Founded in 1980 by Bill Zanker with a $5,000 investment, The Learning Annex has been one of the top event production companies for workshops, expos, seminars, classes, lectures, and more. With events across hundreds of cities in North America, The Learning Annex produces over 8,000 events each year, helping attendees learn a new skill, make more money, change career paths, improve their relationships, and more. Throughout the years, their classes, seminars, workshops, and more have ranged from lectures from powerful speakers such as Donald Trump, Tony Robbins, George Foreman, Larry King, Barbara Bush, and P. Diddy, among dozens of others, to “How To” seminars structured on topics around investing in real estate, creating a business plan, and social activities and hobbies such as wine tasting or making jewelry.
If there’s a topic, The Learning Annex has an event for it. This is what helped the company make a name for themselves in the “adult education” space, achieving a well-known reputation in the event production industry. (In fact, they even got a reference in an episode of Sex and the City back in 2001, when Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie teaches a class called “Bright Lights, Date City” at The Learning Annex, where she teaches women how to date.)
History of The Learning Annex
In 1991, Zanker sold the company (explaining, at the time, that he was simply “ready for a change”), but purchased it back in 2002. During his 11 years away, Zanker had dabbled in a variety of other ventures, but had found success in an online learning endeavor called Brainfuel. Eventually, he sold the company to Tony Robbins (who was one of Zanker’s first speakers at the beginning of The Learning Annex) for $9 million. After stepping away from the world of entrepreneurship for a few years with his family, Zanker found his thoughts returning to The Learning Annex. He connected with his friend and business partner Stephen Seligman – who had bought the company from Zanker in 1991 – who ended up selling it back to Zanker.
When he repurchased it, The Learning Annex had a small number of events with little-known speakers and very little marketing. Zanker made the decision to invest millions into advertising, and quickly turned the company around, taking it from doing $5 million a year to a whopping $107 million in four short years.
You may be wondering what makes The Learning Annex different. Plenty of companies put on self-improvement seminars or host “how to make millions as an entrepreneur” workshops, right? Zanker says that what makes The Learning Annex stand out is that “nobody’s doing it on the scale we are. It takes big cojones to do what we do.” He also mentions that they’re the largest consumer show on the globe – which explains how they’re able to pull off the magnitude of their shows.
According to Zanker, each show costs them between $3 million to $5 million, and between $500,000 to $2 million of that goes toward advertising the event. However, he reassures that even their small shows are profitable. In fact, their largest expos gross the company over $20 million each. Talk about ROI.
One of The Learning Annex’s top seminars is called the Real Estate and Wealth Expo, which features over 20 speakers and are headlined by George Foreman, Tony Robbins, and Donald Trump. This expo is one of the biggest forces behind the company’s huge growth over the past few years, consistently adding more dates and cities to the roster. Zanker is also planning to start offering smaller, one and two-day versions in smaller cities to expand into more markets.
Meet Harry Javer, The Learning Annex’s Executive Producer
Enter Harry Javer. Javer is the executive producer and National Program Director at The Learning Annex, where he’s worked since 1994. According to Zanker: “It’s his show, good and bad. Everybody goes to Harry.”
Throughout the years, Javer has worked in a variety of roles at The Learning Annex, starting in operations and management and eventually moving up to Zanker’s right hand man. As executive producer, Javer oversees over 200 employees, as well as 10 trailers full of equipment for each show, including a hundred thousand pounds of promotional products, a few hundred lights, nearly 100 speakers, and a variety of other items necessary to put on every event. Javer is the backbone of these expos, working closely with Zanker to make sure every detail is in order.
What’s in Store for The Learning Annex
So, what does the future look like for The Learning Annex? “We’ll own online; we’ll own books; we’ll own videos; we’ll own audio; we’ll own the self-help business; we’ll own the management. If you’re an upcoming guy, I want to manage your career. I want to have a television division; I want to own the touring rights for television shows, so that when you have a TV show and you’re famous, I want to tour you. I want to create the next great psychic and then tour that person. I want to own a phone line; I want to own anything to do with changing your life. And feel comfortable that the brand is a little edgy, a little wacko, but cool, solid–stands behind the product. And we’ll be there as you change, or whenever you want to change. Because I think people have transitions all through their lives. So you need to come back and learn more. As you get older, you’re going to be learning in a community. So we’ll either own the community, or there will be a Learning Annex in your community center. It could be in a big building in Florida. In a high-rise condo. As expansive as the self-help business is, it’s just beginning. There’s so much of it out there! It’s just starting!” Zanker has big aspirations for the company – and given all the company has accomplished, don’t rule it out.