Convention speakers are a type of preacher. The good ones can tell you exactly why you aren’t living your best life and lay on the encouragement that the better way is within reach.
Roy Spence was a keynote speaker at the 2019 Potato Expo, and that is what he was like, extolling the value of purpose for organizations and people.
After a winning introduction by fellow native Texan John Keeling, CEO of the National Potato Council, Roy Spence took the stage and was immediately “real.”
“It is great to be here, looking around the audience and seeing the faces and the hearts of entrepreneurs, family businesses, small businesses, big operations,” he said. He shuns leaving Austin to speak at conventions, he confides, because most of them are “really boring.”
Spence is co-founder and chairman of The Purpose Institute and co-Founder and chairman of GSD&M, a marketing communications and advertising company.
With Haley Rushing, Spence co-authored the book, “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose.” More recently, he authored “The 10 Essential Hugs of life,” a collection of heartwarming reminders about the need for gratitude, love and goodness.
Spence told a few stories about how he and his agency came to work on iconic campaigns such as “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “Bags fly free” for Southwest Airlines.
Spence told of finding his purpose in being there for his sister Susan, who was born with a severe case of the spina bifada birth defect but lived into young adulthood.
Roy said he pushed Susan, bound to a wheelchair, to and from school for eight years. They spent countless hours together through the years, mentioning a favorite pastime of listening to Dallas Cowboys games together.
“When she passed away, I had this epiphany that all these years I’ve been pushing her, she was pushing me.”
Spence told the story of meeting Sam Walton, who asked to see Spence after seeing the work that his agency did for Southwest Airlines.
Spence said he came to Arkansas alone, bringing nothing but nervousness and a big briefcase with nothing in it.
Sam Walton greeted him.
“I’m so glad you’re here. Where’s the rest of your staff?” Walton asked Spence.
Spence froze for a second, and then replied.
“You know, Mr. Sam, there is an old saying in Texas. One riot, one ranger. What kind of problem have you got?”
Walton smiled, embraced Spence, and hired him on the spot.
Quoting Aristotle, Spence said the purpose of life is to do good and be happy. “Y’all don’t have to watch any more TED talks or any more news ever - do good and be happy.”
Aristotle also said a person’s power comes when his talent and the needs of the world intersect.
Admitting his penchant for misspelled words, Spence recalled a paper he had written in middle school with eight wrongly spelled words. The paper carried a C-minus. A year later, he wrote another paper, also with multiple misspelled words, that scored an A-minus.
His ability to write compensated for his lack of spelling ability.
His mom made a bargain with him at that time.
“Don’t spend another second of your life trying to be average of what you are bad at; spend the rest of your life trying to be great at what you are good at.”
There is not time to tell the rest of his stories, but I came away impressed with his core message that each individual’s sense of purpose drives every decision in his life.
I must mention his Promiseland/America’s Front Porch initiative, started in March 2018. The campaign seeks to bring America together, in a big way.He said a message of unity is needed as America approaches its 250th birthday in 2026.
“All we get to hear is what they want us to hear on all sides — we don’t get to hear anything but what they want us to hear. So I decided that what we were hearing is 'us versus them' in all political parties and all media. America is not about us versus them America is about us as in 'USA.' So I decided to take on America as my client and we are going to market the best of America for the next eight years.”
“America will celebrate its 250th birthday we can’t have our kids and our grandkids living in an 'us versus them' culture in this country,” Spence said.
It would be difficult to find a more noble purpose than that