Since its creation in 2006, the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, hosted annually by the Leadership Institute at Columbus State University, has been successful in fulfilling the vision of bringing the best and brightest minds in the world to Columbus. From its beginnings as an on-campus event with four speakers, the forum has grown into the single largest gathering of business and civic leaders in Georgia.
At his pending retirement, James Blanchard, then chairman and CEO of Synovus Financial Corp., had a vision to bring the best and brightest minds to Columbus. In 2005, the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum was established and Blanchard’s vision became the “marching orders” for the Cunningham Center team.
The inaugural event was hosted on Columbus State University's main campus and featured four speakers and 300 attendees. The team quickly realized the demand required a much larger venue and moved the forum to its current location, the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
Past speakers include Zell Miller, Newt Gingrich, Dan Cathy, Thomas Freedman, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Randall Stephenson, Condoleezza Rice, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Mark Cuban, Sara Blakeley, Sheryl Sandberg, Colin Powell, Dan Amos, Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Alan Mulally, among others.
As the event grew in popularity and caliber, the team looked for ways to incorporate the students in the experience. In 2014, they began partnering with CSU’s Student Affairs to host a remote simulcast for current and prospective students.
The tenth anniversary forum, held August 24-25, 2015, hosted 13 speakers and 1,250 attendees. The Bush family was Monday night’s keynote speakers. The event, themed “Leadership Legacy,” brought back favorite speakers from past forums, including John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard and Daniel Pink, and introduced new speakers Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon Sinek and General Stanley McChrystal, among others.
The 2017 Forum is slated for Monday-Tuesday, August 28-29, 2017. Academy Award-Winning Actress Octavia Spencer is the 2017 keynote speaker. Other guest speakers include Ron Clark, "America‘s Educator" and best-selling author; Dan Rose, Vice President of Partnerships, Facebook; John O‘Leary, inspirational best-selling author; David Perdue, US Senator and former Fortune 500 CEO; Chris Conlee, author and lead pastor, Highpoint Church; and Eric Wesley, Commanding General, US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, among others.