Talk, when it comes from some of the country’s top business school academics, is far from cheap. Fees for speeches by the many professors in the mid-level price range run from $20,000 to $40,000, while it can cost $100,000 or more to put the most sought-after speakers behind a podium.
“Part of it is the universities that they come from, if they’re associated with an MIT or a Northwestern or a Harvard or whatever the case may be,” says Richard Schelp, owner of Executive Speakers Bureau. “Being associated with a certain institution brings with it a level of credibility: ‘If somebody is good enough to be a professor at Harvard Business School, maybe I should listen to them.'”
The three highest-paid business speakers from academia, Michael Porter, Clayton Christensen and John Kotter, all come from Harvard Business School. For a single speaking engagement, strategy guru Porter can earn $150,000. His colleague Christensen, who coined the term disruptive innovation, pulls down $100,000a talk, while leadership expert John Kotter’s speaking fees are $85,000 an appearance.
THE BIG FEES OFTEN GO TO PROFESSORS WHO HAVE ESTABLISHED A FOLLOWING IN A SPECIFIC AREA OF KNOWLEDGE
Intensively focused scholarship forms another large part of a speaker’s value “because of the level of knowledge that they’ve attained over a period of time,” Schelp says.
Organizations often seek speakers who will address specific concerns “hurting the corporations” such as problems with implementation of plans and policies, so speakers bureaus promote business school professors’ particular areas of expertise, says Alistair Rumena, speaker consultant at Global Speakers Bureau. Companies may want Vijay Govindarajan from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, whose speeches draw fees up to $55,000, for his expertise on innovation and strategy, Rumena says. Organizations determined to ramp up their internal leadership may look to Donald Sull, lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and professor at London Business School.
Trends in business can drive both topic selection and the popularity of certain speakers. A move among some major corporate players to adopt a “military model” for grooming leaders has turned Yale School of Management professor Brig.-Gen. (retired) Thomas Kolditz into a rising star, says Chris Johnson, marketing director at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau. Kolditz commands fees at the lower end of the spectrum: $10,000 to $20,000. But a growing market for talks on emotional intelligence adds to the currency of the former soldier, whose history as head of behavioral sciences at West Point for 12 years has propelled him to the forefront of knowledge in “soft skills” such as identifying leaders within organizations, Johnson says.
INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP REMAIN HOT AREAS FOR SPEECH GIVERS
The rise of entrepreneurship has generated strong interest in speeches on innovation, creating demand for experts such as Jeff DeGraff, professor at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Johnson says. “He’s big in the innovation space,” Johnson says. “Innovation’s become one of our top topics.”
Leadership has always been a popular subject for speeches by prominent business school professors, Schelp says. Douglas Conant, chairman of the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University, delivers highly prized insights on leadership at prices starting at $45,000 per speech.
Some themes come and go, or are transformed by new developments and concerns. A half dozen years ago, companies were regularly bringing in influential academics to present solutions to problems related to generational differences in the workplace, says Schelp of Executive Speakers. “Every other organization that would call into us would ask about having a speaker that could present in that area,” he says. “Now it’s not a hot topic anymore.”
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