Bottom-Line Speakers

As program manager for the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), Barbara Schell helps put together meetings and conferences that focus on bottom lines and financial issues. The Park Ridge, IL-based MDRT aims to provide members with resources to improve their technical knowledge, sales, and client service, while maintaining a culture of high ethical standards.

Easy enough, right? Find some economists and number-crunching speakers, and line up the details with the speakers bureau. Not so fast. MDRT conferences must support the "whole-person concept." That means meeting programs must also address seven crucial aspects of life that should remain in balance—family, health, education, career, service, financial, and spiritual.

That's why Schell books speakers like Li Cunxin. A Chinese ballet star, Cunxin (pronounced "Schwin-sing"), defected to the United States and became an international star with the Houston Ballet. His defection was a major diplomatic problem, and Cunxin talked about the process in a moving way at MDRT's 2007 annual meeting in Denver.

"He later became very interested in managing his own investments, and is a broker in Australia, and acts as chief of the Asia desk," says Schell. "He talks about financial stuff, but he really is motivational when he talks about his personal side."

But insurance organizations do essentially get together to talk about numbers and markets. And that's what Jeff Thredgold is practiced in doing. He does about 80 speeches a year, and is booked for the 2008 annual convention and career conference of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), to be held this September in San Diego.

Thredgold is a numbers guy who also likes to inject humor into his presentations. He calls himself an "economic futurist," because, he believes, "that sells better than 'economist,' because they aren't, generally, great speakers."

Thredgold says economics is a dismal science. "There are so many people ready to predict doom and gloom," he says. "There is so much negativity in the media. But the audience wants to feel good—not like it wants to jump off a bridge. I'm realistic, but optimistic. It's not an artificial optimism—it's what I predict and judge to be the case."

What follows is a cross section of some of the speakers insurance organizations are booking—in the past and for the near future, both motivational and industry-specific. Besides more on Cunxin and Thredgold, meet political junkies Mary Matalin and James Carville, management and technology expert Ed Morrow, and workforce trends specialist Peter Sheahan.


Along with the MDRT, Li Cunxin has addressed more than 100 different organizations worldwide. He has a range of presentations that go from the importance of family values, love, and passion to rising up to challenges; leadership and goal setting; and achieving success against impossible obstacles and odds.

That's pretty heady stuff, considering his background.

He was born into bitter poverty in rural China (village peasants ate tree bark to survive). One day, a delegation from Madame Mao's Dance Academy arrived at his school. They were looking for children suited to study ballet and serve in Chairman Mao's revolution. He was the last one selected.

Cunxin was 11 when he left home to begin a harsh training regimen that started at 5:30 in the morning and lasted until 9 p.m. It became his passion, and he soon gladly trained even longer to become one of the best. After a cultural exchange with the U.S., Cunxin defected. It was a dramatic international incident—even Vice President-at-the-time George Bush Sr. got involved. He then became an award-winning dancer in the Houston Ballet. His autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer, was a best seller in Australia, which Cunxin now calls home.

At age 34, Cunxin began taking courses in accounting and finances. After studying at the Australian Securities Institute, he became a stockbroker. During his last two years with the Australian Ballet, he got up at 5 a.m. to train, worked from 8 a.m. to noon as a broker, and then rejoined the troupe for more rehearsals.

Cunxin's journey includes perservering in the face of shattered dreams and is filled with life lessons. He has made audiences cry and laugh, and he touches hearts.

To book Cunxin, e-mail him directly at [email protected]


Jeff Thredgold says he likes to talk about the up-to-the-minute aspect of where things stand in the U.S. economy, and where the economy might stand six, 12, or 18 months from now. His presentations are not flashy or filled with multimedia. "It's just a microphone and me," says Thredgold. "And I'm pretty easy to see, since I'm six-foot-five."

He's not a motivational speaker, but he's happy to inject comedy into his factual presentations about current events that affect markets and the economy. Along with talking about the global economy, tight labor markets, and financial institutions, Thredgold also has a presentation that covers the "Top 10 Myths Reported by the National Media."

Including NAIFA, he has talked to more than 1,000 groups in 48 states since 1988. Thredgold spent 23 years with banking titan KeyCorp, serves as an economic consultant to $50 billion Zions Bancorporation, and is a former member of the Economic Policy Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association.

And despite such heady involvement in those organizations, Thredgold is one of the only economists—er, economic futurists—to earn the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation.

To book Thredgold, e-mail him directly at [email protected]


James Carville and Mary Matalin, the political husband-and-wife team, may not be in the media spotlight as much as when they were both presidential advisors and campaign managers, but they still attract crowds at meetings and conventions.

In early May, they spoke in Washington DC at the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting's (AALU) annual meeting.

"They were a hit," says AALU Assistant Vice President of Meetings Tracy Skidmore. "They were very entertaining. Mary Matalin speaks for 20 minutes, then James speaks for 20 minutes, and then they do 20 minutes of Q and A. In a time of a lame-duck President, they were very motivational. Our members were interested in going up to the Hill to educate Congress about our issues. They really broke that process down for us, as well as gave us the perspective from the Republican and the Democratic sides."

GOP stalwart Matalin formerly served as assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney—the first White House official to hold the latter title. She held senior positions in the George H. W. Bush 1988 campaign, and when Bush the elder was elected, she was appointed chief of staff for the Republican National Convention.

In between stints with Bush administrations, she hosted CNN's Crossfire political debate show. Matalin is also the former and founding host of the Washington-based political talk show Equal Time, which airs on CNBC.

Matalin and Carville co-authored the best-selling political campaign book All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President. Carville was the chief campaign strategist for Bill Clinton in 1992—when Clinton upset Bush Sr. in his reelection bid.

Carville has a long list of electoral successes. He already had a string of upset victories—gubernatorial victories for Robert Casey in Pennsylvania and Zell Miller in Georgia, and for U.S. Senator Robert Lautenberg in New Jersey—before he engineered Clinton's presidential victory.

After the Clinton win, Carville focused on foreign consulting. His clients included British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis.

Both husband and wife still are prominent as talking heads on TV news programs.

To book Matalin and Carville, visit


Generation Y. Net Generation. Echo Boomers. MySpace Generation. These are monikers for the group of young professionals born between 1978 and 1994. Peter Sheahan is an elder statesman for the group, in the sense that he's among the older members of Generation Y. He's looking hard at age 30—if you think that's a milestone that warrants a slight glance rather than a hard look, Sheahan's the man to give you the 411. He's been busy explaining his demographic peer group to convention audiences, including NAIFA's 2008 annual convention and career conference.

A relative youngster on the speaking circuit, Sheahan is already a globally recognized expert in workforce trends and generational change. In 2006, this Australian native was voted by his peers at the National Speakers Association as Keynote Speaker of the Year. He has delivered more than 2,000 speeches in six different countries, and has written four books, including Generation Y: Thriving (and Surviving) with Generation Y at Work.

In Sheahan's high-energy presentations he will talk about:

* How to minimize the impact of generational differences in the workplace.
* Helping managers identify blind spots when assessing and dealing with Generation Y.
* How the influence of Generation Y will redefine how you treat staff and customers.

And, he'll create a forum that will facilitate brainstorming sessions and discussions relevant to any organization searching for strategies to deal with challenges regarding the MySpace Generation.

Sheahan also talks about companies trying to stay ahead in a world where "fast, first, and cheap" are just the price of entry for clients, consumers, and staff.

To book Sheahan, e-mail him directly at [email protected]


Million Dollar Round Table has hired Ed Morrow several times to address its conferences over the past several years. He was at MDRT's 2007 annual meeting in Denver, as well as at MDRT Experience seminars held in Chiba, Japan, and Bangkok.

MDRT's Schell says Morrow did a professional sales clinic for her group as well as a session entitled "Are You An Agent, Advisor, or Both?"

Morrow is the chairman and CEO of Financial Planning Consultants. He is also the designer of Practice Builder (formerly Text Library System), a client relationship management software system that's used by more than 3,000 advisors. He entered financial services in 1963. Morrow started using computers in his practice in 1970, and lectured across the U.S. on the use of computers in financial services during the 1970s and 1980s (well before it was commonplace).

He appears regularly at national conventions of broker/dealers and insurance associations such as NAIFA, the Financial Planning Association, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Presentation topics include "Strategic Marketing Solutions," "Adding Fee-Based Income," and "Web-Based Marketing."

Morrow offers perspective based on the history of the financial services industry, dating back to the 1960s. In a clip of a recent speech, available on the Financial Planning Consultants Web page, he reflects back to the 1960s, when, "there were only a handful of full-time financial advisors, a three-bedroom home cost $19,000 and 'serious' investors had $10,000 to invest."

To book Morrow, e-mail him directly at [email protected]

Originally published June 01, 2008

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