What I Learned From My Airport Date With A Billionaire.

**Phone Rings**

“Heyyyyy Janet. How’s it going? I’m a little drunk. When you comin’ to New Zealand? You promised you would come to New Zealand!”

“Hi Dan. You sound a little….tipsy. What time is it there?”

“Ohhh it’s like 2 in the morning here in Wellington. I’m a little drunk. You should REALLY come to New Zealand!”

“Haha don’t worry I’m sure I will sometime. Enjoy your night and I’ll talk to you soon.”

I hang up the phone and smile to the rest of my family sitting around the table about to have lunch. “Guess Dan didn’t quite work out the time difference,” I laugh.

But as Dan is partying the night away in New Zealand, he has unknowingly planted a seed in the very impulsive mind of a travel- obsessed recent Uni graduate. A recent graduate who was sort of planning to move to that side of the world soon anyway. 

**Beep Beep*

“Hey Dan. I booked a one-way flight to Auckland. See you in 72 hours!”

And that is how I ended up on a flight from Cork to London in November 2009, (and later from London to Singapore to Auckland)…which is what this particular story is all about.

On my flight from Cork to London, I sat there working my way through my newly purchased Lonely Planet New Zealand, excited for what was to come.

In case you’re too young to know this, before everyone had a smartphone or a kindle or buried their head in their laptop all day every day, people used to actually talk to each other. So I got talking to the guy next to me on the plane and he actually brought up the topic of… blogs!

He told me how he knows lots of people with excellent blogs and wondered did I have one.  Considering I had not officially made my blog public yet, I may have lied a little!

I told him I really liked the idea of having my own blog and using it to document my travels. I also told him I had just graduated but wasn’t sure if or how I would ever use my degree.

He assured me that sometimes going to University is overrated and that we put far too much weight on being a University graduate rather than other skills such an entrepreneurship and business acumen.  This guy was a gooooood bit older than me but super interesting and clearly very intelligent. 

Upon arrival in the nightmare that is Heathrow airport, my new friend helped me find my way around and check-in for my next flights and then continued to buy me a few pints Bulmers cider. We both had 5 hours to kill so decided we might as well spend it together..over a few drinks. Typical Irish, right?

He told me how he had failed his leaving certificate and never went to college yet has spent the past 14 years working in China for a company that makes accessories for i-phones and blackberries, sourcing tech and materials for companies around the world. This, you must remember, was at a time when not everyone had a smartphone and I didn’t even own one yet.

In fact, I was so against it until moving to Korea over a year later.

He said the company where he works employs over 800 people worldwide and is growing year on year. He said he’s so busy with work that instead of living in an apartment he instead just lives in the penthouse suite of a hotel. Very fancy! 

He used his Blackberry to find us an excellent restaurant within the airport with the help of an application called YELP which can tell you shops, bars and restaurants in the vicinity with a click of a button and you can even read reviews. Technology continues to boggle my mind. 

(That was a direct quote from my diary which still makes me laugh. I was so impressed by his smartphone and this “app” called YELP.)

I was a bit nervous about dinner as my Dad had handed me 20 pounds to help me survive my layover and so I would not need to withdraw any money in London. I wasn’t sure the 20 pounds would cover this fancy dinner but, me being me, pushed the money onto the table politely to say it was my contribution. My new friend laughed it off and said to keep it and that this dinner was on him as he had enjoyed the company and it made the layover more bearable. 

He carried on how he knows the guy who set up Facebook, the CEO of Blackberry and other high fliers, but not in a boasting way. Just more factual, discussing his business and various projects. Pretty impressive for a guy that never graduated high school.

It wasn’t until I got up to leave, and he handed me his business card to get in touch if I was ever in China, that I realised that he didn’t just work for this company…he owned it!!

The business card stated him clearly as the founder and CEO.

These days I would have Googled the name of the company straight away but I didn’t have a smartphone! So the Googling would have to wait until I landed in New Zealand.

A quick search once I got to a computer and my jaw dropped to the ground. Seemed his “not so little” company had revenue of $1 billion that year and when I excitedly called my parents to tell them who I had been wined and dined by, they told me the same man was on the FRONT PAGE of the national newspapers in Ireland that day…as he was recently named International Businessman of The Year.

It is moments or encounters like this that make travelling so incredible and really opens up your eyes to the endless possibilities in life…with or without formal education or following the path of the 9 to 5.

Get out there and MAKE that dream come true, cause that’s what I plan on doing.

  • Veronika
    November 6, 2020 at 10:27 am

    Hehe, what a fun encounter, Janet :) Did you ever get in touch with him? I used to work in China and your story reminded me how I then, back in Prague, was once asked by my Chinese boss (not just CEO but the Chairman of the Board!) to buy a particular painting for him in Prague. Omg, it was quite nerve-wracking, since for me it was a lot of money (in cash).
    Keep these fun stories coming! I’m sure everybody enjoys them :)