606. From a Closet to the Largest Lecture Agency in the World
Bernie had started his dream job as athletic director at a major university. An article in Fortune magazine got him and his wife to consider an entirely new field—which they knew nothing about. So he quit the university and they set up their headquarters in a friend’s large office closet.
Bernice Swain had a teacher in high school who encouraged him to be the first in his family to attend college. By the time he was 36, he’d been offered his dream job as athletic director at a major university. Around the same time, a friend sent him a copy of Fortune Magazine with an article about what was then the largest lecture agency in the world. Bernie’s wife Paula convinced him to quit his dream job and start a lecture agency together. With no experience, no plan and no money, they launched the agency in a friend’s stationery closet. Nine years later, their lecture agency became the largest in the world, The Washington Speakers Bureau. Bernie’s recent book, “What Made Me Who I Am,” chronicles the turning points of 34 of the speakers and friends he has represented.
How Did You Start Using Your Talents?
Listening to and learning from his first mentor, Bernie began to understand to recognize the value and power in life’s turning points, and to recognize that they present themselves to us in the people in our lives and in the present moment. “I see in retrospect, I was sincere in my desire to listen and learn from as many people as I possibly could. You don’t turn away from people who are above you or below you in life. When you’re working in a company, you don’t know where you’re going to learn something from. Being open to people above and below you is a great advantage in learning new things.”
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
Just starting a new lecture agency, Bernie instinctively “signed” a new client, Steve Bell of ABC-TV’s Good Morning America on a handshake only. Although he later second-guessed his decision, he strengthened his resolve when he noticed three questions at the bottom of another client’s stationery:
1) Can I trust you?
2) Are you committed to excellence?
3) Do you care about me?
The Most Powerful Lessons Learned?
“There are no shortcuts to long-term success. Slow down. Be reflective. Take life a moment at a time and think through everything. Too often, we just react and don’t give thought to what we do. But success and accomplishment are just the opposite. The key is to look at the moments in your life, make instinctive decisions or use your best judgment. Then commit yourself and see if it works.”
On His Bookshelf
What Made Me Who I Am, by Bernie Swain
Steps to Success from Bernie Swain
1. Passion is more important than talent. Passion can keep you going when you are tempted to give up.
2. Learn to recognize turning points and make good and wise decisions. Rely on good judgement or on instinct. “There’s that feeling you have that this path is the right one.”
3. Don’t be afraid of change. Most people say they believe in change, except when it comes to changing themselves.
4. Paying attention at these turning points can give you the courage to make the most of them.
Connecting With Bernie Swain
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