General Sessions

Josh Linkner

Josh Linkner
Keynote Address »
Monday, March 5

As an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and keynote speaker, Josh Linkner has spent his career harnessing the spirit of creative disruption. On a mission to drive creativity, innovation and renovation, Linkner's call to action is clear: It's better to innovate and disrupt your organization before your competition does. He warns that the riskiest move companies can make is to hug the status quo; believing the future will be like the past is the fast road to obsolescence.

Linkner has been the founder and CEO of four tech companies, which sold for a combined value of more than $200 million. One of those companies was ePrize, an interactive promotion agency that provides digital marketing services for 74 of the top 100 brands. He has been involved in the launch and growth of more than 100 businesses and raised more than $150 million of venture capital. He also is a founding partner of Detroit Venture Partners, where he oversees a $60-million venture fund, investing in tech startups to help revitalize his hometown.

Linkner is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, and The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation. He has twice been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and is a recipient of President Barack Obama's White House Champion of Change award. He is a regular columnist for Forbes, the Detroit Free Press and Inc. magazine and his works have been featured in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review.

A top-ranked speaker, Linkner delivers powerful, inspiring and practical keynotes and workshops. He also is a professional-level jazz guitarist, and often injects live musical performances into his keynote presentations.

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad
Leadership Awards Lunch »
Tuesday, March 6

At the age of 64, in her fifth and final attempt, Diana Nyad fulfilled her lifelong dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida. Along with this personal triumph, she also set a world record for being the first to swim the 110-mile trek without a shark cage. Upon finishing her grueling 53-hour journey, Nyad said, "I have three messages. One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team."

Nyad began her "Xtreme Dream" quest from Cuba to Florida in July 2010, at the age of 60, to again attempt the feat she had tried but failed to achieve 30 years previously. When asked her motivation, she replied, "Because I'd like to prove to the other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams." Nyad was unsuccessful in her 2010 attempt, and tried two more times, in 2011 and 2012 before completing the historic swim in 2013.

In the 1970s, Nyad was the greatest long-distance swimmer in the world. Her world records, including circling Manhattan Island and crossing the 102.5 miles between the Bahamas and Florida, resulted in inductions to many Halls of Fame such as the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. She also was a sports broadcaster, filing reports for NPR, ABC's Wide World of Sports, Fox Sports and The New York Times. Nyad has written three books and is a passionate and entertaining public speaker. In her 2015 memoir, Find a Way, Nyad tells the story of her historic adventure and the extraordinary life experiences that have served to carve her unwavering spirit. She also recently debuted her one-woman show, Onward! The Diana Nyad Story, in Los Angeles and Key West.

Yong Zhao

Yong Zhao
Business Officer Breakfast »
Wednesday, March 7

Yong Zhao is a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas. He is also a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, Victoria University in Australia, as well as a Global Chair at the University of Bath, UK. Zhao previously served as the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he was also a Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership. Prior to joining Oregon, Zhao was University Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University, where he also served as the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Technology, and executive director of the Confucius Institute and the US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence.

Zhao’s works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education. He has published over 100 articles and 30 books, including Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes (2016), Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting Top 5 Ed Tech Mistakes (2015), Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World (2014), Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization (2009) and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (2012).

Zhao has received numerous awards including the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association, Outstanding Public Educator from Horace Mann League of USA, and Distinguished Achievement Award in Professional Development from the Association of Education Publishers. He is an elected fellow of the International Academy for Education and is recognized as an influential education scholar.