Executive Speakers Bureau Nears 20 Years

By Andy Meek

Memphis-based Executive Speakers Bureau, which helps book speakers or entertainers for client events around the world, hits its 20-year anniversary next year.

And an informal survey of the company’s clients suggests several reasons why it might have lasted this long.

One example: Co-owners Richard and Angela Schelp apparently are masters of the soft sell.

“Richard may offer me a job that, for whatever reason, I feel I should decline, but by the end of the conversation, I have caught his contagious happiness and sense of fun, and I end up saying yes to him,” said motivational speaker Linda Larsen. “I am never quite sure how he does that, but it’s rather impressive.”

Then there’s the fact that clients say, before they know it, they find themselves regarding the co-owners as friends instead of just vendors.

“It is difficult for me to put into words how much I appreciate Richard Schelp, both as a client and a friend,” said Jon Borton, vice president of educational services for the Nebraska Hospital Association. “He definitely has a gift for brining those two roles together into one.

“Richard first contacted me in 2002, and unfortunately we were not able to book a speaker during that initial contact. Richard was persistent, but not in a pushy way. He followed up with me, and after a while I could tell that he was a man of great integrity – and I knew I was going to do anything I could to give him our business.”

Cliff Reyle, chief human resource and information officer for Youth Villages, said he was impressed while working with Executive Speakers Bureau at a time when working with a quality vendor probably counts the most – during a crisis.

“The real test of what a person or organization is about is when something goes wrong,” Reyle said. “A couple years ago we had a speaker booked who suddenly died just a few weeks before the scheduled event. Angela immediately called and within days had arranged for a recognized, top-notch speaker to step in to that spot. And, they got the replacement speaker to accept what we were going to be paying for the original speaker.”

Perhaps even more than all that, everything about the attitude behind the way Executive Speakers Bureau is run and the characteristics of its founders probably can be summed up in one quote from Richard Schelp, who describes his attitude toward his job this way: “I get up every Monday morning, and I just say hey, this is great.”

Schelp said the company has expanded its sales force in recent months. And while it will continue to focus on its core business – booking speakers for organizations – it also sees areas of growth in the realm of not only placing speakers, but in sharing consulting and advice with speakers.

The business all got started when the two were working years ago for IBM. Angela Schelp was looking for something to do to make extra money and spend more time with their son.

“We were trying to think of things we could do, we both have sales backgrounds, and her stepfather came to us and said, ‘You know, I would love it if Angela could sell me,’” Richard Schelp said. “He needed someone to market him to conventions and meetings and place him at those places.”

It grew from there. Schelp said annual revenues are up six to seven times compared to where they were eight to 10 years ago.

And the Schelps have a simple formula by which they operate the business.

“I’ve used Richard Schelp and Executive Speakers Bureau for several years and events,” said Dave Vankat, director of events management at the entrepreneurship and information technology-focused Aim Institute. “He has always been focused on getting us the best speaker on the right topic at a budget we could afford.”