John Spence: one of nation’s top 100 thought leaders

John Spence, one of the nation's top 100 thought leaders. John Spence, one of the nation’s top 100 thought leaders. Click photo to zoom.

Good thing John Spence, PR 1989, likes to travel. A normal year for the nationally renowned executive educator, consultant and speaker means at least 225 nights away from home.

“I get paid to play,” said Spence. “I think, read, study and then tell people about it.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple.

Spence estimates he has read at least 150 business-related books a year for the past 18 or 19 years. Add to that another 14 periodicals and countless blogs and websites he reads each month, and it’s easy to see why companies worldwide bring him in to share that knowledge on strategic thinking, high-performance teams and other advanced leadership development topics with their employees.

It’s that ability to take large amounts of information and research, combine it with his personal hands-on experience and deliver succinct, timely, focused, results-driven programs that has made him the guy his clients refer to as the “Human Cliff Notes.”

“My job is making the very complex . . . awesomely simple,” Spence said, noting that phrase is also the tagline for his business. “I’m able to take my vast background of experiences, the exposure I’ve had to business problems and best practices, and look for patterns in strategy, in leadership, in solutions. I take complex things and make them simple.”

In January, the former UF Public Relations Student Society of America Bateman Case Study competition team member was named one of the country’s top 100 thought leaders by Trust Across America. “This year’s recipients include leaders from the public and private sectors as well as authors, consultants, researchers and academics,” said Barbara Kimmel, executive director of Trust Across America. “Each recipient has made extensive, positive contributions to building trust in business.”

Spence, who lives in Alachua with his wife Sheila, credits the College and the Department of Public Relations for preparing him for his career. “The work I did on the Bateman competition team as well as my membership in PRSSA [where he was named one the top three PRSSA students in the Southeast his senior year] was absolutely a springboard to my work,” Spence said. “As students, we were doing real work, applying what we were learning. That was a big inspiration for me.”

“[He] delivers succinct, timely, focused, results-driven programs that have made him the guy his clients refer to as the “Human Cliff Notes.”

Public Relations Professor Mary Ann Ferguson remembers the dynamic Spence. “Even then, he was a force to be reckoned with,” she recalled. “He was the kind of student when he spoke up, others would listen. I always knew he’d make his mark. He has become incredibly respected in his field and we’re very happy for him.”

Spence estimates over the past 17 years he has presented workshops, speeches and executive coaching to more than 300 organizations worldwide, including Microsoft, IBM, GE, Abbott, Merrill Lynch, AT&T, Qualcomm and dozens of other private companies, government offices and not-for-profits.

Last December, he was invited to participate in the Renaissance weekend in Charleston, a private retreat for innovative leaders in business and finance, education, religion, law and medicine, government, the media, science and technology, sports, non-profits and the arts made famous by the Clintons during President Bill Clinton’s time in office.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Spence. “It really was at a whole another level. It exposed me to people who are making national and international decisions and challenged me to elevate the way I look at the world.

“I came out feeling like it is incumbent on me to continue to escalate the level of my work. I went through the innovation tract – the ‘keeping the American dream alive’ tract. I really feel like innovation is going to drive the success of our country.”

Spence has earned the respect of many of the country’s major companies. “I am proud to be on the cutting edge of business,” said Spence. “I happen to really enjoy business; I get to work with some very large companies on big projects that are going to have a significant impact on their business.

“I spend my days around a lot of very, very bright people. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who reads as much as I do, who has the natural ability to take a lot of information and organize it and discover the patterns. I think that’s why I have been successful.”

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