Blanchard Leadership Forum Brings Big Names to Georgia

Shawndra Russell

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

The Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum consistently hosts some of the biggest names in business during this annual forum, and this year’s event lives up to its expectations. The 2014 line-up includes:

  • Entrepreneur Mark Cuban
  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
  • Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone
  • Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Ryan, CEO, Center for Creative Leadership
  • Ronald A. Heifetz, Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Marcus Buckingham, New York Times Bestselling author
  • Sara Blakely, Spanx creator

The event was the brainchild of Jim Blanchard nine years ago when he was retiring from Synovus as CEO and Chairman of the Board, and he was thinking about what he wanted to do next. “He’s been a model leader and we wanted to attach his name to something like this; he wanted to bring the best and brightest minds in the world to Columbus, and we took that as our marching orders,” Ed Helton, Executive Director for The Leadership Institute and Client Relations at Columbus State University, says. “We had the first forum on campus and it was an invited group only of 250-300 people, but we saw that the demand was much larger than we could handle. Now we have 1000-1200 people attend every year,” he adds.

So how does the forum attract some of the biggest leaders in the world? “There are a lot of factors. The biggest factors are that the support of the university and the business community. We also have a great team here that has gotten pretty sophisticated on how we operate the Forum and we get better each year. It really helps that the speakers we’ve been able to secure have been world-class leaders. People want to hear and see them. In our setting, you’re not too far away from the speakers. You’re in a ballroom, and you can see everyone and rub shoulders with the speakers in addition to seeing them,” Helton explains.

We also stream the event live on campus for students at University Hall free of charge. “We want to expose our students to people on the world stage and who exhibit leadership that can be modeled.” Helton says.

Besides graduation, the Leadership Forum is the single largest gathering at CSU and, “It’s also the single largest gathering of business leaders in Georgia. It not only gives exposure to CSU but also Georgia, and shows the university as relevant in today’s business climate. It also enhances the educational experience of our students, faculty and staff and demonstrates the support from our community,” says Helton.

And they strive to make each year better than the last; a tall order when past presenters and attendees have included Governor Zo Miller, Speaker of House Gingrich, John Maxwell, Thomas Freedman, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Dan Amos, Malcolm Gladwell, Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford, as well as many Congressmen, Senators, and civic leaders.

“Each year, right after the forum, we ask ourselves, how are we going to measure up next year? We set a high bar. The relationships with our sponsors and the contacts we’ve made through the years and Mr. Blanchard’s influence,” Helton explains, “gives us ever increasing potential”. For this year’s event, we targeted an audience that likes to hear about entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship seems to be a big trend with young professionals. We’ve never had three billionaires in our lineup for the first time. It will be a treat to have Sandberg, Cuban, and Blakely. The entire lineup is absolutely incredible. Each year, however, it seems that somebody that everyone doesn’t know as well turns out to me one of the most memorable speakers,” Helton says.

Helton also attributes the ability to network with business leaders from all over the state as well as the speakers themselves as factors in the tremendous response year after year. “Everyone who comes will be amazed at being able to hear and then ask questions of those who represent the best and brightest minds in the world,” he says. Plus, the support of their three key sponsors— Synovus, TSYS, and AT&T—help make this great event possible.

In addition, the support the Leadership Institute receives from Columbus State University and our President Dr. Tim Mescon is crucial for the success of the event. “We have a president Dr. Mescon that’s an entrepreneur so he supports what we do, and he supports the Forum.”

To find out more and buy your ticket, visit