Barbara Stegemann is the founder of The 7 Virtues, a company that sources organic, fair trade essential oils from countries experiencing turmoil (such as Afghanistan, Haiti the Middle East and Rwanda). The company traces its founding to one shocking and sad moment — an attack in Afghanistan that left her best friend severely wounded. Understanding that supporting Afghanistan’s economy was key to building stability for its people, Stegemann created The 7 Virtues. She continues addressing complex global matters in her talks, but despite the dark moments, often uses humour to explain how individuals can use business for good and effect change, both at home and worlds away.
She also publishes 7V Magazine, which profiles strong, inspiring women making positive differences in the world. Recently, she spoke with Speakers’ Spotlight’s very own CEO and co-founder Farah Perelmuter. Here’s the full interview:
I grew up in Winnipeg and loved being a child of the ‘80s. I embraced roller skating, aerobics and “Farrah hair” (I was always living in her shadow!). I also spent a lot of timing reading, dreaming and, without realizing it at time, planning for my future. I now live in Toronto, I am married (my husband is also my business partner), and we have two kids. I haven’t gone roller skating in decades, my aerobics has turned into yoga and my hair isn’t quite as “full”, but my life has become an interesting journey and one I couldn’t have imagined. All the planning and dreaming could never have prepared me for what was to come.
You launched Speakers’ Spotlight 23 years ago with your husband Martin in a spare bedroom in your first apartment. Fast forward, you and your team have booked thousands of celebrities, athletes and high profile speakers. From Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to famed astronaut Chris Hadfield, you have booked over 25,000 speaking engagements around the world. From your humble roots in your apartment to being one of the world’s largest and most respected bureaus, how much has visualization played a part in making your dreams come true professionally and personally?
For me, visualization has always been a huge part of my life. I remember when I was a teenager, every night before going to sleep I would “see in my mind” what I wanted my future to look like. I saw myself walk out of an elevator and as soon as the doors open I would see my future business (not yet knowing what it was). Then I would walk through the office to my personal office and sit at a glass desk. From the window I would be able to see the CN tower. I know this whole scenario is very detailed and pretty far-fetched especially for a teenager living in Winnipeg. But I was determined. And, at the age of 17 I moved by myself to Toronto. I worked hard and my life took many twists and turns, but if you came by my office today, you would walk out of the elevator and see the Speakers’ Spotlight / The Spotlight Agency office directly in front of you, then if you continue walking through the office to my personal office you will find me sitting at my glass desk. Behind me is a window with a view of the CN Tower.
Any tips for others to use when mapping out their visualization for their lives?
I think that visualization works when it’s as specific, consistent and constant as possible. I remember that I even knew what type of briefcase I wanted to carry (cream eelskin with gold buckles, circa 1985 – I decided to forgo the briefcase). My visualization was my goal and it was very specific, I thought about it constantly, and it didn’t change much so it was therefore easier to achieve.
Upon meeting you it’s clear you have an enthusiasm and excitement for your work that is as positive and high energy as if you just started out. What is it about your work that keeps you so passionate?
What I love about my work is that we are always learning. Our speakers regularly visit our office to update us on their latest topics, books, adventures and more. These visits usually lead to the most fascinating conversations on various topics, including; what’s really happening with Canada and US relations, what do business leaders need to know right now, how mental health and wellness affects performance and we need to know and do, what one learns when running the length of the Namib Desert 2,200km (1,320 miles). How can one not be energized?! And by the way, a note to your readers, we post videos of these meetings on the “Inside Our Boardroom” playlist on our blog and YouTube channel.
So many people want to become speakers and earn an income from it. It’s a pretty competitive business and very rare to get representation by a speakers’ bureau, what is it you look for in a person before you represent them?
We look for various things when looking to represent a speaker. First, does this speaker provide an amazing experience for the audience? Do they entertain and educate the audience? Are they a credible expert on their topic? Is their topic relevant? Are we getting many requests for their topic? Do we have a lack of speakers covering that topic? Is their fee appropriate with our target market in mind? And it does make our job easier if they have a “big” book, TV show, movie or project or if they are high-profile (but this isn’t necessary). Also, we really want to work with speakers whom we simply admire, respect and like.
Who is the one person in the world you would like to sit beside on a long flight and what would you ask her or him? (Or if you already sat beside that person, what did you discover in talking with him or her that pleasantly surprised you?)
This is an interesting question. I’ve thought about it often and my answer keeps changing. I’m extremely lucky because I’m in the unusual position of being able to have interesting conversations with the most fascinating people, yet I keep thinking of more people I would love to talk to. So, I will say Barbara Walters for two reasons. First, her story is pretty incredible and I would love to ask her all about being a trailblazer in the news business, if she felt pressure regarding paving the way for women in the workforce in general, and what does she think about the way we consume news today. Also, her TV special Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People aired 21 times which means (for that show alone) she interviewed 210 amazing people – just think of all we have to talk about!
You have created a very balanced life with your husband Martin and your two teenagers. What’s the best thing about working with your husband? Do you think your children may work in the family business one day?
Usually the questions I get is; “How do you guys make it work?!” Your question is very refreshing! For us it does work very well and there are a lot of great things about it. We know we can absolutely trust, rely, depend on each other, and know that we will always be there for one another. I think the best thing is that we have the same vision and we can dream together. I think Jade and Cole are often asked if they will work in the business. Jade has been a regular fixture over the years (the filing room is basically her office). Cole, too, has worked with us a few times. We joke that they are our ‘exit strategies’ but really, we don’t want to influence their decision in any way. We would like for them to take the time to figure out what makes them happy and go from there.
Favourite city in the world?
I was just in Jerusalem, Israel, it was unbelievable. I also loved a little ancient, mystical city filled with artists there called Tzfat.
Teetotaler or something stronger?
My vice is coffee (and chocolate).
Most recent indulgence?
Oh, that’s easy. Deep ‘n Delicious chocolate cakes by McCain. I just bought one (and I just ate the whole thing – don’t judge). I must add that my favourite cake are Jeannie’s cakes from Winnipeg, but you need to be ‘Pegger to understand.
Walk, bike or drive?
I haven’t actually been on a bike for a LONG time. I do (try to) walk a lot, realistically you can find me driving around (thinking I should be walking).
I have two.
“Listen carefully. Sometimes opportunity knocks softly”. – Unknown
“Always be nice to everyone.” – my mom
Last book you read? And /Or Last Movie you loved.
I’m proud to call myself a bookworm! I just finished Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (it was great). I recently saw the movie Lion, I loved it. I wish I read the book first.
Favourite cause, group or activist?
I am proud of all the causes we have supported over the years, giving back for me personally, I am most passionate about helping kids who are sick.
We are working on a very special project in partnership with an extraordinary group, and I have never been more excited! Stay tuned…