Further proving he’s cool like that, President Obama invited RVCA founder and CEO PM “Pat” Tenore and several other small business owners to the White House this month to discuss strategies aimed toward helping small businesses. Pat was gracious enough to provide an in depth rundown of his visit, including President Obama’s strong interest in Kelly Slater’s tour standings after the recent Australian contests.
Who contacted you to come to the White House?
I was contacted by an executive member of President Obama’s staff. He called me, and at first I thought it was a joke. He then followed the phone call with an email. Once I saw the email with a .gov address I thought maybe this could be real. After I figured out it wasn’t a joke, I booked a flight and I was off to D.C.
What was the experience like to be there?
Obama gives you the feeling that everyone matters and has a voice. For a random person from Costa Mesa to get the opportunity to meet the President inside the White House, it made me feel like change is coming. It gives me a very positive outlook on the future.
What did you think of the president’s plan?
It seems like the administration is trying to implement a lot of initiatives to help small business. As a small business owner I appreciate that the administration is paying attention to small businesses and recognizing that everyone is important.
What was the President like in person?
The President seemed authentic and connected to the problems and concerns of everyone in the group. Ever since I was a kid I felt alienated from government and politics. The experience made me feel that Obama is genuinely in tune with everyone.
Was it hard to get into the White House – lots of security?
The security is probably exactly like someone would expect at the White House. A lot of military, police and secret service. Although is was a bit intimidating, the people were very friendly. There were two check points. … In a way, very similar to going through the security line at an airport.
Did you share any concerns, issues about this industry with the White House?
The format for the meeting really didn’t provide an opportunity to ask any questions or share concerns.
I had a few things that I wanted to accomplish during my visit to the White House. There is a painting there of President Obama that was painted by David Choe, and I really wanted to take a picture of it. I asked if I could, but was told that the painting was in a different Wing, and I didn’t have security access to go there.
I also wanted to get President Obama to throw a shaka and get a photo with him. When it was my turn to meet the President, I gave my camera to someone to take our picture. I now have an amazing picture of President Obama and my right arm – no shaka. The camera guy blew the picture. However, I was able to get some great interior photos of the White House.
Will you send the President some RVCA clothes?
The thought did cross my mind, but I was told not to bring any gifts. It would have loved to have brought him some trunks. I am sure he would have put them to good use body surfing at Sandy Beach.
Did you talk to him about surfing at all?
He asked me how Kelly Slater did in the Australia leg of the tour and I told him not so good but he is still the best ever and current world champion. No, I just shook his hand and told him it was a pleasure to meet him.
(Special thanks to shop-eat-surf.)