BERNARD OH

Richard Gavriel is an entrepreneur with over 30 years of sales experience spanning multiple industries including retail, insurance, hospitality, wedding, training and media. Over his entrepreneurial journey, he has had 7 businesses. Today, he runs a speaker management company that delivers keynotes and seminars for MNCs across Asia. He is also the author of the book SUCCESS: Sales, Entrepreneurship & Work. Richard is a frequent guest on media and has appeared on Channel News Asia, Channel 8, Toggle TV, 938LIVE, The Straits Times and The Sunday Times.

Business Profile:

e.g Richard Gavriel Speaker Management is one of the leading speaking & training companies in Asia. The company manages a pool of 16 professional speakers. The business is divided into 4 divisions – they are keynote speaking, corporate training, personal coaching and business consulting. RGSM is as dynamic, forward-thinking and successful as any training providers in Asia. Together with his team, Richard strives for excellence and believes in delivering the most suitable training solution for his clients. Their recent clients include AIA, AXA, Great Eastern (Singapore and Malaysia), Prudential (Singapore and Malaysia), Manulife, Tokio Marine, Financial Alliance, Aviva, PIAS, UOB Bank, OCBC Bank, Starhub, Singtel, Roche, Becton Dickinson (China), Dairy Farm International, Singapore Press Holdings and other MNCs.

Interviewer’s Comments:

This is the most candid yet inspiring interview that I have had. How often do you get to talk openly to an entrepreneur who is operating his 7th business now? I was deeply impressed by the friendly personality of Mr Richard. Following his passion and beliefs, Mr Richard dared to be different, to be the first wedding planner company in Singapore and the first Speaker Manager in Singapore. There were no airs despite his rich invaluable experience. Believe it or not, his success was achieved alongside work life balance. His advice to all: Be it, career, life or business; give your 100 percent commitment. Be personal and yet stay professional.

Interview:

1) The first question that we have is, What’s the nature of the business?
The nature of my business is about managing a group of professional speakers. We conduct corporate training, consulting, coaching for our clients. And this is also training that involves leadership, sales and performance.

2) So when and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
My entrepreneurship journey started at the age of 20 something, about 20 plus. In fact, Richard Gavriel Speaker Management is my 7th Business. I started running businesses at the age of probably about 24 and 25 years old.

3) The reasons for choosing to do business in this industry, after your 6th business would be?
Basically, I used to do business for the bridal industry. I was a wedding planner. I was a wedding designer, all the way to the F&B line before. After working for so long, I decided that one of the key thing to be able to reach out and touch the society, is through education. This is the reason why I went into the training industry.

So, before you started your business, you had 7 other businesses. So, based on all those past experiences, how is it different this time?

Okay, in the past, I used to conduct, do my business in terms of consumer goods. Whereas, for now, it’s very much into education and that is something very different. This is business that would touch life and change life. Where else, the past, it’s more like providing service or product.

4) Do you have some interesting stories to share about your first few customers or people who came to you?
Is it regarding to this business or?

Yes, this business.

Something interesting… Most of the times, people will tend to ask this question: why speaker management? You have heard of artist management, but you have never heard of speakers management. So, it’s a very new thing and the first thing, or rather I am the first speaker manager in Singapore. There’s speaker bureau, but it’s never the same like me. I actually train, and basically, I look out for new speakers. I train speakers and I groom my speakers. So, this group of people I work with, if you ask me anything interesting would be pioneers always felt very amused by my profession.

5)
So, basically you train speakers. Is there any particular speaker that managed to grow a lot throughout the whole training?
There are, but its not for me to mention names here. (laughs)

6) Next question would be what’s your company vision and mission? How do you actually convey all these to the speakers you train?
In fact, we work very closely as a team. I have a group of speakers, including myself, 8 of us. I do speaking too. This 8 of them are my core group. Next month, I am actually launching another 8 new speakers. In total, would be 16 of us. How I share my vision with them would be through meetings, emails, through whatsapp group, through facebook chats. So, all of them know what is happening. My vision is not to just confine ourselves to Singapore. But in fact, in October, my group of speakers, 4of them, plus myself would be speaking in Philippines. We are doing a conference there. In fact we are invited to speak in a conference there. Some of my speakers had gone overseas, like China to conduct training, Suzhou. Places like in Malaysia, in Hong Kong … They are all moving around.

7) So, your speakers are trilingual? Like English, Chinese, Malay?
Some of them do. I have a couple of them who are bilingual.

Is this a criteria for all your speakers?

Nope, I go by the heart, as in who I love to work with. I like what one of my speakers said to my clients recently. My clients asked him, “so, how do you get to work with Richard?” His answer to my client is “We don’t get to work with Richard, Richard chose his speakers.”

8) What are some of the challenges you face when you first started off the business?
To have a niche in a certain industry, we need to prove ourselves as competent. One of the key accounts that I have would be in the financial industry. The challenges would be really to educate my speakers in that area.

So, although they do not have any background, you will still educate them from scratch?

Yes, that’s right.

9) How long does it take to train them?
They are all very good and polished, its quite fast. Most of them take a couple of months to understand the industry. Eventually, when they start training and start talking to more people, that’s where they grow. One very good example of my speakers is Jensen.

What’s so special about the development and growth that he has?

He has been speaking for about 10 years, but his background of the financial industry is not very strong. But ever since he worked with me, he is one of the most sought after speaker and trainer in the financial industry.

So, clients would be able to select the speakers that they want to?

Actually, it’s based on my recommendations.

The ones who goes to the clients to pitch the sales and engage your service, would be you yourself alone?

Its me and my speakers themselves, once a while

10) Could you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenge?
We all learn from our mistakes. In life, if there is no mistake, there is no growth. Mistakes like for example, I just want to bring this in line with my business, rather than bringing in other business ideas. For my business alone, there are sometimes whereby clients may not understand what they really need. And, I would need to educate them or to share with them exactly what are the objectives on the certain training or keynote that they may not really understand. The challenge comes when you are talking to a sales expert who do not understand training background competency. Its like a chicken talking to a duck. That’s the challenging thing.

11) At which moment did you realize that your business would work in the long term?
After running my businesses in the past, I came up with this success model and I knew that it would work. Many people will tell you, let’s start a business. First 3 months is like trying out, building your business. 3 to 6 months is time where you look at whether it is profitable or not. You will breakeven probably about 6months to a year. To me, I plan my business, I do my business planning, I do my research and everything. When I start a business, it has to work.

12) Before that, it takes a lot of planning process; did that take you one year or more?
Nopes, it took me about 3 months.

So, after 3 months, you decided that yes it’s a go?

Yes, this is what I want to do.

13) What’s your proudest business achievement to date? Would it be clocking a lot sales for the month or?
The proudest achievement would be to see my speakers being able to address a big crowd. That’s where I get my fulfillment and that kind of moments.

So, it’s especially meaningful then?

Yes, it’s especially meaningful. It’s like when you build somebody up, and when the person were to deliver and speak, that is my greatest moment.

14) So, it is more of a customized track of learning for each individual speaker? Or is it a standardized track?
The principles are the same but the topics are different. Cause each one of them have their own strengths to work with.

So, you will work on their strengths and for their weaknesses, it would be extra training?

I always believe in, when you focus on a person’s strengths, their weaknesses will be concealed.

15) Do you have any examples on the training opportunities you provide to your staff?
I am not the only one that will provide training for my staff. I believe in learning and growing together. So, we have this so called mastermind group that will come together. We will always share our ideas, business ideas, business growth and about what is happening in the market. On the other hand, once awhile, especially before I do a conference- every year I run annual conferences. Before our conference, all of we will meet together and we will take turn to speak. And the rest of us would critique and we will learn together.

16) So, how do you determine who is in the mastermind or core group itself?
To be honest, all these have been tested. Which means, I started off with more speakers and eventually these are the 7 speakers that stayed with me after one year.

So, they make up the core team that would welcome the next 8 that comes in?

The next 8 will be of a different branding but eventually they will all gel together.

17) How do you see your business in the next 5 years?
Expansion. It’s not for me to expand alone but for my seven speakers, those who are interested, to take over part of my business. Eventually, I don’t think they will want to speak for the rest of their lives. I am happy to have some of them to take over me as speaker managers.

18) Will you be giving them part of the shares? Or how would it actually work?
I will be happy to start new businesses with them. To build a new branding for them

So, we are expecting your 8th business very soon?

Maybe not 8 but if 3 of them say yes to me, I will be very happy for a start. But in terms of business wise, as I mentioned, currently we are conducting training in Singapore, in Malaysia. Philippines, we are stepping in. Indonesia, we are stepping in. Not that we don’t want to step in, just that the plate here in Singapore is very full. China and Hong Kong as well.

19) How do you reach out to your clients overseas, in Indonesia and Philippines?
One good news, I must say, the power of facebook, or the power of social media or rather. A lot of awareness but eventually, there will be people who get to know us through overseas conferences. That’s what we want. The part on social media, I was just joking with you.

Oh, I thought the power of social media was that strong. So, it’s mainly launching your first sales there?

In fact, I conducted a conference last year in Malayisia.

20) How did it first started? To break into the market?
You are right, breaking into the market is tough, but it’s the strategies that everybody will have. For me, its to run conferences, to work with key people in different countries. In business, the key thing I always tell everybody, the power of referral. This is real.

21) How would you describe your working relationship with your clients overseas and local?
Interesting. I am so sorry, I don’t have a copy of my book here. It’s called, Success. It was launched this year. In the book itself, you will see everything that my clients talked about me?

22) How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors in the industry?
Allow me to say that, If I can. As I mentioned, I am the only speaker manager in the industry. So, I don’t have competitors at the moment. I have to be honest.

23) So, in the next 5 years, do you foresee any competitors?

In fact, I have heard people starting up soon, or started off in a very small way. So, if you ask me what’s the difference between me and my competitor, if I can think of, it would be the personal touch that I put in for my clients.

Plus the headstart you have, that’s actually a great competitive advantage.

Right, you are right.

24) So, do you think your business had made a positive impact to the community?

Definitely, we have. Instead of just talking about working and enjoying the benefits we have, just to share with you, unofficially (due to red tapes etc), Society of Physically disabled is one of the charity arm I adopt under my company. So, we conduct motivational talks for them. Last year, when the haze hit Singapore, we actually purchase those N95 masks and we sell all for them

25) So, apart from going into the organization to teach them how to speak better, you are also doing it monetary sense?

Correct, we do things like running a Christmas party for them. We had fun, we catered food. During our motivational talks, we also catered food for them. Its not just the talk. We don’t believe only in giving in words but in things too.

Do all 7 speakers go down for the event itself?

It’s a joint effort, depending on whoever that is available in Singapore. In fact, the last motivational talk I did for them, in conjunction with my book launch, I actually brought in a Mediacorp celebrity.

26) Back to the basics, what does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Wow, this is a tough question. Interesting. Entrepreneurship to me would be to pursuing your passion and to turn the dreams into reality.

27) So, what actually motivates to chase after your passion?

Since young, I come from a very poor family that is always looked down upon. So, when I was young, I told myself, I wanted to be successful. and I know that to be successful, its not to work for people. Its not that you cant work for people, don’t get me wrong. But the road to success would be smaller and the magnitude would be smaller too?

28) Have you worked for others before starting up?

I worked in the hotel line, been a catering sales manager. You see, at the end of the day, I believe in one thing, whether in business or in work, you need to give yourself 100percent commitment. So, when I worked as a sales assistant (which is my first job), within my first year, I was given a promotion but I left the job. I was working in the insurance industry, closing at least 7 cases a month, but I left the job for some personal reasons. I have worked in the catering sales department, within the year, I had double promotion. From Catering sales manager to Assistant F&B to F&B manager.

So, what I am trying to say is that at the end of the day, whether you are an entrepreneur, whether you are a worker, wherever you are, give your 100 percent commitment.

29) So, this would be the main business value that you would want to teach younger generation?

Business values or life values or career values? If career values, that will be. If its business values, I would say integrity would be the one. Integrity mean that you have to be very upright to yourself. Which means, you don’t compromise because of small gains or big gains. Integrity means being very truthful to the fellow vendors you work with, being honest to your clients. Which means that, whether can you produce what they want? If you cant, walk away and say sorry, which I have done that. Customer have told me that they needed a speaker for this, can you get this person to do it? I said this is not his topic expert, I cant. I said no to business.

This is really impressive and courageous to do that.

Yes, we have to.

So, are there cases whereby clients re-engage your service afterwards?

Most of my clients became my friends.

Oh yes, the personal touch.

Yes, I always believe in this. Be personal, yet stay professional.

30) Lastly, what advice do you have to give young people who want to start off their business these days?

Number 1, follow after your passion. You see, every business opportunity is good. But, is that really what you want to do? Are you in the business of making money, or are you in the business of pursuing passion? Passion keeps you going. Money keeps you working. So, what do you want to do?

SOE-NEXIA TS ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR AWARD 2014

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