hilosophizing? You bet. But according to motivational speaker Peter Lowe, the event's organizer, even the simplest words from his star speakers work magic. "When they talk about character and integrity, they get standing ovations," he says. "That's what people want to hear about."
As the head of Peter Lowe International, a Tampa-based nonprofit organization, the 37-year-old former calculator salesman will stage 25 Success '96 seminars around the country this year. With celebs stepping to the mike one by one to share their stories of struggle and triumph, the events—a mix of self-help and spiritual inspiration—draw everyone from homemakers to execs from Coca-Cola and Apple. Yet often it's Lowe's own revelations about perseverance and modesty that resonate most clearly. "He really helped me with his message about never giving up," says Kim Potts, 29, a sales manager at Atlanta's Northlake Mall. "I most definitely will be more successful when I get back to the store."
Sound snicker-worthy? Not to the fans who pay from $49 to $249 a ticket. "Those people really want to be there," says Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair, a regular on the Lowe circuit along with Gen. Colin Powell and Barbara Bush. "They're like sponges, just sucking it all up." With their $10,000 to $50,000 fees, celebs also receive an emotional jolt, Lowe insists. "The money gets them there the first time," he says, but it's the positive vibes that "keep them coming back." And even if they are in it for cash, he notes, "would you rather learn the secrets of success from someone who knows how to get $100 for a talk, or someone who knows how to get $100,000?"
The second of two sons of Anglican missionaries Eric and Margy Lowe, Peter was raised in India until the age of 11, when his Canadian parents moved back to Toronto. Graduating in 1980 with an economics degree from Carle-ton University in Ottawa, he began selling calculators. "At 22, I had my first career crisis," he says. "I realized even if I became the No. 1 calculator salesman in the world, it wasn't what I wanted." Soon he quit and began organizing motivational workshops for real estate agents in Canada. Going solo 18 months later, he ran a newspaper ad in Vancouver touting himself as a seminar leader "recognized as the successful president" of his own company. "I didn't say who recognized me as successful," he laughs. Soon, 200 people had signed up at $40 a head. For the next few years, he crisscrossed the U.S. and Canada in a Honda Civic holding seminars. "I would take their money, get them seated and then—surprise!—they'd find out I was also their seminar leader," he recalls.
Still, says Lowe, he wanted more. Looking to team up with a bigger name, he persuaded motivational guru Zig Ziglar to let him promote a double bill—Lowe first, Ziglar second. The event was such a hit that Lowe eventually became Ziglar's exclusive promoter. His biggest coup, though, was convincing Ronald Reagan, via a 60-graph memo, to join him and Ziglar at a 1993 convention. "I knew he would unlock the door to others," says Lowe, who began building contacts in politics and entertainment. "Once you've done one engagement with him," says former gymnast Mary Lou Retton, "you'll keep coming back, because it's a first-class organization."
As a nonprofit group, Peter Lowe International reinvests revenues—expected to be $23 million this year—into its seminar business, says Lowe. He draws a salary of $138,000 and lives in a modest house in Tampa with his wife, Tamara, 32, the company's $49,500-a-year executive director, and their son Zachary, 2. Later this year they'll move into a $500,000 home in a gated community in Tampa Bay where, Lowe says, he can better entertain his celeb speakers. Still, Lowe insists his bottom line isn't about raw, vulgar cash. "You'll never see a dollar sign through the 'S' of Peter Lowe's Success," he says. "I would rather do a seminar for one person and change their life than go out for 100,000 people and not impact their lives at all."
GREG AUNAPU in Tampa and GAIL WESCOTT in Atlanta