ATD 2022 Sara Blakely Keynote Recap
Sara Blakely walked onto the ATD stage like a ray of light. She immediately radiated warmth and positive energy. The perfect boost to an early morning keynote. You can’t help but smile back when someone else smiles that big!
As someone who spent many moments in her career as the only woman in the room, I was excited that ATD chose a wildly successful woman to kick off their event. Sara is the first female, self-made billionaire. And the funny thing is, she basically sells underwear. And worked her butt off. And persevered.
Sara shared the origin story of her resilience and focus on personal development with a tragic incident from her young adulthood. At age 16 she witnessed her good friend get hit and run over by a car. At this same time, her parents separated. Fortunately, her intuitive dad shared a set of cassette tapes from Wayne Dyer and she was open to listening and learning.
She embraced these tapes and content from Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and others. These turned out to be formative years when Sara learned to practice visualization, write down her goals, and look to the universe for signs.
Sara continued to show her resilience through a series of failures and redirection from the universe. She failed her law school admission test, worked as a Disney costume character, and sold fax machines. She had an “Aha” moment after a bleak day of selling. Sara admitted she was “in the wrong movie.”
Her personal skills assessment revealed that she was great at sales. But her real motivation was that she enjoyed helping people improve their lives. She enjoyed making people happy.
Fast forward to her cutting off the feet of her control-top pantyhose to wear under a pair of white pants and she had her big idea. There were no other products that would hide panty lines and provide a smooth, shaping look. The SPANX story began.
The beauty of her success is she didn’t know what she didn’t know. She was driven and motivated. Sara got into Neiman Marcus by cold calling, not promoting at a typical trade show. She showed up in person to work in all seven stores that were stocking her product. Sara pitched her product to the salespeople in couture, activewear, and all over the store. She hustled with her passion and joy.
SPANX is now a billion-dollar enterprise. It’s funny because she shared the story of pitching her prototype to hosiery factories, but she always ended up pitching her product to men. The men didn’t see the need for this new category. I bet those men are kicking themselves over the billion-dollar idea they rejected! But those same men can now purchase SPANX for men with “a blend of comfort and medium compression (that) feels good in all the right places.”
You don’t expect a keynote to include terms like fanny, bottom, butt, vagina, or pouch. But when you are talking about a revolutionary underwear product that eventually ended up on Oprah’s Favorite Things list, you mention those key body parts.
I found Sara to be such a bright light and an inspiration. It’s ironic that she sells shapewear but she is so comfortable in her own skin. She was so relaxed and cheerful when sharing both her failures and successes. Her story teaches resilience and persistence and was delivered with true joy and a smile that lit up the dark conference hall.