Bernie Swain is a great storyteller, especially when it comes to stories about his famous clients. Swain has now pulled together those tales into a book titled, What Made Me Who I Am.
He’s the co-founder and CEO of Washington Speakers Bureau, the leading lecture agency in the country. His clients include American presidents, world leaders, journalists, best-selling authors, and top athletes. He profiles more than 30 of them, including Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair, Terry Bradshaw, and Colin Powell, and writes about a defining moment, person, or unexpected event that made them who they are today. In the introduction to his book, he writes, “My front row seat to the worldwide lecture circuit has provided me with a lifetime of insight and inspiration.”
Swain tells Fortune’s Susie Gharib that everyone has defining moments, but talking with his subjects taught him that he had to use “those turning points as finding a way to develop a passion for what you want to do in life.” He adds that these luminaries used those insights to create “a vision of what they wanted to do.”
So what is the one thing that defined Bernie Swain? He shares his story of leaving a comfortable job as athletic director at George Washington University to start his own lecture business. He confesses he knew absolutely nothing about the industry, and describes the venture as a “preposterous idea.” But ultimately, Swain and his wife, Paula, turned Washington Speakers Bureau into a thriving business with $150 million in annual revenues. He tells Fortune what he learned from those missteps, why he was inspired by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and the best leadership advice he got from legendary football coach Lou Holtz.