You’re forgiven if you didn’t spot Ping Fu during the State of the Union address Wednesday night.
The CEO of Triangle-based Geomagic was there, but she gave up her seat next to First Lady Michelle Obama in the front row of the gallery.
For starters, during a pre-speech reception at the White House, the First Lady explained that whoever sat next to her had to sit very still and avoid yawning, fidgeting or stretching. You never know when the TV cameras might turn your way.
“I figured sitting next to Mrs. Obama and being very still was going to be torture for 70 minutes,” Fu said, laughing. “It would have been an honor, of course. She’s so real, so beautiful.”
So she switched seats, twice. The spot next to the First Lady, as captured on national TV, was occupied by Kimberly Munley, the former Wrightsville Beach police officer who helped end the Fort Hood shooter's rampage in November.
“I was going to sit behind [Michelle Obama], but then they wanted to put the ambassador to Haiti behind her, so she could shake hands with him on camera,” Fu said. “I got put a few rows back behind a military guy who was really big and tall. You couldn't see me too much.”
The New York Times ran a photo of the gallery, left, and you can see Fu in the middle of the pack.
Not that the musical chairs diminished the thrill of hearing President Obama's speech in person and watching the audience's reactions. "Before and after was also very exciting," Fu said.
And she was inspired by the speech itself. Fu won an invitation from the White House partly because she attended a CEO forum earlier this month about using technology to improve government. During that event, Fu pushed for the administration to do more to help small businesses create jobs and spur economic growth.
"I do find it interesting that he mentioned small business 13 times," Fu said. Not that she's taking all the credit.
And she recognizes that a speech alone isn't going to turn into action.
"No administration is perfect. He cannot create magic," Fu said. "We have to do that. He laid out a very good vision, but that doesn't ensure success. You need execution."
After her brush with presidential glamour, Fu today flew to Las Vegas, where she's talking with auto makers and suppliers working on green cars and batteries. "I'm meeting with them to see what we can do to help them design new products."
Research Triangle Park-based Geomagic, which employs 100 and is continuing to hire, makes 3D software that helps customers build realistic digital models of products.
On Friday, Fu is scheduled to meet with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of another potential customer, online shoe retailer Zappos.com. "He wants game-changing technology, which is what we can deliver," Fu said. "Even if I can't win him as a customer, I still learn something."
Fu said she is an independent voter, and doesn't expect her support of Obama will hurt her chances with potential customers, partners or employees.
"What I vote for is good leadership," she said. "I don't really care if they're Republican or Democrat. At this point, I'm on the Democratic side because I like this administration and think he's providing good leadership."
Watching the audience in the Capitol last night, Fu said she was "appalled by the Republican behavior. They really looked like sour lemons."