Two years ago Saxton Speakers Bureau celebrated its 50th birthday. When you consider less than 1% of businesses make it that far, the magnitude of this achievement is considerable. Jonathan Jackson speaks with Nanette Moulton and Winston Broadbent about longevity, quality and communicating a message with integrity.
Author and self-improvement icon, Dale Carnegie once postulated: “speakers who talk about what life has taught them never fail to keep the attention of their listeners.”
It is a lesson many circuit speakers have heeded over the years, and for good reason: if you haven’t won over your audience in the first five minutes, you may as well be talking to the wall.
Since its foundation in 1965, by the pioneer of the Australian public speaking sector, Joan Saxton, one company has built up an almost iconic reputation for delivering engaging, insightful and inspirational speakers.
Risen humbly from Saxton’s loungeroom, the Saxton Bureau of Speakers is considered the leader in the industry.
And it is not difficult to see why.
From the first Saxton speaker Sir Zelman Cowan, to Edward ‘Weary Dunlop’, Ita Buttrose, former Qantas chief and Woolworths Chairman, the late James Strong, to more contemporary inspiring figures such as Holly Ransom and Naomi Simson, Saxton has developed a formidable family of speakers who each have their own unique message and story to tell.
Family has been an important tenet for Saxton. Since 1988, when Nanette Moulton and Winston Broadbent purchased the business from Joan, it has been a family affair.
They are, of course married, but when speaking with them you also get the sense they are partners: two people who have moved in the same direction, hand in hand, with the same goal in mind to “do their best in every situation, with the best intentions.”
It’s one of those lessons that people with children would wholeheartedly recognise. They are the types of values we try to instil in our children. And Saxton, albeit grown up, is a beloved child treated with all the affection that permeates success.
This attitude filters through the entire organisation and extends to clients and speakers. Indeed, everyone involved with Saxton is an integral member of the Saxton family.
“We care for our clients, our staff and our speakers and we want the outcomes to be right for them,” Winston says.
The former teachers met when Nanette and her best friend swapped teaching rounds. It was a fortuitous move that brought the pair together.
Yet, why would two successful teachers with two small children look to break from secure careers to buy a business that was, in Winston’s words, “earning less than half a teacher’s salary?”
“We had taught for 10 years, Winston and I were involved in introducing computers to secondary schools, but we wanted something bigger and different,” Nanette says.
Still, this was a small industry in 1988 and when they bought the business on the very night they met with Joan to discuss the transaction, they “bought a crate of carbon copy books and Colliers diaries which held all of Joan’s records.”
At the time Saxton had just 40 speakers. To give you an indication of the growth, today Saxton has thousands worldwide with over 100 exclusive.
Clearly the pair believed they had the moxy and the tools to try something different and make a success of it. A set of complementary skills was also crucial.
Winston was head of mathematics at Carey Grammar in Melbourne. He designed the software that set up the company’s foundations. That software still has a major influence in the way in which the business operates.
Winston has said previously, “There was a huge opportunity to automate the systems which essentially were run by a carbon copy book and a diary so armed with a Mac+ and a dot matrix printer we set to work. A student of mine, Ian Dobson developed the first dedicated speaker database for us. Ian was carrying a robot with him and could solve a Rubik’s cube in less than a minute when I met him in year 8. The last 28 years has been a journey of innovation and automating systems in parallel with developing some wonderful relationships and friendships.
“We now have what is arguably the best system of its kind in the world… almost everything in the business has a mathematical background, the reports, the KPIs, the incentive systems, the web, the proposals.”
Nanette proved to be a natural event planner.
So the pair who knew nothing about corporate life, were suddenly thrust into the corporate spotlight.
And they were an instant hit.
“In the first month we turned over more than the business did in the previous three years,” Winston says.
When James Strong came into their lives soon after they took the business over, it changed their trajectory forever.
Both Nanette and Winston can’t speak highly enough of the late, highly regarded businessman and philanthropist.
The pair felt that if they could entice Strong to the speakers’ stage, it would light the fire they needed to move forward. They knew he was looking at transitioning to more than business, to something he felt would be more fulfilling. He was looking to give back to the community and he was open to sharing his life with people willing to learn a few lessons.
Strong became one of the premier speakers in the country, a Saxton board member and with his wife Jeanne-Claude, Nanette and Winston’s best friends.
Meeting Strong was a serendipitous moment, one of many this pair has enjoyed, but this serendipity allowed them to, as Winston says, “build a new culture in public speaking based on articulated values, passion growth and integrity.”
Another key to Saxton’s success is they have always been ahead of the learning curve.
From Winston’s software, to Nanette introducing a TED talk style of speaking, before 18 minute gigs were a glint in‘TED’s’ eye.
“We were the first to introduce 15 minute talks. The first to create speaker catalogues, booklets for events and the first in the industry to build a website,” Winston says. “We were also the first to have a YouTube channel.
They were also the first to represent some of the most powerful people in the country, including the likes of Gough Whitlam. Former New Zealand PM David Lange was also a favourite.
This article could be a long list of names and I’m tempted to name drop, but it’s best to focus on the quality of the speakers.
As I quoted when I started this article, “speakers who talk about what life has taught them never fail to keep the attention of their listeners.”
It is an important quality, but the speakers share more than this quality.
“We only work with people who have achieved something in their life, who have substance and have a story to tell,” Nanette says.
These qualities include:
a. They have earned the right to speak – achieved something that sets them apart
b. They are exceptional communicators
c. They possess an indefinable quality, which you have to be there to see, hear and feel, to create a bond with the audience. This is impossible to define, one has it or one doesn’t.
Not everyone has these qualities. You can be highly successful, but sometimes not have the communication skills to back your success on stage.
It is not a problem experienced by Saxton’s speakers. Each one can communicate well and each is captivating in their own way. Take another Australian icon, Ita Buttrose for instance.
Ita has been with Saxton for many years and Nanette and Winston consider her a close friend. Winston recalls Ita’s skill in the following anecdote: “Ita was MCing a Meetings Industry event in Townsville and awaiting the arrival of the then, Ambassador Richard Butler. Ita was advised that Mr Butler’s flight had been significantly delayed. She filled the delay with 20 minutes of very entertaining anecdotes from her career always with one eye on the back of the room for Mr Butler. She closed her address and with the utmost aplomb introduced the next speaker. The audience was none the wiser – a very rare skill.”
The next phase for Saxton and its speakers will be Saxton Global, where the likes of entrepreneur Megan Quinn, entertainment phenomenon Tom Thum, elite businessman David Thodey, London bombing survivor Gill Hicks and many others can spread their messages.
Over the last almost 30 years, Nanette and Winston have built a brand synonymous with quality and success. And having built a family with the same values, their legacy will continue long into the future. BFM