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Motivating People Around the World to Reach Greater Heights…the Les Way

By Donald James

For more than four decades, the name Les Brown has been synonymous with empowering people to aim high, achieve, and make positive transformations in their respective lives, communities, professions, companies, families, and other sectors of commitments. Simply put, when Les Brown speaks, people listen and their lives change for the better.

As a renowned corporate trainer, mentor, speaking coach and best-selling author, Brown is one of the world’s most sought-after motivational speakers. Blessed with a signature smile, engaging personality, and unique sense of humor, all provide Brown with a special channel to connect with global audiences to hear and internalize his powerful personal stories and broader anecdotes of victories and failures. Brown’s oratorical gifts have been heard and lauded by Fortune 500 CEOs, small business owners, non-profit leaders, community leaders and other movers and shakers, all seeking to gain more wisdom and learn better ways to reach higher plateaus of personal and professional achievements.

Over the years, Brown has received many accolades for his speaking abilities. He is the recipient of the National Speakers Association’s most coveted honor: The Council of Peers Award of Excellence. He is also the recipient of the organization’s prestigious Golden Gavel Award, bestowed for outstanding achievement and leadership in communication. And the storied Toastmasters International continues to recognize Brown as one of the Top Five Outstanding Speakers in the World.

“Since I began as a motivational speaker, I’ve spoken in more than 51 countries,” said Brown. “And I’ve impacted millions of people. In an organic Google search, it says that over 3.2 billion people have gone online to find me.”

Finding, listening and learning from Brown present his life as an open book for all to see. The early chapters, however, are far different from the chapters of victory found in the latter years of Brown’s life. Yet, the early years of his life render foundational truths that people can and do change.

A native of Miami, Florida, Brown and his twin brother Wesley were born in an old deserted building in the Liberty City section of town. It was the part of the city heavily associated with high crime and poverty. Brown’s biological mother put the newborns up for adoption within six-weeks of their birth. The adoption was a blessing for Les Brown, as Mamie Brown, a single woman barely able to make a living, lovingly raised him and other adopted children. Brown always called her “his hero.”

“One mother gave me life, the other gave me love,” Brown said. “God took me out of a biological mother and placed me in the heart of my adoptive mother, who had a third-grade education, but a Ph.D. in mother-wit.”

By Brown’s own admission, he was an academic stumbling block in elementary school, not able to keep up with classroom peers. He was demoted from the fifth grade to fourth grade. Schoolmates laughed at him, and because his twin brother Wesley was smarter, kids constantly called young Les, “DT”, which stood for the” dumb twin.”

Brown slowly meandered through elementary and middle schools. In high school, things began to change for the better after Brown encountered Mr. Leroy Washington, a teacher who saw great potential in the teenager. Washington poured words of wisdom and positive affirmations into Brown’s mind and spirit, all of which bolstered the high school student’s self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence.

After high school, Brown became a smooth-talking dee-jay on radio, before transitioning to community activist and leader. Searching for another way in which to help underserved people and communities thrive, Brown was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1976. He served three terms. In 1981, he left the Ohio Legislature and soon began accepting full-time public speaking engagements.

Brown said he wanted to become a public speaker after hearing Mike Williams, a student at The Ohio State University, deliver an eloquent speech in the early 1980s.

“I really admired how he spoke,” recalled Brown. “I asked him to teach me how to become an accomplished speaker, and he did.”

Brown’s first motivational speaking engagement was at East High School in Columbus, Ohio, where he addressed the student body. Following East High’s induction into the motivational speaking arena, Brown, in the mid-1980s formed Les Brown Unlimited, Inc., a public speaking entity that specialized in motivational-oriented topics. The company ultimately morphed into the Les Brown Franchises. To this day, Mike Williams continues to serve as Brown’s mentor and the Les Brown Franchises’ chief strategist.

When it comes to giving powerful speeches, Brown is proud to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for his 2013 feature speaking engagement at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Brown spoke to 80,000 entrepreneurs. This verbal presentation has been called, “The Speech of the Century.”

Before walking on the stage, Brown was nervous, having never spoken in front of so many people. His nervousness dissipated after Brown’s mentor told him to go out on the stage because, “You’re Mamie Brown’s baby boy…make your mother proud.”

“That resonated with me as I spoke to the huge audience,” said Brown. “I don’t even remember giving the speech because I went somewhere else in my mind and spirit. I do remember hearing one of the entrepreneurs in attendance saying, ‘That dude is bad!’ ”

While Brown is most often labeled a motivational speaker, he prefers a different description.

“I like to refer to myself as more of a transformational speaker,” Brown said. “The reason is because of what I do in terms of my speaking and training, which is create an experience for people to change how they see themselves and their lives. They become inspired to take their lives in a new direction.”

In the summer of 2000, a different type of effort to take lives in a new direction was announced by Phi Beta Sigma. The “service for humanity” fraternity, in partnership with the American Cancer Society and Les Brown, launched “Sigmas Waging War Against Cancer.” Brown is an honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma and a cancer survivor.

While the Atlanta-based Les Brown Franchises are going stronger than ever, Brown is proud to work with his adult children. Brown and his children are globally called “The First Family of Motivation.”

“My daughter, Ona Brown, is CEO of Les Brown Franchises,” said Les Brown. “Ona runs everything, including my life. We call her the messenger midwife. She’s an outstanding speaker and life coach.”

Actually five of Les Brown’s ten children are members of the organization’s global team, which includes sons Calvin Brown (president), Patrick Brown (vice president), and John Leslie Brown, the latter of whom, is an outstanding motivational speaker. Serena Brown Travis, another of Les Brown’s daughters, also has a significant role within the company.

With his children involved in every aspect of the Les Brown Franchises, Brown admits he has slowed down tremendously.

“I now like to speak about four times per month,” said Brown, who was once married to superstar singer and recording artist Gladys Knight. “I do a lot of one-on-one coaching, but the rest of my time is spent with family. I’m a grandfather of 15 grandchildren, and I have four great grandsons.”

Brown is excited how technology has evolved and will help the Les Brown Franchises carry on for decades.

“We now have the technology that even after I’m gone, there will be a franchise called The Les Brown Greatness Challenge that will teach corporations, small businesses, and individuals how to discover their power voice to bring out the very best in themselves and their teams,” Brown explained. “The technology has it where I can teach 50 years from now through a hologram using my voice and my likeness.”

Brown is also ecstatic about his forthcoming book, “You Got to be Hungry,” scheduled for release in 2020. His previous best-selling books include, “Live Your Dreams,” “Fight For Your Dream,” “It’s Not Over Until You Win,” “Twelve Principles of Success,” and “Up Thoughts During Down Times.” His audio series, including “Choosing Your Future,” still impact listeners around the globe.

And in 2020, Brown will launch a new publication called, “The Greatness Magazine.” He said the magazine will feature business and entrepreneurial powerbrokers, today’s innovative leaders of social transformation, and other standout individuals who are manifesting greatness to empower themselves and others.

As Brown continues to use his many global platforms to motivate and uplift people in their personal and professional lives, he points to one common theme of importance: “You Got to be Hungry!”

“If you want to make it in life, you have to be hungry,” Brown said with his trademark laugh. “Most people are living a misplaced life. However, people who are hungry are relentless. People who are hungry will find a way to win. My mission is to get a message out that will help people become winners and not be comfortable with mediocrity. I want to be the catalyst that enables them to see themselves achieving more.” ​

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