With more than 1,200 people attending the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum on Monday at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, the event’s namesake took center stage and admitted it has exceeded his expectations.
“The idea was to get the smartest people in room, expose them to Synovus, TSYS, WC Bradley Co. and anybody else in Columbus who wanted to come,” Blanchard said during the first afternoon of the two-day forum.
It started in 2006 with about 200 attendees and four speakers — former Georgia governor and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, Sen. Sam Nunn, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill and judge and former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell.
This year, 13 speakers will address various leadership topics today and Tuesday. The keynote speaker is recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, who will speak at a Monday dinner.
The first speaker was MasterCard President and CEO Ajaypal Singh Banga, who focused on diversity in management.
“I can’t think of a better way to showcase our forum than previous speaker A.J. Banga,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard spent much of his conversation with Columbus State University Vice President for Leadership Development Ed Helton talking about Blanchard’s successful business career and his style. He talked about still getting excited when others discuss leadership.
“I am such a sap,” Blanchard said. “I am 75 years old and I don’t have anybody to lead anymore and I am over there scribbling notes.”
Blanchard said since he retired 10 years ago from Synovus, he and his wife, Sis, are focused on what he calls “kingdom building.” Part of that includes their support of Teen Challenge, a Columbus-based nonprofit that offers faith-based solutions to youth, adults and families who struggle with life-controlling problems and addictions.
“We have an empathy for the down and out,” Blanchard said. “Sometimes their family has given up on them and they don’t have any friends. Kingdom building is based on our faith. ... That is important to us. That had a lot to do with our lives from the start, but today that is where our focus is.”
Blanchard did not waste the opportunity to take a stand in the upcoming Columbus vote to roll back the Musocgee County residential property tax freeze, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
He said the current system, which freezes property value until the home is sold or the owner dies, discriminates against young people and newcomers.
“It is a ‘Welcome Stranger system’ and the stranger gets zapped,” Blanchard said.
He said asking people to vote to roll back the tax freeze, which has been in place since 1982, is asking many of them to vote against their self-interest.
“Sometimes we have to rise against our self-interests for the good of the order,” Blanchard said.