Spice Magazine - Issue 72 - February 2016
Spice caught up with Saxton Speakers Bureau to learn more about this ultra-successful business.
Tell us about the history of the business?
Joan Saxton famously and single-handedly founded the Australian speaking industry from her lounge room in 1965. Delving into Saxton’s old stories is a treasure trove of precious social history of national importance. Even the war hero Weary Dunlop took the lectern at one of Joan’s original luncheon events.
Joan sadly passed away late last year but she saw the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Saxton – a rare feat for any business. She was the founder of an industry and a wonderful friend
In 1988 my partner Nanette Moulton and I purchased the business from Joan. We have been delighted to see what has been an extraordinary expansion into the leading Australasian bureau and a world player. There is a huge satisfaction that comes from building on a heritage. It’s a heritage we’re very proud of.
We’re also proud of all the people who have come together to create what Saxton is today and over that 28 years it’s developed without losing the personal care and attention to relationships that makes the bureau special.
What services do you offer and to whom?
We offer speaking and management expertise. We are essentially a marriage counsellor between speaker and client.
This is only partially a joke. We match the corporate side to the speaker. But what we do know from being in the industry for so long is that having a speaker at an event is quite a special thing. It’s the speakers who often leave those lasting memories – special moments affecting so many.
When you are engaging a speaker, you are not just engaging 40 minutes or so, but often 40 years of priceless experience and one salient message can change your business or your life. And we’ve seen it.
So, booking a speaker is very much an investment. If you consider 1000 people in a room for one hour, there are 1000 hours or 25 old fashioned working weeks on the line. If you have a critical message to get across, then a high-quality speaker may be the best investment you ever make.
Over the years you seem to have maintained a very strong integrity for both client and speaker. How do you juggle that so well?
To us integrity comes with the people you choose to work with and integrity is a precursor to joining the Saxton family and is indeed one of our values. That provides the platform and from there it becomes a living, breathing part of our culture and it grows organically.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the business? How did you resolve them?
Our biggest challenges have focussed on managing an international spread of people. We use state of the art technologies, our database, intranet, videoconferencing and an integrated VOIP telephone system to cover the mechanical issues. For this challenge however we have needed to select our people very carefully. We look for excellent communication skills, self-motivation, openness and honesty, and a results driven focus. Above all, and it seems fundamental but they must be ‘nice’. We then have generated operational systems that reinforce these characteristics. We are delighted with the Saxton family from both a team and speaker perspective.
What’s the most memorable event you’ve worked on?
The extravagant Saxton fiftieth birthday celebration we hosted in Melbourne last year.
Mike Munro hosted an historical perspective of the development of the ‘Spoken word’ in Australia, introducing 22 Saxton luminaries along the way including Ita Buttrose, Gill Hicks, Mark Bouris and Layne Beachley.
We had fantastic support from Industry legends including Nanette Moulton from Saxton (Event Director), Mike Hall from Rigoni Hall (Event and Creative Director), Meri Took from Staging Rentals (Producer) and PurpleMonky (Video Producers). We couldn’t have wished for a better team.
It brought so many of the people who have been critical to Saxton together and distilled that 50 years into a little over two and a half hours. It was a proud moment for all of us.
What are the big trends in your industry? What are clients asking for?
Our business mirrors society now and in the future. There are big trends associated with business growth, future scenario planning and in particular the extraordinary technology growth. I cite digital futurist Chris Riddell, thought leader Rachel Botsman, entrepreneur Mark Bouris and social entrepreneur Ita Buttrose as some of the people driving the trends. What pleases us, though, is a movement towards people and their welfare and happiness. Craig Davis’ work with the Google ‘Search Inside Yourself’ course is outstanding. Our whole company experienced this and it is life changing. In terms of our future sustainability I believe the sort of work that Craig is doing is an imperative. Our experience with clients is symbiotic. What we deliver is an amalgam of what their initial requirements are and our experience of the domestic and global issues that are facing them.
What do you love about the industry?
The people. And the quality of friendship between our bureau, speakers and clients and all the people we work with who combine to make the wider industry very much internationally competitive. The Saxton story represents so many special friendships with so many special people.
The theme runs through many of our speaker’s messages too. Vinh Giang says ‘you are a direct reflection of the people you spend time with.’
It goes back to the key importance of people in the Saxton success story – to be surrounded by that is inspiring.
The tradition began with the first Saxton name, former governor general Sir Zelman Cowan, of whom Joan Saxton spoke fondly as a supporter and friend. This is a tradition we have continued.
Former Qantas chief and Woolworths Chairman, the late James Strong bridged the gap from speaker to Saxton board member, to supporter, mentor and dear friend of ours. He and his partner Jeanne-Claude epitomised many of the ethics, values and leadership qualities that the company holds close.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years? Where are the big opportunities for growth and innovation?
We built the business on a platform of care and personal service and that will never change. In terms of planning we will developing our roster of high-end leaders in all fields, our personal management arm (which includes Ita Buttrose, Michelle Payne and Saroo Brierley) and our international presence (our Australian speakers and entertainers are world class). With that, of course, comes a necessary expansion of the Saxton team.
If you could tell clients one thing, what would it be?
The fundamental ingredient for success to any endeavour is people. Be that those in your team or the people you work with. The speakers you engage are no different. Speakers can have the power to change lives. And we’ve seen it. So, when it comes to speakers or anyone you choose to work with, choose carefully and the rewards will follow.
"Saxton were very easy to work with to achieve the outcomes for our forum. I wouldn't change a thing."
Aboriginal Workforce Development Centre
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