Today I’m speaking with Bernie Swain, co-founder and Chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau and author of What Made Me Who I Am. Bernie fell into this career by accident, but he developed a passion for meeting new people and forming relationships.
Bernie was prepared to pursue a career in college athletics but, as his boss was ready to retire and promote him, Swain quit to join his wife Paula and his friend Harry Rhoads to start a lecture agency without experience, without a plan, and without a single client.
“We started out not knowing anything.”
The three co-founders started Washington Speakers Bureau from a supply closet belonging to Chuck Hagel, who would later become Secretary of Defense. After a rough year, when their savings were running out, Swain secured their first speaker: Steve Bell, then the anchorman for Good Morning America. Eight years later, WSB was established as the top lecture agency in the world.
“Your brand is trust and honesty: being able to deliver what you say you’re going to deliver, and deliver it well.”
Over the last 35 years, WSB has represented three US Presidents, four prime ministers of Great Britain, countless American and world leaders, business and economic visionaries, journalists, authors, and sport legends.
“The most important thing is relationships.”
Bernie’s career is built on networking and good relationships. Steve Bell reached out because of a positive experience with Bernie at his previous career working in the athletics department of GWU, and then Bernie and Steve made their deal based on a handshake – a sign of trust. What could have been a huge mistake (not signing a contract) became a huge boon for WSB.
“A surprising number of speakers gave us a chance knowing they could walk away from us at any time if we didn’t do a good job for them, or if they didn’t trust us they could walk away from us. On the other hand, we knew because they could walk away from us that we had to work hard to make them happy.”
WSB continues to represent everyone on a handshake, because that’s the soul of their business. Good leaders build a strong foundation with solid character. With their solid foundation, WSB is still on top and they’ve made countless friends along the way.
“No matter who you are, or what the decision is, you want to make decisions that you feel in your heart are the right things to do.”
What Made Me Who I Am isn’t the story of how Bernie became successful, they’re the stories about how his life changed because of the relationships he has made. Bernie shares first-hand accounts of the powerful influences and defining moments from accomplished leaders like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Colin Powell and Terry Bradshaw. You can find an excerpt on Bernie’s site.
I appreciate Bernie coming by and sharing his story. He is a passionate, risk-taking leader who sets a great example by building a business with a soul and serving his clients well.
Don’t be a podcast junkie…
- Learn more about Bernie: Website | Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter
- What Made Me Who I Am by Bernie Swain
- Washington Speakers Bureau
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