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What Made Me Who I Am

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Powerful and moving stories of inspiration, adversity, and triumph from the Washington Speakers Bureau.

 

Starting a business is a wonderfully naïve venture.  Only a fortunate few will survive—and very few of those who thrive will have something special to say about failure, success, and leadership.  

Bernie Swain is one of those few very fortunate people.  He quit his job in 1980 to start a lecture agency with his wife and a friend.  By the end of their first rocky year—just as his savings were running out—Swain’s first revenues trickled in.  He began signing every speaker on a handshake; this proved to be the hallmark of trust that helped accelerate the company’s growth.  Years later, his roster of speakers would be the greatest in history since America’s first agency represented a host of notables such as Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass.  The firm continues its practice of signing speakers on the strength on a handshake.

The best of Swain’s fortunes turned out to be the speakers themselves because these remarkable leaders had become his friends.  What Made Me Who I Am captures the leadership transformations of 34 of those friends—from Doris Kearns Goodwin to Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw to Tom Brokaw, and Tony Blair to Dave Barry.  This assembly of people defines a generation. What were their most powerful influences?  Defining moments?  Decisions that contributed the most to their character and accomplishments? 

Swain captures answers to these questions and more in an inspiring, practical collection of true-life stories for leaders today. What Made Me Who I Am is also a terrific gift book for graduates and others who are just starting out in life.   

“When a legend of an industry writes a book, you take notice. Bernie Swain, founder of the nation’s top lecture agency, recounts the watershed moments of a number of well-known clients. What Made Me Who I Am is an insightful guide to what has empowered a generation of leaders. It’s also full of fresh, moving stories that will help you navigate your life and challenges—no matter where or who you are.” 

– Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and New York Times bestselling author of Presence

“Imagine having a backstage pass to the most interesting stages of the past three decades. Bernie Swain didn’t just have that seat; he built the stage. In this inspiring book, he convinced many of the great leaders of our time to share the key turning points in their lives. It’s like 34 autobiographies in one volume—full of delightful stories, surprising insights, and practical wisdom.”

– Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

“Bernie Swain’s What Made Me Who I Am is a treasure. By revealing the core motivations of some of our most powerful leaders, the book challenges all of us to push back our own frontiers and become better versions of ourselves. Prepare to be surprised, inspired, and—most of all—changed.”

– Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of Drive, A Whole New Mind, and To Sell Is Human

“Rarely do we get intimate profiles of so many outstanding leaders as we do in What Made Me Who I Am. Author Bernie Swain, a legend in the speaking world, reveals his clients’ most personal leadership struggles alongside his own. Leaders at every level will see themselves in his frank, true-to-life tales about risk, tough times, and resilience. You’ll also get some powerful inspiration and practical advice that could make a real difference for the rest of your life.”

– Stephen M. R. Covey, New York Times bestselling author of The Speed of Trust and Smart Trust

“The stories in What Made Me Who I Am are both heartfelt and inspiring. The trust and confidence these famous names have in Bernie Swain is obvious on every page because they reveal to him intimate details of their lives that give real insight into how they became who they are today. Plus it is a fast and fun read.”

– Maureen Orth, award-winning journalist and special correspondent for Vanity Fair

“History is composed of the stories we tell; their turning points often have the power to inspire. From the personal trials of some of today’s most iconic leaders, Bernie Swain has created an inspiring gem.”

– Ken Burns, renowned filmmaker including Civil War and Baseball

“Everyone starts somewhere, and some of the most successful people of our times started in circumstances that were light years away from the lofty peaks they reached. Bernie Swain’s book shares the stories of some of the successful individuals with whom he’s worked—and the pivotal moments that proved life changing. You’ll look at the events in your own life differently after reading about the lives of these leaders.” 

– Deborah Norville, anchor of Inside Edition and New York Times bestselling author of Thank You Power

“We all have moments when we decide our fate—when we face down a problem, for example, or take a big risk. What Made Me Who I Am focuses on those inflection points for 34 notable people. You learn what has made all the difference in each of their lives and how these influences continue to drive them forward. This is an important book with great meaning for the rising generation.”

– Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for the Washington Post and MSNBC analyst

“I love What Made Me Who I Am simply because Bernie Swain understands what moves people. You’ll see yourself in every story, and you’ll be inspired to take charge of your problems and opportunities in fresh, new ways.” 

– Katie Couric, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author

“I’ve always believed that the most effective leaders are as generous as they are ambitious. They are at their best when they bring about the best in everyone they encounter. This book confirms that belief. In a true act of generosity, Bernie Swain has persuaded many of the remarkable thinkers, statesmen, and executives with whom he has worked to share the secrets of their success. The stories are larger than life, but their lessons may change your life. What Made Me Who I Am will help make you what you hope to become.”

– William C. Taylor, Fast Company cofounder and New York Times bestselling author including Simply Brilliant

“Every human life is unique and unrepeatable. What we do and what we become in our lives has everything to do with whether we discover our personal talents and passions and have the determination to pursue them. What does that take and what happens when we do? In this compelling collection of powerful stories, Bernie Swain explores these fundamental questions through the lives of 34 extraordinary people in many different fields. No matter who you are, or what stage of life you’ve reached, you’ll find What Made Me Who I Am is a treasure trove of insights and experiences on leadership, life, and achievement.”

 

– Sir Ken Robinson, New York Times bestselling author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

 “Bernie Swain—who has worked with US presidents, executives, and public figures for 35 years—gives us a rare look at the private moments that have helped determine the achievements of some of today’s most compelling leaders. What Made Me Who I Am will remind you of the tremendous power of human potential, and that we are all in the people business.”

– John Wren, President and CEO, Omnicom Group

“Here’s the truth in What Made Me Who I Am: Your future is in your hands—regardless of your circumstances. Get a copy. You’ll be newly motivated to have more of a positive influence, get ahead, and expand your role in the world.”

– Dan Schawbel, Partner at Future Workplace and author including the New York Times bestseller Promote Yourself

“Great people are sometimes born and sometimes made. But either way, great people are those who take charge of their potential. Bernie Swain’s insightful book delivers first-hand accounts of how 34 of this generation’s stars did just that — facing down problems, taking on risk, and persevering through tough challenges. What Made Me Who I Am is a terrific read for anyone who wants to make the most of what they have, and become all they can be.”

 

– Jack and Suzy Welch, Business leaders and New York Times bestselling authors including The Real-Life MBA

“Behind every president, CEO, Hollywood actor, or successful entrepreneur you’ll find a person who’s rarely talked about. Don’t be surprised if that person’s name is Bernie Swain. In his remarkable book What Made Me Who I Am, Swain shares a fascinating insight into some of the world’s most admired individuals and how they in turn shaped equally remarkable individuals. What Made Me Who I Am is a must-read for anyone who aspires to reach for the stars—and have fun at the same time.”

 

– Martin Lindstrom New York Times bestselling author of Buyology and Small Data

“Bernie Swain has a compelling personal story and an incredibly unique vantage point on life. This book gathers it all together in powerful short profiles; read them and be inspired, entertained, and delighted.” 

 

– Rory Vaden, New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs and Procrastinate on Purpose

“Bernie Swain has written a deeply insightful book, capturing the moments that turned ordinary people into today’s heroes. What Made Me Who I Am is to be treasured.”

 

– Marshall Goldsmith New York Times bestselling author including Triggers

“Bernie Swain has created the perfect book for every bedside. When he called his friends of many years and asked them to tell their personal stories, they responded with warm, revealing tales—stories that are charming, often humorous, and inspiring. No wonder Bernie’s clients are favorites of audiences all over the world.”

 

– David Gergen, political analyst, advisor to four US presidents, and Harvard Kennedy School professor

“Everyone carries with them a lasting lesson that defines them.  Bernie Swain has done a masterful job capturing the moments that have become lasting lessons for so many of today’s greatest leaders.”

 

– Luke Russert, correspondent, NBC News

“The most unexpected moment can change your life, but only if you’re paying attention. Bernie’s terrific new book captures the real-life turning points of productive heroes—each one his friend. Who grabbed the opportunity, got competitive, and leaped forward? Learn from the best in What Made Me Who I Am.”

 

– Barbara Corcoran, Shark investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, and New York Times bestselling author