels.  Helping me write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. Then I start on my elevator speech because I KNOW that I will get like literally one minute with the Governor if this thing happens and I better be ready and from my coaching earlier I know I need to really work on it’s content to be effective!  Like one opportunity in a lifetime ready kind of ready.  I must have thrown away 12 drafts of the thing.

I wake up early and do some yoga and there was talking to God to ask him to please calm my nerves and remind me that this whole thing obviously has a whole lot less to do with me than the small business owners that need help right now!  I have appointments starting at 730a and I run into my office at 11am to “fluff” and get the team together to strategize how we’re going to optimize this incredible opportunity that’s in front of us.

We had called Eric Danielson at All Star Impressions at like 5pm the night before and said we needed 4 new name tags by 10a in the morning and like ALWAYS he said he could do it.  Miracle man is what I call him.

So we put our name tags on and decide who’s doing what.  I love the entrepreneurs I work with at times like this that give so much of their time.  Jim Patterson, Samantha Steidle, and Brian Duvall – we’re all shined up and ready to roll.  It’s weird not to have Jeanie there but we could only get a few tickets and she’s busy getting butts in seats for her September 10 launch of Synergize My MLM.  It’s like everyone just falls in line and gets in their lane and they are TOTALLY dependable.  We walk down Jefferson Street to the Shenandoah Club like a group on a mission.  We’re happy and excited and nervous and focused.

We get there and Dave Nutter is super nice and welcoming and he says that the Governor is running late so it’s possible that we might not get to talk to him today but that he was going to do everything he could to try and get us a minute or two.  I was a little disappointed but honestly, the event was really cool and there were so many representatives there that I thought that we would still be able to get our message out to people.  I knew that exactly what was supposed to happen would.

So I stand in the back of the room and I just watch everyone for a little while.  Brian, standing there next to his camera, just ready to get any interview we can – ready to go at a moment’s notice.  Jim, doing what Jim does best – make instant friends and make everyone around him feel warm and welcome.  Samantha – the virtual networking machine!  That woman is fierce and focused.  Somehow she’s able to use her charm, beauty and smarts to work a room like a no one I’ve ever seen.  Jeff is sitting back, watching with me and we’re talking.  He knows lots of folks and some that will be arriving, but he calmly sits back waiting for the appropriate moment to make contact.

We take our seats and start listening to some speeches and I have to say that I was seriously impressed with Delegate Nutter.  He’s a really sharp guy that has some serious knowledge and passion for small business owners.  I can tell he would really fight for us.  He made me feel proud of people that are willing to stand up and run for office.  It ain’t an easy path and their family has to really be supportive because it’s a pretty crazy pace they have to have to keep up.

Congressman Morgan Griffith inspires everyone and says some things that make me think that he wants small business to succeed, too.  As soon as he’s done, I dash to the back of the room motioning to Brian to grab his camera off his tripod and follow me.  I have to be super aggressive to catch him and ask him for an interview and he says yes!  This is totally not planned to so I totally fumble the question but he helps me out and answers in a way that is supportive of small business and I’m happy.

I slide back in my seat and listen to the Governor.  I’ve never seen him speak before.  What a treat!  In like a 15 minute speech he’s able to remember to mention every officials name in the room, people he knew and spent time with and blend in some powerful messages about how he wants to do whatever he can to create an environment in Virginia for businesses to be successful at growth and creating jobs.  It really was masterful.  I’m so proud we live a in a state that has a balanced budget and after listening to him I understand how his strong leadership has made a big difference in getting us there.

So it’s over.  Everyone gets up and of course goes straight for Governor McDonnell.  I stand in the back of the room and just think about the fact that I’m lucky to have been invited and I know more about some of the people that run our state and federal government than I did this morning.  Then it happens.  A man approaches me and says, “Are you Lynda?”  I just stared at him.  “Yes, sir” I say.  I’m Adam with the Governor’s office and he would like to meet with you.  Can you go upstairs and wait for him in the hallway?

So I go upstairs, but I’m scared I’m in the wrong place maybe (how could I be, there’s only one upstairs) so I have Jim and Sam wait at the bottom of the stairs in case he leaves out another door and they can stop him or something.  Thinking back, it was really stupid, but at the time it felt like a really good strategy.

So Joyce comes up and stands next to me.  It’s like she has this sense that I’m about as nervous as I get.  She talks and she’s really nice and she’s telling me stories and all I remember is that she made me feel more comfortable.  Brian has his camera sitting in the room off the hall, right by the back windows so if we get an interview the light will be perfect.  We wait about 20 minutes I guess.

Then the Governor comes dashing up the stairs and almost walks right by except that Adam stops him.  The Governor says hello to Joyce and I think Adam says, “Governor, this is Lynda.”  The Governor shakes my hand and says it’s nice to meet me.  He says he’s really late so I’ll need to walk and talk.  So I start with him and it’s not a walk, it’s closer to a sprint.  It’s no more than about 30 seconds to get to the back door so I have to remember the copy points I’ve prepared, spit them out at lightening speed as we rush down the hallway.  Samantha had given me some points that I should start with that would get his attention so I use those as I talk fast and sort of stumble through some of the specifics of the EXPAND! contest and that I’m a 3rd generation entrepreneur and that I just want to help small business owners because it’s really hard for them right now.

Lynda McNutt Foster with Governor Bob McDonnell

Talk fast or forever hold your peace

So we’re outside in the sun now and Brian has had to tear his camera off the tripod and literally run down the hall and get set to capture whatever we can once I get permission from the Governor to film something.  Adam looks at me and says, “So what do you want from the Governor, Lynda”.  And then I just say it.  “Governor, I would like for you to support EXPAND! because I think we can inspire a lot of business owners with the program and connect them with the resources out there that are available to help them.  They don’t know about all the things that the Small Business Development Center can do and this can help with that.  And, sir, I would like for the winner to have lunch with you.”

He looks at me.  It’s the first pause in a minute and a half.  It was obviously a seriously big ask!  So I modify it.  “Or maybe the Lt. Governor.”  still a pause (he was obviously respectful of the Lt Governor’s time and couldn’t commit for him on the spot)  “or maybe, sir…”  He looks at Adam and ask him to connect me with the Lt Governor’s office and allows the winner a lunch with someone in the capital.  I was happy!

“So, Governor, would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions on camera?”  “Of course,” he says.  So I look in the camera and I say, “I’m Lynda McNutt Foster and I’m hear with Governor Bob…”  He stops me with his look and then says, “You’re the one that’s going to interview me?” and I say, “Yes, sir, I’m a small business owner and we’re the full circus here – we do it all!”  He laughs in this really pleasant and supportive way.

and then the interview starts.

The whole encounter lasted like 2 minutes total, but I was exhausted.  I just stood there and everyone is so excited that we got it.  That we did it.  That about 29 hours before that we were driving to work and had no idea that any of this was going to occur.  That in just 29 hours it took an entire, supportive group of people to pull every resource they had to make this happen.

Governor McDonnell with Synergize Team

Telling Governor about EXPAND!

We can’t wait to get everything edited back at our office and call Leslie Coty who is going to just flip when she sees the pictures and the videos.  We knew she would explode with excitement to help us.  She’s a giver, like the rest of them, like all of them.  A true giver.

It does take each of us to make all of us like Jim Rohn said.  It takes collaboration and focus and hard work and tenacity and intelligence and strategy and PEOPLE, really great PEOPLE to make anything meaningful happen.  I think that’s what I’ll remember the most from this entire experience.  That the people that I am so lucky to get to engage with every day are exceptional and lift me up to excellence and that we can do whatever we set our mind to as long as we never forget who we serve and that they really matter and what we do really matters to them.

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