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June 23, 2010 / A10 Clinical Solutions, Inc.

An Unexpected Win

Leah Brown wins Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2010 Carolinas Award

In May, I was notified that I was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 Carolinas Award.  Pretty exciting stuff, to be sure.  Among the list of finalists were such noteworthy CEOs as Larry Stern of Talecris, Chuck Swoboda of CREE, Craig Collard of Cornerstone Therapeutics, and so many more! 

As it got closer to the Award night in Charlotte, NC, I was told I should have my key staff attend the event as well as family and friends.  I started to really think about those who made a real difference/impact to A10 over time and helped to expand our efforts to heal the world.  So I sent an invitation to everyone who supported A10 during its growth.  Some of these people responded that they would be able to attend the awards ceremony as my guests.

So, my next priority for the day of the awards ceremony was to convince my sons to put on tuxedoes and drive down to Charlotte on their summer break to hang out with a bunch of old people.  That was a battle that I had no chance of winning.  I even moped…they were not budging.

On June 17, Awards Day, I spent the whole day doing other things like getting my hair and makeup done and other girlie things to get ready for this black-tie evening.  Kelly, my assistant, told me to be prepared with a speech in case I won.  But I refused.  I was not getting this award.  I was not going to be recognized over some of these incredible nominees.  I was just happy planning to rejoice in the moment of being a finalist and knowing I had no shot at winning.

Why my lack of confidence?  Well, I had no potential ties, no relationship with Ernst & Young and I was not part of the “good old boy” network.  This was, as my Raleigh newspaper titled it, “the Oscars for local business.”   

We all know that the real Oscars have had a long reputation of choosing the golden and protected.  That, I knew, was not me.

I’m not complaining or overdramatizing, mind you, as that’s how I’ve built this great company: through my connections and relationships.  We all know that in the business world, it’s not about what you know, but rather who you know.  And I just didn’t know too many people in this arena.

And now I had put the pressure on myself because I had invited staff members, clients and business partners to come to this gala.  The pressure was unnerving.  They were going to be so disappointed when they didn’t hear my name called as a winner, but I was so excited to be a finalist that I took a chance to have them present.  I wanted them to bear witness to this great milestone regardless.

When they called my name as a winner, all I could think of was I is that had nothing prepared and was I going to stumble on my A10 blue gown as I approached the stage.  I have no recall of what I actually said, as my words came out unknowing to me. The words poured from my heart.  But this is part of what my videotaped speech said:

“I’m not as prepared as the young one up here with the pet-sitting business (referring to a young boy who earlier had received an award and had a three-page speech prepared!).  Two days ago I got off a plane and my assistant, Kelly, asked me if I had a speech prepared for Thursday.  I told her that I didn’t need a speech because….Have you SEEN the names on the list of finalists?  I’m not going to win.  So this is going to come straight from the heart. 

I founded A10 after losing my favorite uncle to HIV/AIDS.  I used to take the A-train to the hospital every day to visit him.  His death shattered me.  I was angry. 

In the very end, I said to Uncle Allen I was going to do something.  I didn’t know what, but then finally, it came to me.  I could help pharmaceutical companies bring lifesaving innovative new drugs to market faster and safer so I can save my relatives’ lives as well as yours.  And by hiring the wonderful staff that I have, that are steadfast in their compassion of healing the world, I stand before you and say thank you.  I am deeply humbled by this honor.  And I thank everyone with A10.  Please stand up, my table….they are so wonderful!  My advocates, I thank you.  And this….is to you, Uncle Allen.  This is for you.”

Wow.  Thank God my heart spoke so that my Uncle could receive his award.

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