Executive Speakers Bureau is one of the most successful speakers bureaus in the U.S. and one of the only speakers bureaus to ever hit the Inc. 5000. Founded by Angela Schelp in Memphis in 1993 (husband and partner Richard Schelp joined as president and co-owner in 2001), Executive Speakers Bureaus offers and books hundreds of keynote speakers nationally and internationally and continues to grow at a pace rarely approached in this competitive industry, nearly doubling its overall revenue and number of bookings in just the last four years, while maintaining a reputation for customer service and community involvement that is widely viewed as second to none.
Micah Solomon, Inc.com: You’ve spoken in passing about the importance of your vision of success. Can you explain what this means specifically as it relates to commercial success?
Richard Schelp, President and Co-Owner, Executive Speakers Bureau: In order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, you need a true plan or strategy. Our ability to anticipate some of the challenges we have had to face in the industry and our understanding of how to address those challenges has kept us ahead of our competitors and driven our success in revenue and profitability.
Solomon: I’ve heard you and Angela speak about the power of your company’s culture and the pride you take in your employees. Can you speak a bit about this?
Schelp: From the beginning the culture of Executive Speakers Bureau has been built around respect for each other, a true sense of team, and the fact that both what we do within our business and in our community affects many people’s lives. Very few work environments can promise its employees this kind of value.
Our employees are some of the best you will see in any industry, and certainly in ours. It is not just a job to them. They are proud of where they work, and they truly feel responsible for the success of Executive Speakers Bureau. This is the reason why they want to stay. They want to see this thing through to the end.
Solomon: What in your and Angela’s prior background led you to be able to take this approach and succeed with the culture of your company and your relationship to your employees?
Schelp: Both Angela and I have a wealth of corporate experience (IBM, AT&T, and other big firms) in which we have both managed and worked for a number of people. When you have seen a lot of examples of great and terrible management, you start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. All of the previous managers that I respected established environments in which I felt comfortable going to them, and they were the primary reason for me enjoying my job.
Solomon: Your bureau has grown quite quickly. How is life different now that you are an agency of significant size and pull?
Schelp: Life at Executive Speakers Bureau is definitely a little bit different now that we are much bigger. With that does come a level of responsibility and respect. Because of our increased size, we now have a larger role within our industry association. As a matter of fact, I will become the president of the association next Spring.
Also, in the early years of our bureau we used to base our decisions about processes, documents, fee recommendations, etc. on what the larger bureaus were doing. Now we don’t check with others. We make our decisions based on what we know and what we think makes the most sense. Surprisingly many bureaus are following our lead, and they are calling us to ask how we do things.
Solomon: Many of my readers are entrepreneurs and business leaders themselves. It’s very helpful and enjoyable (!) for them to hear about mistakes you’ve made or tricky situations you’ve endured in the past, what went sideways and how you either dealt with it or learned from it.
Schelp: A few years ago I faced an extremely tricky situation that taught me so many lessons as a business owner in our industry. A high-profile sports figure was supposed to speak for me at a large convention in New York. He decided to fly in on his private plane the morning of the event. However, there was a terrible electrical storm that morning, and his plane was grounded, leaving me without a speaker. I received the call at 6:30AM and the speaker’s presentation was at 10:30AM. I had four hours to find a replacement for a great speaker and get him to the event on time. Immediately I went to work by calling all of the speakers and agents who were high quality and could get there-and, ultimately, I was fortunate enough to find a speaker who my client absolutely loved.
The lessons from this incident were numerous, but most importantly I realized just how crucial it is to have access to many resources, so that an emergency situation becomes doable, otherwise it is impossible. Also, I learned that as long as you are determined and efficient any task can be accomplished.