Entrepreneur Sara Blakely is squeezing in a speaking engagement at this summer’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, rounding out the event that also includes Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and businessman Mark Cuban.
Blakely, 43, invented shape-control undergarments called Spanx in the late 1990s, and has parlayed the creativity into a multimillion-dollar business that includes placement of her products in retail stores and online, with her company now opening Spanx stores.
A big break came from an endorsement by celebrity Oprah Winfrey in the year 2000, followed quickly by a major contract with the television shopping powerhouse QVC. The one-time office supply sales representative was then on her way to the top, with her company headquartered in Atlanta.
Blakely in 2012 was listed among the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine. She is on a national speaking circuit, with American Speakers Bureau describing her presentations as “fun and engaging” as she covers the topics of entrepreneurship, women in business, giving back to the community, marketing and public relations, and the fashion and hosiery industry.
“Her success story will encourage your audiences to find their inner entrepreneur and believe in themselves,” the speakers bureau synopsis on her says.
The Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum is held each year by Columbus State University, the event named in honor of the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Synovus Financial Corp., which is headquartered in Columbus.
Ed Helton, executive director of the Leadership Institute at CSU, acknowledged there is a fascination with entrepreneurs, particularly among young professionals.
“They like the independence and the thrill of opportunity,” he said Thursday in statement. “We chose this year’s theme for the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum — Leadership: Seizing the Opportunity — with that idea in mind. I can think of no one that best exemplifies this than Spanx founder Sara Blakely.”
The forum is scheduled Aug. 25-26 at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. This will be the ninth year it has been held. Aside from Blakely, those scheduled to be there this year include:
Sheryl Sandberg: Chief operating officer of Facebook (formerly a Google executive)
Mark Cuban: Businessman/entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks
John Ryan: Retired U.S Navy vice admiral and president/chief executive officer of the Center for Creative Leadership
Ronald A. Heiftz: Co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government
Geoffrey Canada: Social activist, educator and president/CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City
Scott Harrison: Entrepreneur and founder of charity: water
Marcus Buckingham: New York Times best-selling author, researcher, consultant and motivational speaker