Five Great Business Motivators

It's not easy to build a profitable business or a successful career. When the going gets tough, here's who can get you going?

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More than ever, the need for motivation has become apparent in the business world. Often dismissed as mere “rah-rah-you-can-do-it” semantics, motivation serves a real purpose for managers trying to get the most out of their employers and entrepreneurs looking for new reasons to keep their operations going. So it’s no surprise that motivating others has become big business itself.

Over 2 million business meetings feature motivational speakers every year. Amazingly, major corporations spend more money on motivational products than the federal government spends on education. The industry generates billions each year, and titles on the subject account for 3.6%(*) of all book sales in the country.

Helping to fuel this industry are our five subjects: a motivational “guru,” a spiritual advisor, a professor, an orator and an organizational change consultant. The fact that their combined income is over $5.6 million a year is notable, but not paramount to their selection for this list. Indeed, financially successful motivational speakers come a dime a dozen. We chose these five because their ability to motivate us to action–not just get us passively excited–sets them apart from the rest.

Les Brown
never comes before struggle. Public speaker extraordinaire Les Brown can testify to this–and has the battle scars to prove it. Abandoned by his natural mother three weeks after birth in Miami, Brown endured a poverty-stricken childhood and was incorrectly labeled “educable mentally retarded” in the fifth grade.

Now, at age 53, “Mrs. Mamie Brown’s baby boy”–he and his twin brother, Wes, were adopted–is one of the most popular public speakers in the country. “I don’t allow negative experiences to alter my attitude, but I use them to help others,” says the president of Detroit-based Les Brown Enterprises.

The fact that Brown is a talented speaker, successful employer, self-made businessman and former politician has made him highly sought-after in top business circles. Brown’s client list includes numerous organizations and Fortune 500 companies including Xerox, Procter & Gamble, 3M and Chrysler. He offers practical solutions to workplace challenges with a motivational twist.

“Downsizing trends and the changing global market require people to reinvent themselves and think like entrepreneurs,” he contends. “Now, people need an inspirational catalyst–in addition to information–to help them achieve their goals,” says Brown, who earns $20,000 to $100,000 per speaking engagement.

His brief television talk show career with the Les Brown Show earned him top ratings and provided him with material for the books he writes in his spare time. Combined, his first two endeavors, Live Your Dreams (Avon Books; $12) and It’s Not Over Until You Win! (Simon & Schuster; $23), have sold over a half-million copies.

Brown, who holds only a high school diploma, is arguably the highest paid African American in this profession. “Unfortunately, it seems there’s only one major black player,” says the former three-term Ohio legislator. “The public speaking industry generates $2.5 billion a year, so there’s certainly room for more of us.” Brown’s company now trains aspiring public speakers, hoping to help fill that void.

In total, his company, books, speaking engagements

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