SALT LAKE CITY — They are some of the most sought-after, and hardest to get, speakers in the country, but following a year of epic accomplishments, Provo's Qualtrics is bringing a head-spinning roster of A-listers to its annual user's summit this week.
Former President Barack Obama; talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey; billionaire business mogul and founder of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson; movie star, tech investor and philanthropist Ashton Kutcher; NBA commissioner Adam Silver and many others will join Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith for a three-day gathering expected to draw some 11,000 to the Salt Palace Convention Center.
On Tuesday, Smith said the speakers he was able to bring to the event have all, like the company he founded over a decade ago, helped alter the experiential world.
"I think our speakers are all great examples of people who have made huge impacts on experience," Smith said. "You've got Branson, arguably changed the experience, redefined it, of so many different brands. Oprah and how she's transformed the experience of everything she's ever touched. And Obama, who's had one of the most unique experience impacts running a presidency."
Ron Gunnell, the longtime booker of talent that accompanies the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, has successfully scheduled some very, very big names to appear with the choir for its annual Christmas shows. Hugh Bonneville, Angela Lansbury and Walter Cronkite are just a few of his successful bookings. But even for a guy who's used to working with high-caliber celebrities, Gunnell told the Deseret News last fall that Qualtrics' booking feat was quite a coup.
"It's remarkable," Gunnell said at the time. "It's astounding, actually, to book those two incredible individuals (Obama and Oprah)."
Gunnell said it's sometimes a two- or three-year effort to get a top talent lined up, but the choir's international reputation play's a powerful role in helping to make connections. He also noted that Qualtrics' success in bringing Obama and Oprah to Utah will reflect positively on more than just the company and its customer conference.
"I am thrilled to see this happen and I think it's fantastic for the state of Utah," Gunnell said. "I'm very proud of the fact that this tech company was able to bring them … it bodes well for our tech industry and our whole state."
Last November, just weeks ahead of a planned public stock offering aiming to raise $500 million in new capital, the Utah-grown business survey/analytics company was acquired by German tech giant SAP for a whopping $8 billion.
Industry watchers called it one of the biggest ever acquisition price tags for a venture-backed enterprise software company.
The cash deal also blew by estimates that pegged Qualtrics' value, post-stock offering, in the $4.5 billion to $5 billion range.
Just after news of the deal broke, Smith noted the size of the acquisition put it in rarefied air, even in a current realm where billion-dollar-plus deals have become passé.
"Our mission is to help organizations deliver the experiences that turn their customers into fanatics, employees into ambassadors, products into obsessions and brands into religions," Smith said. "Supported by a global team of over 95,000, SAP will help us scale faster and achieve our mission on a broader stage. This will put the XM Platform everywhere overnight."20 comments on this story
Qualtrics was founded in 2002 by Ryan and Jared Smith based on technology first developed by Ryan and his father, BYU researcher and professor Scott Smith, amid the elder Smith's successful fight against throat cancer. Initially conceived of as a tool for academics, the company and its platform has since evolved into a tech behemoth that leverages survey input and a business analytics engine to let its clients — now numbering over 10,000 — know exactly how well, or not, their companies are performing.
In addition to the marquee speakers, the Qualtrics X4 Summit has a schedule packed with over 80 breakout sessions where attendees have the opportunity to hear from scores of industry experts in smaller group settings. Events also include a fundraiser for Smith's philanthropic project aimed at finding a cure for cancer, 5 for the Fight, a demonstration skate from legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk, and a live performance by one-time Utah residents Imagine Dragons.