So the 25th annual Inc. 500 conference was held this weekend in San Francisco, at the lovely Fairmont Hotel located high atop Nob Hill. As always, the event brought together some of the smartest, most successful, and more harried entrepreneurs in America. This year, compared with past conferences, the crowd seemed very optimistic. They also seemed younger.

Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Ken Hendricks of ABC Supply, Chuck Williams of Williams Sonoma, and John Tu and David Sun of Kingston Technologies were among the notables to grace the main stage. Chouinard, whose speech kicked off the conference, offered his unique and (for a roomful of business owners) controversial views on the responsibility of companies to make up for the environmental degradation caused by commerce with cold hard cash. Patagonia, he explained, donates one percent of sales in order to promote activists involved in environmental conservation and other causes. It all sounded pretty lefty to some CEOs, but then again, in a room full of entrepreneurs, there are bound to be disagreements.

In another keynote speech, Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, advised the crowd that the only bankable way to succeed in life is to get up earlier than anybody else (6:15 a.m. at the latest) and to work longer into the night than the competition. He also argued that companies that aren't directing their pitches (not tailoring, but directing, mind you) to women and to what he referred to as geezer boomers—well, they're missing the boat.

Finally, a delegation of nine Chinese government officials were also on hand to promote entrepreneurial exchanges between the globe's biggest economy and its fastest growing. The delegation presented Inc. editor Jane Berentson with a lovely painting of a tiger. Their interpreter was perhaps the hardest working person at the event, and at one point, a panel discussion that began in English suddenly switched over to Mandarin as a CEO in the audience asked a question in Mandarin on how long it takes to register intellectual property in China. A panelist and an audience member, also speaking Mandarin, discussed the question among themselves, while the non-Mandarin speaking portion of the audience was provided with a live-action metaphor for what it's like to do business in a foreign land.