I go to dozens of conferences and events a year. As such, I am exposed to a wide variety of guest speakers. I’ve been lucky enough to hear inspiring leaders such as Richard Branson, Hillary and Bill Clinton, General Colin Powell and others. One of the bonuses of vendor events is getting to hear from these exceptional leaders.

I realize, however, that not every event has the resources to call on someone like Richard Branson to speak. I’ve heard from a large number of less well known, but still inspiring individuals. My bottom line is that everyone has something to offer, and guest speakers, whether famous or not, add something valuable to the attendees.

At an event I was attending this week, I was surprised to hear that the dinner speaker was Joe Bugner, a name I’d never heard of before. Doing some research, I discovered that Bugner is a former boxer, and has the distinction of being the only boxer to ever go a complete fight with Muhammad Ali. I am in no way interested in boxing, I find it to be a bizarre and barbaric sport, but I figured Bugner might have something interesting to offer – the fact that his family, like mine, were refugees from a post-revolution Hungary in 1956 made me wonder if we’d hear some of those sort of stories.

The talk started innocuously enough. Prompted by some questions from the vendor’s executive, Bugner went off on a few random tangents which showed the audience two things:

1) Bugner’s language is foul – the amount of swearing we heard from him would challenge a football team’s changing room conversation

2) Humbleness 101 is a subject that Bugner apparently missed in school, pretty much the entire evening was taken up with him regaling us about the famous people he’s met, his fighting prowess, and his general greatness

Things quickly got a little bit sideways, however. Telling the audience about one bout that he fought, and won, Bugner described his opponents as a “bloody poofter.” Poofter being a word I’ve not heard for 30 or more years and being a highly offensive colloquial term for a homosexual. The context for Bugner’s comments were, to paraphrase, that his opponent was a bloody poofter and so he knocked him out with one hit.

Hmmm – not sure if Bugner has checked lately, but hitting people because of their sexual preferences isn’t really accepted behavior in this century. And using your physical prowess to beat up someone weaker than you is… well, let’s just say that having lived through the Hungarian revolution, and being only one generation removed from the Nazi persecution of his compatriots, should have made Bugner slightly aware of the optics of dominating through physicality.

Responding to a question about modern boxing, Bugner was quick to suggest that boxing today is nothing like it was in his day and a complete waste of time. His deep, structured and cogently argued analysis of why boxing today can’t cut it with the sport of decades ago was telling:

It’s crap. They bloody well let women judge boxing these days.

I can’t even begin to comprehend that someone would think that, let alone say it.

Bugner is, of course, an anachronism. An old man living in the past and seemingly yearning for a world that no longer exists. He should be allowed to wallow in his homophobic, misogynistic beliefs and live out his days. But alas he was the invited guest to this event and the couple of hundred people in the room where exposed to his thinking.

It was depressing to see that Bugner’s message was one which many of the attendees quite liked – indeed, one person responding to my criticism of his talk said to me on Twitter that they found Bugner “funny and real”. My response to that was:

funny as in a complete anachronism from modern societal values? and real as in a real throwback to a (thankfully) past era?

To its credit, first thing the next morning the ranking executive from the vendor apologized for what happened last night, and distanced the company from Bugner’s comments. An appropriate and appreciated disclaimer. But I’m left wondering what the events team was thinking – did they not do their research and come to understand what sort of a person Bugner was? Or did they merely think that the Australian manufacturing companies present would quite like a little bawdy humor? I hope it was an innocent mistake, but it’s something that other events teams should be very aware of.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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