HR Influencers
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HRPA is proud to present world-class thought leadership from around the globe. The 2019 group of keynote speakers represent talent and expertise in each of their fields.  Learn more about our distinguished keynotes – and don’t forget to attend their sessions.


Tarana Burke

tarana burke

Keynote address – Leading Voices Amplify Call for Change: #MeToo

“MeToo is really about survivors supporting survivors. And it’s really about community healing and community action.”

Those are the words of Tarana Burke, founder of the ubiquitous MeToo movement.

A social activist and the current senior director of programs at Girls for Gender Equity, Burke began the movement with no idea of the international profile it would gain.

“MeToo is a movement that was founded in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence,” she said. Initially, it was known as Just Be Inc., an organization promoting the wellness of young female minorities. The “MeToo” slogan grew out of Burke’s work with Just Be Inc.

The movement has only grown since then. From its origins as a movement to support young women of colour who experienced sexual violence, it now encompasses women and men all over the world, Burke has told Business Insider.

Burke was living and working in Alabama when the idea was conceived. She had been working with young girls who disclosed sexual abuse at an alarming rate and Burke decided to take her work online to reach more people. The movement grew exponentially from there.

However, It wasn’t until 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the now-infamous hashtag, that it achieved viral status.

Since becoming the original member of “The Silence Breakers” and TIME magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year, Burke has become a sought-after voice of reason for the #MeToo movement. From discussing the power imbalance in the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal to defining how #MeToo can reframe its future direction, she has been a highly visible force in the news headlines throughout 2018.

“People call me a leader of this movement – I accept that as a title, I guess – but I’m a worker, more than anything. I think it’s just helped me to scale up and to expand the work that I’m doing and the vision I have for this work,” she said. “It’s given me a larger platform to speak about it.”

Attend Tarana Burke’s keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 30 at 8 a.m., sponsored by Atlas Canada.



mel robbins

Keynote address – The 5 Second Rule – Achieve Breakthrough Performance in Your Career & Life

“Change is happening all around us… how do you focus on what matters?” said Mel Robbins. “In order to get what you want, you’re going to have to change.”

In order to succeed and thrive in a constantly changing environment, we need to make our own internal changes, according to award-winning commentator and bestselling author Mel Robbins.

“Change comes down to a choice. Not the big choice – actually, the little ones. The ones that happen five seconds at a time,” she said.

In her viral, globally acclaimed TEDx talk, Mel Robbins wowed the world with the science-backed secret to change: The 5 Second Rule. Over 12 million views later, the 5 Second Rule has become a bestselling book and a life-changing movement that challenges thinking and accelerates personal and professional growth.

Robbins began her career as a criminal defense attorney in New York. She is now the CEO and co-founder of media and digital learning company The Confidence Project, and the creator and star of the Audible Original series “Kick Ass With Mel Robbins,” a life and business advice talk show.

In October 2018, Robbins added a new role to her already brimming schedule; television talk show host. Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Broadcasting have teamed for a syndicated one-hour daytime talk show hosted by Mel Robbins that will debut in Fall 2019.

Three million people have learned Robbins’ secret to reaching their true potential – now it’s your turn. You are meant to do extraordinary things in your career and your life and the 5 Second Rule will help you achieve it.

The only obstacle you have is yourself, she said – the excuses, the patterns of behaviour and resignations that get hard-wired into all of us.

“It’s going to require you each and every time that you’re going to be brave, that you’re going to make a small, five-second change, to push through that.”

Attend Mel Robbins’ keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 30 at 9 a.m., sponsored by Atlas Canada.


Michael Roberto

michael roberto

Keynote address – Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions

Too often, senior leaders in organizations of all kinds hear “yes” when they offer an idea or a proposal, says Michael Roberto.

“In many cases, people are afraid to express dissent when a strong, charismatic leader already has put their view on the table. My argument is that the effective leaders who can make the best decisions are the ones who do welcome that dissenting point of view,” he said.

That has been a central idea in much of Roberto’s work and it’s also a notable theme in his work on unlocking creativity.

Many creative individuals working in organizations today encounter resistance to new ideas, such as the path-breaking artists, scientists and inventors have experienced throughout history. Experts reject their ideas and defend the status quo. Leaders exhibit closed-minded behaviour when newcomers challenge the conventional wisdom or question established practices.

But at the same time, leaders claim to prioritize creativity, said Roberto.

Currently a Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University, Roberto is a pre-eminent authority on strategic decision-making, senior management teams and neutralizing hidden threats to organizations.

He has studied how interpersonal dynamics cause catastrophic organizational failures (such as the Columbia Space Shuttle accident and the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy) and how to structure decision-making processes for success.

He helps senior executives build the consensus that successful implementation of a strategy requires and uncovers potential disasters before they destroy a strategy.

Many large firms are facing a growth crisis today with revenues increasing slowly or even shrinking. These organizations do not lack talented people with original ideas. They lack an environment in which these people can flourish.

Leaders claim to want bold, transformative ideas, yet obstacles to creativity arise at every turn. Roberto has worked to explore six distinct organizational mindsets that inhibit creativity – and what to do about them.

Attend Michael Roberto’s keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 30 at 1 p.m.


Jade Simmons

jade simmons

Keynote address – How to Move Like a Maverick: Combination of Inspiration, Information & Entertainment

“I didn’t go to school to become classical music’s ‘Number One Maverick,’” said Jade Simmons – despite the fact that it’s a title that has stuck.

“I just wanted to play the piano. When I first got started, I had all these images in my head of what it meant to be a classical pianist… and if I’m being really honest, none of it looked like what I’m doing now.”

Her career took off when she started doing one monumental thing: talking.

“There was such a big difference between coming out on stage… and never talking to you the whole time. We’ve been trained to focus so much on the instrument and the music, and the dead composers. We weren’t supposed to bring ourselves to the music,” she said.

Now, she has taken that model and turned it sideways.

Simmons has been named classical music’s Number One Maverick by repeatedly defying expectations and delivering riveting performances and innovating at every turn.

Simmons is one of the most versatile concert artists on the scene today. However, she doesn’t simply play the piano to impress audiences: she uses the piano as an instrument for providing inspiration, information and entertainment in order to profoundly move people.

Listed as one of Ebony magazine’s “Top 30 Leaders under 30,” Simmons’ impressive musical background and diverse cultural experiences have made her a pioneer and source of inspiration for her legions of fans.

In her truly unique keynotes, Simmons offers her inspiring messages alongside her world-renowned piano performances. Her expertise has been called upon by an array of organizations looking to create a culture of excellence and foster meaningful change.

A gifted speaker, her presentations give powerful insights into how creating a unique leadership brand can inspire the creation of ideas that will have a lasting impact on the world. With boundless energy and intellect, Jade Simmons teaches audiences not only how to lead, but how to start achieving beyond what they ever thought possible.

Attend Jade Simmons’ keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan.30 at 4:30 p.m.


Bill Burnett

bill burnett

Keynote address – Design Your Life – Design Thinking

“Design thinking is an innovation methodology – it works on products, works on services. But I think the most interesting design problem is your life.”

It isn’t terribly surprising that Bill Burnett approaches problems – no matter what kind – through the lens of design thinking. After years of drawing cars and airplanes under his grandmother’s sewing machine, Burnett went off to university and discovered, much to his surprise, that there were people in the world who did this kind of thing every day (without the sewing machine) and they were called designers.

Thirty years, five companies and a couple thousand students later, Bill is still drawing and building things, teaching others how to do the same and quietly enjoying the fact that no one has discovered that he is having too much fun.

“We’ve been taught in university to be skeptical realists, rationalists – but that’s not very useful as a mindset when you’re trying to do something new, something no one’s done before. So, we say you start with curiosity and you lean in to what you’re curious about,” said Burnett.

“You reframe problems because most of the time we find people are working on the wrong problems. They have a wonderful solution to (the wrong problem).”

The co-author of Designing Your Life alongside Dave Evans, Burnett currently serves as the executive director of the Design Program at Stanford. He directs the undergraduate and graduate program in design at Stanford, both interdepartmental programs between the Mechanical Engineering department and the Art department.

He earned his BS and MS in product design at Stanford and has worked professionally on a wide variety of projects ranging from award-winning Apple PowerBooks to the original Hasbro Star Wars action figures. He holds a number of mechanical and design patents, and design awards for a variety of products including the first “slate” computer. In addition to his duties at Stanford, he is a on the Board of VOZ (pronounced VAWS – it means “voice” in Spanish), a socially responsible high fashion start-up and advises several internet start-up companies.

Attend Bill Burnett and co-presenter Dave Evans’ keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 31 at 8:30 a.m., sponsored by Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.


Dave Evans

dave evans

Keynote address – Design Your Life – Design Thinking

Ten years ago, Dave Evans and partner Bill Burnett founded the Stanford Life Design Lab.

“We teach designing your life, designing your Stanford, designing the professional – we teach everybody. We teach about 15-20 per cent of all the students at Stanford,” he said.

“Now, these are smart people. What do they need to take this class for?”

Evans and Burnett went to a career fair to find out – and they discovered that most of these smart, cohort-leading young professionals simply had no real idea of what they wanted their lives to look like.

“Smart does not mean clear. Well-educated does not mean focused or well-intentioned. So we formed the Life Design mission and our mission is to apply the innovation principles of design thinking to the wicked problem of designing your life,” he said.

From saving the seals to solving the energy crisis, from imagining the first computer mice to redefining software – Evans has been on a mission, including helping others to find theirs. Starting at Stanford with dreams of following Jacques Cousteau as a marine biologist, Evans realized that he was lousy at it and shifted to mechanical engineering with an eye on the energy problem.

After four years in alternative energy, it was clear that this idea’s time hadn’t come yet. While en route to biomedical engineering, Evans accepted an invitation to work for Apple, where he led product marketing for the mouse team and introduced laser printing to the masses. When his boss at Apple left to start Electronic Arts, Evans joined as the company’s first VP of Talent.

Having participated in forming the corporate cultures at Apple and EA, Dave decided his best work was in helping organizations build creative environments where people could do great work and love doing it. So, he went out on his own; working with start-up teams, corporate executives, non-profit leaders and countless young adults.
They were all asking the same question, “What should I do with my life?” Helping people get traction on that question finally took Evans to Cal and Stanford and continues to be his life’s work.

Evans holds a BS and MS in mechanical engineering from Stanford and a graduate diploma in contemplative spirituality from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Attend Dave Evans and co-presenter Bill Burnett’s keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 31 at 8:30 a.m., sponsored by Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.


Cy Wakeman

cy wakeman

Keynote address – Your Ego is Not Your Amigo

In the late ’80s, Cy Wakeman was promoted to her first management job.

“Initially, I just couldn’t fall in line with traditional leadership and management practices. I kept getting hung up on the fact that much of what I was being asked to do contradicted reality. That just wasn’t ok with me.”

For Wakeman, that tension between the status quo expectations for leadership and the actual reality was a recipe for a whole new philosophy on leadership.

Time-honoured office themes like poor managers, unproductive meetings and wasteful drama are all-to-familiar to many workers today.

But Cy Wakeman, an international keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times best-selling author and global thought leader, is doing everything she can to spoil those toxic workplace storylines.

“Your ego is narrating your entire world to the negative,” said Wakeman. “Your ego is not your amigo. Your ego is a filter on reality and corrupts your data. You’re making decisions based on corruptive data. Your ego is like wearing a pair of prescriptive glasses that are the wrong prescription.”

Wakeman cites ego as the primary source of drama, which, when left unchecked, has a negative impact on employee engagement. She mentioned a Gallup poll that said, “Seventy-one per cent of Americans quit their jobs on a daily basis. The problem is, they keep coming to work and getting a paycheck.”

“If we upcycled all the energy spent on drama per headcount and put it into results, happiness and engagement, think what could happen,” said Wakeman. “Leaders need to facilitate good mental processes so that people can get rid of emotional waste in the workplace and put their full self into doing what’s right.”

Today more than ever, leaders have the opportunity to identify the drama and the inherent ego that fuels it, said Wakeman.

“Your job is to take the toggle switch of people and every time they get low, switch it up to high. Establish accountability, which is the death to the ego. Self-reflection is the ultimate drama defuser,” she said.

Attend Cy Wakeman’s keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 31 at 1 p.m.


Steve Pemberton

steve pemberton

Keynote address – The Necessary Evolution of Diversity & Inclusion: The Three “Rs” Critical to Building a Truly Inclusive Workplace

“This little boy doesn’t have a chance in the world.”

That was the devastating line taken from the diary of one of Steve Pemberton’s babysitters when he was young, abused and neglected under the care of his foster family.

Pemberton knows firsthand what it’s like to be different, to feel like you don’t belong. That’s why he wants us to start looking at diversity and inclusion differently.

“We’re frustrated that we’re having the same conversations that we’ve had generations past,” he said. “So, there is that fatigue and often times it just manifests itself in silence.”
Now, it’s time to change that.

“If there’s one thing that the diversity and inclusion movement has often gotten wrong is it’s failed to talk about why it really matters,” said Pemberton. “Why is where discretionary effort comes from. That’s where you really start to invest your time.”

Diversity and inclusion is top of mind for every forward-thinking organization. Yet, despite their best intentions and efforts, many organizations continue to struggle to build truly inclusive workplaces where all employees – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, political leaning, religion or sexual orientation – feel a strong sense of belonging and are comfortable being who they are.

As chief people officer at Globoforce and former chief diversity officer at Walgreens, Steve Pemberton has been advancing the D&I conversation throughout his career.

He has shared his own personal journey with numerous audiences, as well as through his book, A Chance in the World. In 2018, the book was turned into a movie of the same name and screened at 500 theatres for one night only with some of the proceeds going to organizations that benefit kids in need.

“We’re going to have to think of inclusion now not just as a nice thing to do… if we are to take on the challenges of our time, we’re going to have to think about this as necessary to everything that we do.”

Attend Steve Pemberton’s keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Jan. 31 at 4:30 p.m.


David McWilliams


Keynote address – What Global QE from Tokyo to Toronto Means for You, Me, and Emerging Markets

“The idea here now is to rip economics away from self-indulgence and to look at it in a different way,” said David McWilliams of the discipline he has influenced deeply.

An economist, broadcaster and bestselling author, McWilliams is one of the most influential economists in the world. Consistently accurate in his forecasts, he was the only economist in Ireland who accurately forecast a strong U.K. Brexit vote, the Trump victory and the 2008 global crash.

McWilliams brings economics to life and makes it relevant and understandable to the widest audiences. Rock star Bono recently praised McWilliams’ approach, “It is genuinely his gift; to take dense subjects and sort of aerate them.”

He is a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum, is a regular contributor to Google’s famed Zeitgeist conference and has been named Ireland’s most influential Twitter user. With the objective to make economics easily digestible and fun, McWilliams draws on his unique sense of humour when he travels the globe speaking on trends in growth, currencies, financial markets and geo-politics.

He is an Adjunct Professor of Global Economics at Trinity College Dublin, writes a weekly economics column for The Irish Times and is a regular international contributor to The Financial Times.

A bestselling author of four books, McWilliams recently launched his new book, Renaissance Nation, exploring the transformation of Irish society in the four decades between two papal visits.

McWilliams has presented award-winning documentaries and brought a sell-out, one-man economics stand-up show to the stage at Ireland’s renowned national theatre, The Abbey. As a speaker, he has presented for companies on four continents including Google, Erickson, Sony, Altgeris, Citywire, Casenove and the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

McWilliams worked as economist in the Irish Central Bank and later in the financial markets with UBS and Banque Nationale de Paris. He studied economics at Trinity College Dublin and the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium.

Attend David McWilliams’ keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Feb. 1 at 8:30 a.m.


Afdhel Aziz

afdhel aziz

Keynote address – Good is the New Cool

In 2004, a massive tsunami devastated the island nation of Sri Lanka. Afdhel Aziz was there, attending his brother’s wedding. He survived. Many did not.

“I was diagnosed with a particular type of post-traumatic stress disorder called ‘Survivor Guilt,’” he said. “I started to think about whether the work I was doing had any meaning.

“I knew how to do marketing and advertising, but I didn’t want my life’s legacy to be that I just made people buy more stuff. That was the beginning of the journey that led me here today.”

He took his expertise and transformed it into a career unleashing the power of purpose within organizations.

He has travelled the world as a professional speaker and consultant, speaking to tens of thousands of people over the course of his journey.

Aziz is one of the world’s leading experts in marketing innovation. He is an award-winning marketer who has led brands for Procter & Gamble, Heineken, Absolut and Nokia, in London and New York.

He quite literally wrote the book on brand purpose, teaching businesses how to become a force for good. He is the co-author of the book Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn. More recently, he started speaking and coaching on unlocking your personal purpose to love your work in the 21st century.

He’s been a speaker at the Cannes Lions, SXSW, Advertising Week and more, and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Vice, Fast Company, The Guardian, Coolhunting, Billboard, Hypebeast and more. He is a regular contributor to Forbes exploring how purpose drives business and social impact in his column ‘The Power of Purpose.’
For Aziz, one simple question lies at the heart of true success.

“What are your gifts, what are your passions and who can they be of service to? How can I be of service to something bigger than myself?”
Attend Afdhel Aziz’s keynote address at HRPA’s Annual Conference and Trade Show, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m.



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