Decades ago, before being shouted out by Chris Rock at the Oscars, Odyssey Media founder and CEO Linda Spradley Dunn made her living at IBM selling large frame computers. But even while working up the ranks of her successful career at IBM, Dunn knew she was destined to be an entrepreneur.
Fast forward to the present day, and that itch has finally came into fruition. Dunn’s nearly 20-year-old Odyssey Media brand connects and empowers high-powered women of color through its networking retreats and live experiences that provide a ‘safe space’ to unwind, network, and overall seek reprieve with like-minded women.
The Odyssey Network Business Retreat, now in its 18th year, is an invitation- and referral-only event that brings more than 600 senior-level multicultural professional women into one space each year. Attracting some of the most high-power executives from various sectors of business, the premise is simple: what happens at Odyssey stays at Odyssey. And that’s what keeps women coming back year after year. Black women can be themselves at Odyssey, without judgments, without the daily pressures of being a black women shattering the glass ceiling in corporate America, and without carrying the burdens of their family, friends and peers. Odyssey is not just a good reprieve for those looking to escape the day-to-day weight of their roles, it also provides training that some of these women can’t get anywhere else.
“Most corporations do not invest in training the way they did back in the day,” explained Dunn, a former IBM executive. “It was 18 months before I even spoke to a client. It wasn’t just IBM, but it was Xerox, Avon and all those companies back then who believed that that training was necessary to keep their brands at the quality level that they did.”
Running from May 23 to May 26, the event is being held at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach, Florida, though it will be making its return to Naples next year. The retreat focuses on professional and personal development; frank discussions on social issues that affect our communities; retention and corporate loyalty; hard-hitting and thought-provoking topics; the evolution of corporate culture; and culminates with fun activities, adventure outings, and themed evening dinners that encourage participants to relax, retool and refocus.
In an ever-changing society, Odyssey’s retreat seems to get better every year. But the journey was not always easy for Dunn. “I made it through everything, because I am a serial entrepreneur,” she told theGrio. “I can’t do anything else. There are just some people that wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to run my own business.’ If it’s not in your gut, you’re not going to make it through. Failure is not failure in business. Some of the most successful businesses have declared bankruptcy, started over two or three times, and they have got to get up in the morning, and they’ve got to run a business. That is how I am.”
What sets apart the 2017 retreat from previous years include a partnership with General Motors for ‘Beauty in Motion’, a STEM component complementing the theme of this year’s retreat: Innovation. The programming, which will conclude Odyssey on Saturday, May 27, will include a segment inviting young women from the surrounding area to experience a new and fun perspective of STEM.
And that’s not the only addition.
Living by the phrase, “It’s time to stop talking and start acting,” Dunn is doing just that — and she’s done talking (pun intended). This year’s retreat also includes an innovative $25,000 business pitch competition designed for and by multicultural women, where Dunn has committed to fronting $25K of her personal money to help propel the next generation of leading entrepreneurs. Given her background, it’s safe to say that Dunn is the perfect person to mold the finalists for this year’s competition.
“I try to light that fire under them and say, ‘if you can’t find that fire, then do not step out there talking about you’re going to run a company.'”