Gene Simmons Dream Big was the name of his talk at the London Business School aimed exclusively for business students and held at a secret location in the school. I was lucky enough to be given a press pass, however the location was still a secret until about 24 hours before the event. The location? The auditorium in the School Of Gynaecology, where else!
I arrived a bit early and was shown to my seat right near the front and behind 3 reserved seats. Hmmm, a Gene Simmons talk, wonder who on earth those seats would be for... in comes Shannon, Sophie & Nick who are lead to the middle of the auditorium, and promptly moved to the front. Brilliant, not only do I have a great seat to listen to the man himself but also get to listen to the running commentary from his family which made the night even better!
So Gene is introduced to a massive applause from the 100 or so students in the room, many of whom have yet to be introduced to a KISS song, let alone Family Jewels, KISS condoms and KISS coffins. Gene starts by talking about the importance of brand, he then demonstrates this by showing a 5 minute video literally full of Gene Simmons. It contained everything from the world of Gene, including KISS clips, Dr Pepper adverts, CNN clips, Family Guy, The Envy, movies, Indy car and finally the credits from Family Jewels turned up LOUD! The words 'Gene Simmons' must have been said at least 100 times in the video, Gene acknowledges this shortly after by saying "so, are you sick of Gene Simmons now? I'm not". Yes I’d seen all this before but a lot of the students in the room hadn’t and were genuinely surprised at the extent of the Gene Simmons brand.
The talk itself was aimed directly at students to demonstrate that if you sell your brand well enough you can make millions. Gene takes us through everything from running a business to interview skills, economic meltdown to making millions and lots more in-between. He demonstrates interview skills by dragging a nervous student up on the stage and asking him to pretend he was introducing himself for the first time. The “Gene Simmons way” was then taught showing how to stay calm & confident without looking like an idiot.
Gene then starts to talk to various people in the audience showing how important it is to speak foreign languages. At this point he talks in Japanese to an oriental looking girl, she clearly hasn't got a clue what he's on about so he tries Korean, again no clue. "So, What language do you speak?" he asks "er, I speak English" says a strong British accent! At this point a heckler pipes up and takes the piss out of Gene. The heckler was Nick Simmons who firmly put his dad in his place, very funny and something that continued throughout. Gene was making the point about how important it is to be able to communicate effectively with your customers. He did demonstrate this effectively by talking in Hungarian, German, Spanish and Hebrew to various students. At this point Gene points out that he is a partner in ortsbo.com a company that translates 53 languages in real time on social network sites. You may remember this was used for a KISS chat with Paul & Gene a few months ago. The other partner is introduced who feeds Gene with statistics about the site such as how they have matched the success of the first 3 years of Facebook in only 9 months. Clearly they have paid heavily towards the speech.
Gene talks more about selling yourself and Sophie gets up to help him out with an example (incidentally she told everyone she is currently in the middle of an IT course, then out of the blue she is asked out on a date by an Icelandic stalker/student which left Gene speechless. It was very funny but the guy didn't know when to give up, nice try though.
Gene then puts his stamp on the current economic problems throughout Europe and tells us that countries are no different to businesses, only run by idiots "Richard Branson would make a great PM". He made of point of saying that people are the cause for the current state of the economy and nobody else. Blaming bankers is like "blaming the baker if you're fat", "if you took out a $400,000 mortgage when you can only afford $100,000 you've got no-one to blame but yourself".
He again gets someone up on stage to show how important it is to be organised. "What would happen if you lost your phone?" (gets out a phone with nice custom Rock & Roll Over picture on it!). At this point he lifts up his jean leg and pulls out a notebook from his cowboy boot, "hey, read this, what does it say?". The bloke dragged up then reads out the contents of Gene's day and confirms that the book is full of backup phone numbers. Selling yourself is a big factor with Gene, who then takes a business card off a student and picks fault with it showing what we should do instead.
All through the talk Gene is firmly put in place by Nick, at one point he apologised if his dad sounds racist "He's not really racist, just old". Then there's the black tissue that Gene wiped himself with and covered his face in black spots, Shannon & Nick make sure to point this out to the whole room (wish my camera had caught that one)!
At one point a student asks Shannon about marriage and she got quite emotional saying that her best advice is to write down what defines the relationship before you go any further "if I had known different I wouldn't have waited for him, I would have left" were her words. Gene then told her how he now knew better and loved the woman inside, to which she wiped a tear and blew him a kiss. This was for real, it wasn't an episode of Family Jewels and was nice to see. Incidentally, Shannon’s wedding ring... jesus any bigger and it would have taken my eye out!
Gene then told us about his life as Chaim Witz and how hard growing up was when they first moved to USA. This was spoken from the heart, he mentioned his mum a lot and some of the old jobs he had such as scraping fat from chicken skin at a butchers. At this point Shannon is a bit concerned that he hasn't been drinking enough and tells him to get a water, he doesn't hear her so she gets on stage and gets one for him. It's clear who looks after who in their relationship. Shannon also shouted over to remind everyone that Gene made his millions without booze or drugs. Gene confirmed this saying he's always been clean & sober, until Nick shouted out "you were tipsy at your wedding!", "I wasn't! Why are you kids constantly trying to get me drunk!".
There was very little KISS talk, other than some short clips and Gene talking about Hello Kitty and Angry Birds. He said that he approached both of those companies himself and convinced them to use the KISS brand, "I shouldn't tell you about Angry Birds" he then said, maybe forgetting he'd already told us on The One Show. Before he mentioned Hello Kitty he asked for a tissue to wipe his sweat, at which point Sophie passed him one. He thinks it's a Hello Kitty tissue and tells us how he's put the KISS brand in the Kitty... when Nick shouts "it's Miffy the rabbit!" to which he replies "okay, I'll get the rabbit next..". He did say the inevitable "We'll get you coming, we'll get you going", but hey, there had to be at least one of our favourite sayings in there. He also mentions how successful his kids are now saying that Nick & Sophie will be singing at a casino soon for $40,000 at this point an embarrassed Nick replies "have you really just broadcast our pay cheque?"!
Overall this was a great talk, I'm sure everyone there would agree they learnt a lot, especially me (and maybe even the Sophie stalker). Some UK fans have already called him a sellout for doing these talks - sorry I disagree, he is a great businessman, multi-millionaire and still rocking the shit out of his fans at 62. The whole talk went down very well with a bunch of students who frankly probably didn't have a clue about his life before hand. However without his family the night wouldn't have been half as entertaining as it was. I sure as hell learnt a lot from this and have seen a different side to Gene, from a confident businessman to a family man who needs Shannon, Nick & Sophie to stop him embarrassing himself!
Big thanks to Helen & Peter at LBS.