#50over50: Sunny Bates
There are people whose names are orthogonal to them and then there are some whose names suit them perfectly. Sunny is one of those people who is even more bright and effervescent than suggested by her name.
I met Sunny in 1993 when I went to the TED conference for the first time in Monterey. Usually, I am the one walking around hugging everyone but I was a bit quiet at my first TED because those who were present overwhelmed me. And Sunny was the one person who seemed to know everyone there and made everyone feel at home. Five minutes into meeting me, she introduced me to 10 others who she thought that I should meet and made me feel completely comfortable. Over the three days of the conference, we got to know each other well and she invited me to stay with her at her home in NY when I visited next.
Many times people say that out of courtesy but I take those invitations seriously. So, while I planning my next trip, I called her and her response was equally cheerful on the phone. As usual, I was taking a red-eye flight and arriving at some insanely early hour like 6 am into JFK. She told me that she gave my name to the doorman already and that I should just walk into her apartment and go to sleep. I was shocked that she did not lock her apartment. She is a single mom living with two young daughters in NY and she does not lock her doors! And then I understood why. She lived with her daughters in an apartment below and this apartment was for them to study, to host guests etc., so that the guests have their own private space. And this apartment is left open for guests to arrive at any time they choose. By next evening, I was close friends with her daughters and since then, have seen them graduate college, get married and witness the older one to give birth to her own baby. Friendship with Sunny is for life and not a one-off interaction.
Sunny has been a born entrepreneur. When she became single with two daughters, she created a career for herself that never compromised on giving a great life to her children. There was no TV at their home and you would find only books piled up all around the home. There is never any junk food at home and I found her kids make themselves healthy juices or snacks even when Sunny was not at home. She created a couple of very strong relationships with girl friends who watched over the kids when she had to travel. The kids had a family that she created for them who were with them every step of the way. I would call her home “Casa Sunny” and check on availability before I showed up in NY. I stayed with strangers in that apartment with the common bond being our friendship with Sunny Bates.
Sunny takes on projects to help the most game-changing people and ideas including the launch of Kickstarter. I remember her telling me about this amazing concept of crowd-funding and how she was working with a young team to make it happen. She has a great sense of trends and what might work. I also attended these amazing breakfast series she used to co-host where they bring together startup founders who get to ask in a short talk what they need and others step up to help. She has worked with major companies to introduce them to future trends. Now that her kids have graduated and gone, she decided to travel around the world and enjoy life.
Behind the outgoing, always-laughing exterior; she is super disciplined and focused. She will not miss her workout no matter what and she eats right no matter when. I have not seen her put on a pound in the last 25 plus years I have known her. She is the life of any party and always looking out to make a difference to others. She is the quintessential connector and I am sure that there are many businesses in this world that benefited from an introduction that she made that might not have benefited her in any way. For Sunny, connecting people is like breathing in air – it’s not something you do consciously but it is something that keeps you alive.
I was at Sunny’s place in NY working on a stressful project when nothing seemed to be going right when I got a call from my husband in India saying that my 5-year old had a very high fever that was not getting any better. I had to keep a brave face at the meeting and fight for keeping things afloat but I broke down the minute I entered Sunny’s apartment wondering what I was doing with my life not being with my son when it mattered. She did not ask any questions; she just let me cry and comforted me saying that in a child’s life, there would be many such mishaps and that my son would be just fine. She let me load out my sorrow and then gave me the room to see the view. Both of us have seen each other at our best and our worst and yet never wavered in the way we stand by each other. There are many nodes of network across the globe that are alive because of the connections she made and I forever remain a student of learning that skill from Sunny.