Duane Ward

Duane Ward, founder of Premiere Speakers Bureau comes to this profession from many years in public relations and marketing. Raised in Florida, schooled in Missouri, and holding positions in...

An Interview with Premiere Speakers President Duane Ward

The Nashville Business Journal recently ran the following interview with Duane Ward, the president and founder of Premiere Speakers Bureau:

What makes your organization stand out? Marketing. Everything we do is driven by our need/belief in the value of marketing. Every Web page, printed item and correspondence has been designed to further brand and market Premiere — and thereby, our speakers.

Duane WardWhat does your organization have in the works for 2010? We currently have five companies. Premiere Speakers Bureau is the core business, but we have added other companies as need arose: Premiere Collectibles (largest Internet site in the United States for autographed books), Premiere Transportation (fleet of executive coaches used in political campaigns, book tours, marketing tours and sporting events) and Premiere Events (producer of a national concert series). This year we are consolidating companies under the Premiere International brand and adding two online stores. Lastly, we opened an office in China in March.

How did you wind up in your current position? From 1988 through 1993, I served as chief of staff for Lt. Colonel Oliver North (just after he retired from the military.) My mandate was to raise the $26 million needed for his legal defense and security needs. During this time, I was introduced to the world of professional speakers and the size of this industry worldwide. In the early ’90s, we moved to Nashville and founded Premiere Speakers Bureau.

What makes an effective leader? For me, it’s ideas. While my title of president provides the largest office in our space, I am by passion the de-facto marketing director. I find that by generating fresh ideas for marketing — which benefits all in our employ — the staff follows the energy of fresh ideas.

What word best describes your leadership style? Available. While I lead with ideas, I enjoy letting others run with the ball. I am out of the office at least 50 percent of the year (travel), but I am always available by phone, e-mail or instant messenger. I am available if they need my age or experience to navigate a unique situation, but I do not inject myself in their business. I have not booked a speaker in more than 10 years, which I believe allows me to think big picture and fresh marketing.

Goal yet to be achieved?
To spend 25 percent of our time in Hawaii (we live there for two months per year now), 25 percent of our time in New York City and 50 percent in Franklin.

Professional pet peeve? Arrogance. Because we work with high visibility names, some individuals around them (agents, managers and other bureaus) assume a “gatekeeper” mentality (you need “us” to get to “them.”) We attempt to quickly sniff this out and avoid working with their clients. We are nice people and aim to work with nice people.

What is the simplest thing you never learned to do? Dance. I avoid it at all costs. Dancing with my daughter at her wedding was a huge deal.

Favorite hobbies?
Travel. Watching American Idol. Aviation.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Custom boots. I tried many times to wear western boots, but they never fit my “design challenged” feet. My wife, Kathy, gave me my first pair of custom boots. I had to go to Texas to get fitted and waited almost a year for the first pair to be made. I now have four pairs, and that’s all I wear.

You’ve just been given $100,000 to donate to charity. Where would you give it, and why? Franklin Christian Academy to help build its new campus. We have been supporters of quality Christian education for many years, and this new project will allow thousands of students to be trained in a wonderful environment for years to come.

When faced with two equally qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire? I have three fairly random, but telling, questions when I interview:

• Last book you read? (if they can’t name one in the past year, interview is over);

• When did you have your first job? (if it wasn’t until after college, chances of hiring are slim);

• Favorite line from a movie (if they can’t think of any, chances are they are lacking in the charisma/personality department – an important trait for relating to clients on the phone).

Organization or company other than your own whom you most admire? Apple. From their pre-release buzz to the packaging of their products — and even down to the shopping bags they distribute in their stores — everything is consistently produced at the highest level of excellence and innovation.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Neil Cavuto (Fox News and Fox Business Channel). Neil’s humility is a tremendous personal reminder to me that, regardless of our accomplishments, we are no better than those around us. Having dealt with both cancer and multiple sclerosis has helped him realize that all that matters in life is relationships.

What is there about you that people would be surprised to learn? I was on an episode of Wings, the comedy that ran for a few years on television. I framed the “talent” check, so if things ever get tough, I can always cash that $34.29 talent fee check.

Biggest professional mistake and how you overcame it? Selling a business and watching it languish before I was able to buy it back. Many great lessons learned.

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