CEO, Luntz, Suleiman & Associates
St. Pete Beach, Florida
Consultant, speaker, writer, and investment banker Anver Suleiman is a pioneer in the meetings industry. His achievements during the past 40 years include a series of firsts in attendance, publications, and membership marketing. He developed more than 300 first-time annual conferences and hundreds of training programs for the plastics, metal, packaging, finance, and general management sectors. He is a prolific teacher and speaker who has presented at hundreds of seminars and major events globally.
As an investment banker, Suleiman has used his rich practitioner experience to negotiate more than 50 transactions for tradeshows, training organizations, publishers, and information suppliers. He has published more than 200 articles in the trade and general business press. Suleiman was named to Lifelong Learning Market Reports Top 20 People to Watch in Corporate Training and was selected by Meetings magazine as one of the 15 Who Have Made a Difference in the Meetings Industry.
Q| You're considered the strategic marketing business guru of the meetings industry. How did you initially become interested in this field?
I've always been interested in learning—and learning faster and better. In high school and college, I was primarily interested in learning so that I could get good marks on my tests, get good grades in my courses, and get out of school as quickly as possible. (In other words, I was a lazy teenager!)
When I was drafted into the U.S. Army Signal Corps, I was made an electronics instructor and trained at Rutgers University's Charm School. There I learned a lot about teaching and realized that I enjoyed doing it and had a real knack for it—and have since made understanding learning and teaching a lifelong study.
Years later, while working in the plastics industry at Monsanto, I decided I'd rather not get up early in the morning and go to work, and so Id become an entrepreneur. And what would I become an entrepreneur in? Training. I took the content of Monsanto's one-year training program, squeezed it into a five-day PREP (Plastics Rapid Educational Program), and launched my first in a series of plastics seminars. It was an immediate success. I then hired a dozen other plastics experts to teach the courses and began creating seminars and conferences for the packaging industry, then healthcare, and then metals. Before I knew it, I was no longer only a plastics expert; I was quickly becoming an expert at producing and marketing seminars and conferences.
Ten years later I declared myself the expert and began teaching people at universities, associations, and private companies how to develop, implement, and market their seminars, conferences, and training programs. I quickly discovered that people didn't want to learn how to develop or implement events; they wanted to know how to market them. So I spent the next 25 years teaching, writing, speaking, and consulting about how to market all kinds of training and events.
Q| What are some of the greatest changes you have seen within the meetings industry during the past several decades?
There have been gradual changes as a result of the growing level of sophistication and sharing of best practices in the industry: how to develop successful programs, how to present them more effectively, and how to market them more profitably.
There's also been a major business model change that began with Fred Pryor, an ex-preacher from Kansas City who taught all kinds of seminars on a variety of topics. For the first time in the training industry's history, Pryor decided to move beyond the five or 10 largest U.S. cities and save time, travel, and hotel costs by attracting people in smaller towns across the country by taking his seminars directly to them at a remarkably lower cost and shorter duration. He became what I call the leader in the low-priced local public seminar business. Jimmy Calano and Jeff Salzman of CareerTrack took that model even further. Now there are three companies based in Kansas City that are training more people more cost effectively than ever before.
Today technology innovations are shaping even newer business models for the training industry. Just as the post office is no longer the main information delivery mechanism, this model of training—a participant attends a formal training event and sits and learns for two to five days—isn't going to die, but it is going to shrink significantly. Today, you can learn to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle on a smart device in under three minutes. I think that's the future of training—at your fingertips, just what you need when you need it, and wonderfully effective!
Learning professionals are going to become more like mentors, coaches, and performance experts, and show people how to self-direct and take advantage of the myriad ways they can learn. Today, people are looking for snippets of information more than total bodies of knowledge. There's no end to what you can find by using the Internet and getting a very quick education on anything you want to know. And there's a rapidly evolving need to show people how they can use technology and the Internet to learn, grow, and perform better.
And by far the biggest change (remember that you first read it here) is that a huge segment of training delivery will be free. This free training will be supported by sponsors in much the same way as the industry magazine business moved from paid subscriptions to controlled (free) subscriptions. This new model will change the dynamics, economics, delivery, use, quality, and effectiveness of training in ways we can scarcely imagine.
Right now, training is probably ripe for yet another set of what I call scientific or psychological changes—or at least I hope so. The one change that I would like to see (which is based on my original passion for learning and teaching) is how we can learn more, learn faster, retain more, apply it well, and, therefore, perform better as individuals, companies, and a society. There is a lot of research behind learning theory throughout the centuries, with many pioneers and a field of opportunity that I believe can make a huge difference in our ability to absorb and apply learning much more effectively.
Q| You have taught more than 500 sessions and spoken at more than 100 major events. What do you find most rewarding about your work as a teacher and speaker?
What I find most rewarding about presenting is what I personally learn from the process of preparing, teaching, and receiving feedback. I cannot tell you how much I learned when I prepared my first plastics seminar by just doing the research. And then, I can't tell you how much I learned when I taught that first program—both from simply hearing myself present in one short week the information I had gathered during the course of a year, and then listening to my students give me feedback, reinforcement, and sometimes corrections.
My second—and truly greatest—reward is hearing participants tell me that they are applying what I taught and that it's been helpful for their work. I end all of my seminars and many conference presentations with, Tell me what three things you're going to do differently as a result of being at this event. It is a very reinforcing experience for me, but, more importantly, for the participants, to realize how much they got out of the program, and to hear feedback from their fellow learners as well. I think this is true for all instructors, trainers, and teachers—if their egos aren't fed by, and if they don't improve as a result of, the feedback they receive, they probably are not in the right profession.
Q| How has your work as an investment banker helped you in your training and development career?
Today I am an active investment banker, and it's provided an unbelievable additional dimension to my body of knowledge, my experiences, and my creativity. I often consult for the people whose training companies or trade show companies I'm selling—so I get an inside look at their different business models and practices, and see what makes them successful and where there are opportunities for them to grow and become more profitable
I usually represent sellers because sellers are less savvy about the selling the company process. Sellers in the training business are usually people like me who have a passion for training, and have subject matter expertise, but really don't know how to sell their companies when it comes time to do so. I love representing them because I am one of them, and I want them to get maximum value for their companies, which often represent their life's work.
Q| Are you working on any new books or special projects?
I continue with my investment banking and consulting work. I do write, but I've always wondered why so many books are so long (fiction aside). I started a series of free mini-booklets. The first one was "111 Things to Do Before Selling Your Company." I could have filled 10 never-to-be-read library-shelf volumes, but I condensed it into a 16-page booklet. And in the training and events space, my second booklet was just self-published"76 Mistakes Event Marketers Make." Currently I'm working on "80 Things Ive Learned About Training in 80 Years."
Also, I decided to capture a URL called Learning at Your Fingertips because I believe today we can learn so much as a result of our rapid access to information—the way it is so beautifully catalogued and available and ranked on the computer—and that we can train ourselves on any number of experiences. I'd like to create a whole new set of free business models to take advantage of all of the new ways in which we now can access information, train, learn, grow, apply, and improve our performance.
Q| What do you like to do for relaxation or fun?
On the physical side, I play one-wall handball, and my wife, Cindy, is my coach and a natural athlete. I'm not a great athlete, but I've won seven national handball championships in my age group primarily because I am a lifelong student: I take the little talent and creative strategic thinking that I have and use it to get greater performance and results.
My other great love is writing music. When I turned 75 five years ago, Cindy's birthday present to me was two lessons with a local pianist, Gene Cipriano, who felt I had some creative writing talent and is my music mentor to this day. Since then, I've written nearly 2,000 starter songs—half of which I completed—and I have more than 100 Nashville (Tennessee) produced demos. I actually ranked in the top 20 for International Songwriting Competitions Country category and was one of the Top 50 New Songwriters in the American Songwriter magazine—probably almost five decades older than anyone on the list.