About 4 years ago, we launched a speaker series at The Fool.
Through this program, we bring in interesting people to teach, entertain, challenge, and inspire our employees. Over the years, we’ve had an array of different guests, from business leaders (Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal) to top-notch authors (Michael Lewis, Joshua Foer, Dan Pink) and fun personalities (fitness guru Billy Blanks and the Aflac duck).
The audience varies depending on the guest. Michael Lewis holds the unofficial attendance record: about 180 Fools turned out to see him speak last fall.
At a more traditional firm, an initiative like a speaker series might be discouraged. After all, when employees are watching a speaker, they’re not at their desks.
We have roughly 250 Fools in our office in Alexandria, so when 180 turned out for Michael Lewis, over 70 percent of our employees weren’t doing their day-to-day “jobs”. When companies are focused on the bottom line, it’s easy to ask the question: is a speaker series worth it?
I posed that question to our head “People Fool” last summer. His answer was an emphatic “yes!”
The speaker series, he told me, is all about enhancing the education and development experience of our employees. Fools get inspired when someone great comes to speak to them. They get challenged when they hear something new from an outside expert. Their brains stretch in new ways, and they return to their jobs refreshed and ready to innovate. That trickle-down effect outweighs any productivity they might have foregone to attend the speaker.
Like most of the cultural initiatives we put on at The Fool, the speaker series also helps raise employee satisfaction. Exposing our employees to great minds beyond our doors helps keep them happy and engaged. Such engagement is important in the DC area because there is an abundance of places where high-performers can ply their trades. If the speaker series helps keep our high performers satisfied at The Fool, then it has done its job and then some.
I’ll close with Michael Lewis. I’ve mentioned him a few times because he provided my all-time favorite speaker-series moment. Toward the end of his appearance, Lewis took questions from the audience. One of our investing writers asked him about some of his writing heroes (at 50:30 in the video). And Lewis gave a wonderfully genuine and heartfelt answer about his role models from the New Orleans writing scene. I’d like to think that our writers – who view Lewis as a hero of their own – were inspired by his answer and returned to their jobs with renewed vigor. I can’t quantify the effect his appearance had on our bottom-line that day, but it was a day I won’t soon forget.
I think every Fool has that moment – and it’s not always with the same speaker.
We have diverse guest speakers because we have diverse Fools, and you never know when one speaker will spark innovation inside of any one Fool.