Just as the logistics of how we carry out our jobs has been forced to evolve thanks to the pandemic, so too has the way we lead. It’s one of the green shoots that has sprouted from the otherwise murky mess of the pandemic, according to Growth Faculty Founder and CEO Karen Beattie.
"It’s actually fantastic to see the progression and the real focus on the importance of leadership," she tells The CEO Magazine. "People are focusing on the fact that we need great leaders in order to find a way forward for our people, our teams and our businesses through the next five-to-10 years."
This is precisely where Growth Faculty comes in. When Beattie originally founded the company in 2002, it was to cater to the gap in the market that she saw for powerful leadership content catered to small businesses.
"Big businesses were bringing out thought leaders for their teams and their clients, and this wasn’t really accessible to small businesses. I wanted to make it available."
"I kept asking the question, what if we were able to provide these small business owners access to some great authors and content that would help them grow and manage their businesses more profitably, and alleviate some of the pain and the challenges that all small business owners go through?" she recalls.
While there were plenty of events with hefty price tags, Beattie discovered that there was nothing that catered to the small business market. "At that time also, big businesses were bringing out thought leaders for their teams and their clients, and this wasn’t really accessible to small businesses," she says. "I wanted to make it available."
And so, Growth Faculty was born. Its first event was with Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, whose messaging resonated particularly well with small businesses.
"We launched our very first event with no existing database, no history, no experience and we charged A$175 [US$121]. We only did it for half a day. So we catered for the time and the budget of small businesses, and we got 2,500 people across three cities," Beattie reveals. "It was a great success and I haven’t ever looked back."
Jim Collins on the Growth Faculty stage
Twenty years on from that first event, Growth Faculty has grown to become a market leader in offering access to the biggest speakers in leadership education.
"We’ve stayed true to our purpose and our value proposition, which was really about giving business owners and leaders access to the world’s brightest minds to help them grow as leaders, and that has not changed over the past 19 years," Beattie explains.
"Fundamental to that vision was also affordability and accessibility – we wanted to create opportunities, learning experiences, at affordable prices."
Able to attract increasingly high-profile names as the business has grown, in 2015 the company hosted high-profile American author Jim Collins, which proved to be another major turning point. "He hadn’t been to Australia in 10 years, so our events just grew from 400 to 4,000 at that point," she says.
That momentum kept gathering force with big-name speakers such as Brené Brown, Simon Sinek, Hillary Clinton and the Obamas. The events themselves became longer, stretching across two days and drawing bigger crowds than ever before. But suddenly, in March 2020, Growth Faculty hit an utterly unforeseen hurdle: the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Change of Gear
"Of course, 98 per cent of our revenue came through live in-person events with the authors; however, when COVID-19 hit, we had to transition from live in-person to virtual events," Beattie explains. "Now, we offer a subscription service through our Leadership Pass, which gives our community an even a wider range of thought leaders at greater value."
It has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, giving Growth Faculty the opportunity to provide leadership education at scale, unrestricted by time or place. "Over the past three years, there’s been a major transition, but still at the core of what we do is giving business owners and leaders access to the world’s brightest minds," she stresses. "So that hasn’t changed."
"We’ve stayed true to our purpose and our value proposition, which was really about giving business owners and leaders access to the world’s brightest minds to help them grow as leaders, and that has not changed over the past 19 years."
Fortunately, when the pandemic struck, Growth Faculty had already established an online book club that had, at that time, amassed around 1,500 members. It was able to swiftly transform this into an online portal and instead of doing just one online event per month, the company upped it to once a week. Now the portal has around 9,000 members located all over the world.
"The majority are in Australia and New Zealand," Beattie says. "Our third biggest group are members in the United States because, obviously, we run them all live so we do it on Australian time zones and so that attracts the west coast and sometimes the east coast as well. We haven’t proactively gone after that market yet, but we will be next year."
Far from simply watching someone speak, participants are encouraged to interact with the event through questions, a chat function, polls and by making notes, and then contributing their thoughts at the end. "We make sure that we design the 90 minutes so that people do participate and interact," she says. "It’s an important part of the learning process."
Time to Reconnect
Growth Faculty’s big-name speakers have included (from left) Patrick Lencioni, Liz Wiseman and Indra Nooyi
Although Growth Faculty’s last live event was in December 2019, nearly three years ago, Beattie is optimistic that it will soon be time to resurrect what was once the company’s bread and butter. However, this reincarnation of its live events will have a new look. "People are craving live events again, but I think we’ll have to deliver them quite differently and bring a uniqueness around them," she reflects.
Choosing the right speakers will also be crucial. "We have to target the content carefully because it’s going to take a bigger decision process for companies to decide to bring their teams along to events," she says. "So it has to be incredibly worthwhile because now we are competing with more accessible and valuable content online."
That shift in the content needs of the companies it works with has been quite striking, according to Beattie. "Pre-pandemic, a lot of the content was based on how to improve your top-line growth with sales and frameworks around growth execution, organisational strategy and leadership as a broad topic," she explains.
"People are craving live events again, but I think we’ll have to deliver them quite differently and bring a uniqueness around them."
"Now, the topics that are in high demand are the critical skills for emerging leaders, which have been historically labelled as soft skills, but which are now considered core skills."
These include areas like communication, building resilience, inclusiveness and belonging as well as how to become a future-fit leader, how to create a connected team and how to thrive in a hybrid world.
"Adaptability is also a big one, so EQ, IQ and now AQ, which is your adaptability quotient," Beattie adds. "These are things that have always been required in leadership but have obviously come to the fore as a result of recent volatility and the speed at which things are changing."
Demand for speakers who specialise in these areas is soaring among its clients and their businesses, and Growth Faculty’s ability to deliver is seeing it attract a new, more corporate clientele.
Perfectly positioned to soak up knowledge from some of the world’s brightest minds, Beattie and her team are constantly learning from each other, too, creating a rich ecosystem that will help those green shoots grow into tall trees.