Ninth Annual Women's Leadership Conference Speakers
Feb. 4-5, 2019
WIPL's Women's Leadership Conference seeks to educate, motivate and challenge women to lead change in their own lives, their communities and the world. Since 2011, the Women's Leadership Conference has featured more than 275 world-class speakers, including the 2019 speakers below.
Carol Aebersold is the award-winning co-author of the acclaimed book The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition, as well as several board books.
For several weeks each year, Aebersold serves as a spokeswoman for the North Pole, traveling nationally—and sometimes internationally—in support of her books, providing kids with a direct line to Santa. She is also a co-founder of The Elf on the Shelf’s publishing company, Creatively Classic Activities and Books (CCA and B), where she serves as owner and partner.
As a former copywriter and music teacher, Aebersold was prepared to serve as an executive producer when The Elf on the Shelf® made a move to TV in the 2011 animated special An Elf’s Story™. The short film aired to a combined viewing audience of nearly 10 million people and included the original songs “Each and Every Christmas” and “Extravaganzalorious,” which Aebersold co-wrote.
Aebersold is one of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2010 Georgia Small Business Persons of the Year, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville 2013 Accomplished Alumna and one of the Marietta Daily Journal’s 2014 Cobb Citizens of the Year. The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition has been on the best-seller lists of USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly almost yearly since its 2005 launch.
Chanda Bell is the true visionary behind her family’s publishing company, Creatively Classic Activities and Books (CCA and B), having conceptualized, written and researched how to self-publish the company’s flagship title, The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition. She serves as co-CEO and oversees the marketing, product development, design and digital departments.
A former reading and English teacher, Bell is the co-author of The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition and is credited with expanding the company’s line with new titles each year. Her English expertise, knack for storytelling and tireless promotion helped turn the original The Elf on the Shelf® book into a household name that has garnered the praises of national media and sold more than 10 million copies, landing it atop the best-seller lists of USA Today, Publishers Weekly and the Wall Street Journal.
Bell is also the author of Elf Pets: A Reindeer Tradition, the company’s first brand extension, as well as the newest Elf Pets® addition, Elf Pets: A Saint Bernard Tradition.
As the head of the company’s product development team, Bell has encouraged the company to thrive outside of the literary arena with strategy and vision for new products. Today, The Elf on the Shelf® brand features a line of family-friendly toys, games, décor and gifts focused on creating family moments.
Under the guidance of Bell and her sister, Christa Pitts (co-CEO), CCA and B had repeatedly found its place on Inc. Magazine’s list of the country’s fastest growing private companies.
Bell is the recipient of the University of West Georgia’s Spotlight Award and Reinhardt University’s Young Alumnus of the Year award. She is one of the Marietta Daily Journal’s 2014 Cobb Citizens of the Year. Bell and her husband have two children.
Louise Connell is the supplier diversity manager for BMW Manufacturing Co. in Greer, S.C. Since beginning her BMW career in 1996, her primary role has been within the purchasing department responsible for the procurement of body shop equipment. Throughout her tenure as a buyer, Connell has been responsible for purchasing fuel systems, axle assemblies and, most recently, interior components.
In 2011, Connell added responsibility for the plant’s supplier diversity platform. Since that time, she helped launch the company’s successful Tier 1 Supplier Diversity Matchmaker Conference. In this new role, Connell has helped BMW achieve its objectives to increase its year-to-date minority spend with both Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, increase outside awareness of BMW’s commitment to supplier diversity and increase the company’s community service outreach.
She is a member of the Foothills Regional Advisory Committee, the Carolinas Minority Supplier Development Council and the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce Diversity Committee.
Connell earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina.
Michael Harris joined Continental Automotive Systems in 1999 as a supplier diversity coordinator, helping the company start its program. Through the years, he has taken on increasing responsibilities and today, he is the supplier diversity manager for one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world. He leads the supplier diversity initiatives and strategy that supports the Automotive, Tire and ContiTech Divisions in North America.
Harris is an experienced change-agent, successfully navigating within a complex corporate landscape to promote and grow the company’s Supplier Diversity Program. In addition to internal growth, he has been active and supportive of a number of Continental’s customer initiatives related to supplier diversity. He has supported GM, Nissan and Toyota on their special diversity council activities, to promote and grow diverse suppliers. It also provided the opportunity for Harris to help coach and train other supplier diversity professionals. He is a member of the Council of Supplier Diversity Professionals in Detroit and supports several diversity council and advocacy groups.
Harris has a passion for supplier diversity and the inclusion of women, minorities and veteran suppliers in Continental’s supply chain. His leadership has been recognized by Continental, their customers and other advocacy groups. Through the years, the company has received a number of awards and recognition for success in supplier diversity. Recently, Diversity Plus Magazine recognized Harris as one of the Top 30 Champions of Diversity.
His background also includes leadership roles in sales, finance, contract management and administration.
Harris, a University of Michigan graduate, lives in Royal Oak, Mich., with his wife, Elizabeth. He is the proud father of two children, Brittney and Garett.
Deanna Hayne is the manager of the purchasing planning team at Honda of South Carolina Inc. (HSC) in Timmonsville. Since 2014, Hayne has been responsible for business plans, purchasing budgets, training, and supplier diversity and development. She also is a member of HSC’s Inclusion and Diversity Council.
Hayne began her career with the company in 2001 as a buyer at Honda of America in Marysville, Ohio, where her responsibilities included components, assemblies and electrical parts. In 2010, after the power sports procurement function transferred to Honda of South Carolina, Hayne accepted another two-year assignment supporting the transition. At the conclusion of this assignment, she permanently relocated to South Carolina, when she was named the assistant manager of the procurement group.
Hayne's family includes husband, Paul, and son, Bryce.
Janice Bryant Howroyd is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, educator, ambassador, author, mentor and presidential appointee. She is the founder and chief executive officer of ActOne Group, a global leader providing customized cutting-edge solutions in the human resources industry. Founded in 1978, ActOne Group is a multibillion-dollar award-winning, international talent and talent technology enterprise with multiple divisions that each service unique areas of employment and provide talent management solutions. The agency has more than 17,000 clients and 2,600 employees in 19 countries.
Howroyd is ranked No. 54 on Forbes’ 2018 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. In 2014, she was recognized by Black Enterprise as the first black woman to own and operate a billion‐dollar company. She was BET’s first ever BET Honors Entrepreneur of the Year and has received Black Enterprise’s Business of the Year award. In 2013, she was appointed an Ambassador of the Department of Energy’s Minorities in Energy Initiative.
In May 2016, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a member of the board of advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In 2017, Howroyd was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment.
Howroyd is the author of The Art of Work: How to Make Work, Work for You! She grew up in Tarboro, N.C., and is an alumna of North Carolina A&T State University.
Suncera Johnson, an author and entertainment industry veteran, lives in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. She survived an upbringing beset by alcoholism, addiction and religiosity while rebounding from young single motherhood marred by excommunication, poverty and hopelessness. She found strength through her relationship with God.
With no college degree or formal training, Johnson began her career as a temporary administrative assistant at Spike TV. Her work now spans across companies such as Atlantic Records and MTV along with credits on top-rated television shows on ABC, NBC, FOX, VH1, OWN and more. She is a member of the Producers Guild Association, New York Women in Film & Television, and the National Association of Television Program Executives.
Johnson is the founder and CEO of amass digital, a digital advertising agency that has worked with companies such as iHeart Media, CBS Digital and Townsquare Media to deliver targeted digital co-branded campaigns affiliated with Fiat, Grand Marnier, McDonald’s, Vitamin Water, Nickelodeon, Mazda and other major firms.
Her I.D.E.A. method of audience development teaches brands to identify, develop, engage and amass an audience across social media using targeted ad campaigns. She also is the author of “Dear God: Passionate Prayers in 140 Characters or Less” and is developing the book series “Talks with God: 30 Days of Inspiration.” As part of the founding team of a YouTube multi-channel network, Johnson played an integral part in launching and growing audiences on channels such as LIVES with Meredith Vieira and JAY Z’s Life+Times.
Johnson will be recognized as a 2019 Inspiring Woman.
Alyse Nelson is the co-founder, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-governmental organization that identifies, invests in and brings visibility to extraordinary women around the world. She has worked for the organization for more than 20 years, serving as vice president and senior director of programs before assuming her current role in 2009. Under her leadership, Vital Voices has expanded its reach to serve more than 15,000 women leaders in 181 countries.
Previously, Nelson served as deputy director of the Vital Voices Global Democracy Initiative at the U.S. Department of State and worked with the President’s Interagency Council on Women. She is a member in the Council on Foreign Relations, serves on the Secretary of State’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society advisory committee and is a board member of Running Start, which helps young women and girls in the U.S. get involved in politics and their communities. Nelson is a part of the global group of experts for The B Team and is on the Chime for Change advisory board.
Fortune Magazine named Nelson one of the 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter. She was recently named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Global Gender Policy by APolitical. She was honored with a Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award.
Nelson is the author of the bestselling book Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World and has been featured in various national and international and national. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Donna Orender is a highly respected corporate business leader having led growth and innovation in several high-profile companies. She has been recognized as one of the top 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports and one of Newsweek’s 100 Most Influential people in the business of sports. She also is a best-selling author with her 2018 release of Wowsdom! the Girl’s Guide to the Positive and the Possible.
Orender served six years as the president/commissioner of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), during which time she solidified its base and led double digit growth in all key business metrics. This included 20 percent plus growth in sponsorship in the height of the recession, 25 percent growth in television viewership and triple-digit growth in digital. League operations were cash flow positive for the first time in the history of the league. With her focus on revitalizing the brand, its value and relevance, the league experienced five years of consecutive attendance growth, after eight years of decline.
The league greatly benefited from an eight-year contract extension with Disney/ABC/ESPN, which, for the first time, included broadcast rights fees and led negotiations for an unprecedented six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. In addition, she was able to open new markets, bring in new owners, develop a franchise template for success and execute new revenue producing events and help innovate with groundbreaking sales, marketing and digital strategies.
Prior to the WNBA, Orender spent 17 years at the PGA Tour, where she was one of three senior executives serving in the Office of the Commissioner. She developed and led the global production, programming and digital businesses for the tour, building globally recognized businesses in both revenue and prestige. She led the negotiating team that changed the paradigm for how PGA Tour was both packaged and sold for television, resulting in billions of dollars of growth for the tour. She took a nascent international television business and grew it exponentially, establishing a foothold in all major international markets.
As the senior vice president of strategic development, Orender was responsible for developing strategic direction across all business lines including direct oversight of brand management, advertising and digital strategy.
Orender’s business career began after playing three years in the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), where she earned All-Star status. This experience enabled her to work in network television sports at ABC and later in cable television at SportsChannel before forming her own production company. An accomplished producer, director and writer, she was responsible for the creative development and sales of programming globally.
As the CEO of Orender Unlimited, her work has included the development of a strategic plan for the golf industry, initiated by the PGA of America, focused on the development of new consumer markets and the accompanying transformational changes necessary to realize success. Orender authored Connecting with Her, a guidebook on the impact of the women’s market, and how to understand and access it.
The focus on the betterment of women and girls is at the core of the development of a platform called Generation W. Launched in 2011, Generation W and Generation WOW have become vibrant communities for enhancing and motivating people’s lives and creating change and impact in their worlds.
Orender’s business building expertise led to being elected as a founding board member of the World Surfing League. She serves as an advisor for the College Sports Management Group, and private equity.
In addition, she serves on the nominating and compensation committees for the V Foundation for Cancer Research board, was elected to the executive committee of Maccabi USA and contributes to the boards of the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida, University of North Florida Brooks School of Health, co-chairs the UJA Sports for Youth Initiative and is a founding member of the board of W.O.M.E.N, a mentoring organization for young women capable of reaching the C-suite. She has also been a global ambassador for Vital Voices, traveling to India to help mentor young women entrepreneurs.
Orender has been a recipient of the March of Dimes Sports Leadership Award and was honored by the UJA Federation of New York’s Entertainment, Media and Communications Division for her dedication to the community. She is a member of the Queens College Hall of Fame.
Megan Plassmeyer is the community engagement coordinator at Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN) based in Columbia, S.C. She advances WREN’s involvement in priority issues by managing and nurturing diverse private sector and nonprofit partnerships across South Carolina. By creating and providing educational trainings, community events, legislative updates, and digital outreach and advocacy tools, she also plays a large role in maintaining consistent engagement and outreach to more than 32,000 WREN members.
Plassmeyer also manages the Seen and Heard: Women and Girls in the Midlands photovoice project and brand, and provides oversight on special projects and community initiatives. She previously worked for two years with Tell Them, a grassroots advocacy program, and It’s On Us, a national campaign to raise awareness and fight against sexual assault on college campuses for both men and women.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in public health and sociology from the University of South Carolina, where she graduated summa cum laude.
Lori Stevic-Rust is a board-certified clinical health psychologist who earned a Diplomate from the American Board of Professional Psychology. She completed an internship at Henry Ford Hospital with specialty training in women’s health, geriatrics, cardiac care and integrative medicine.
She is an international dementia healthcare consultant and serves on many professional boards. She is the recipient of numerous awards for excellence in leadership and advocacy for women and the rights of the elderly. She has been honored as a woman of achievement by the YWCA, and has been inducted into the Kent State University Hall of Fame.
Stevic-Rust is an inspired national speaker and winner of the Corporate Keynote Speaker Award. Over the past 27 years, she has been a regular on-air television and radio contributor.
She writes the Dr. Lori column for several national magazines and is a regular blogger for the Huffington Post.
Stevic-Rust is the author of five books on topics ranging from depression, heart disease and wellness, a personal memoir on the art of aging with gratitude, Greedy for Life, and her newest book, Put on Your Big-Girl Shoes: Stepping into Courage, Resilience and Gratitude.
She is the founder and CEO of Nana’s Tribe Foundation, a nonprofit organization that brings seniors and youth together to eliminate isolation and bias through generational connections that fosters learning and inspires purpose.
Stevic-Rust is the proud member of a five-generation family, a chocolate addict and describes herself as an avid Cleveland sports fan, which she claims by default makes her a professional optimist.
Katie Stratton is Facebook’s head of industry, where she leads the U.S. restaurants sales team, managing the national advertising partnerships across Fortune 50 restaurants. A seven-year Facebook veteran, she is a proven brand, sales and creative leader.
Stratton began her career on the creative agency side, managing local and national auto advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi. She then moved to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, where she led global business for both Cadillac and Unilever. Before leading the restaurants business at Facebook, Stratton forged national and global partnerships with top tier consumer packaged goods partners, leading beauty, home and personal care teams.
Britnie Turner is the founder and CEO of Aerial Development, a Nashville-based residential and commercial development company that aims to revitalize urban neighborhoods and tackle social issues.
A native of North Augusta, S.C., Turner bought her first house as a teenager during the 2007 recession. She was working at the Cheesecake Factory at the time and spent every free moment in the kitchen reading various real estate investment books. After moving to Nashville two years later, she worked without pay for a couple of real estate investors for nine months just to learn the business, sometimes living in her car. She started flipping houses on her own, wearing multiple hats as homeowner, agent and rehabber, and her real estate career took off, quickly growing into a multi-million-dollar business.
Turner founded Aerial in 2009 at the age of 21 with the mission of elevating people and places. She has since formed multiple companies under the Aerial brand, all accelerating the mission by empowering people, sustaining the planet and utilizing capitalism as a force for good. Aerial is focused on mindfully revitalizing the urban core by donating a percentage of its profits to support nonprofit organizations in its community and sponsoring an orphan in Kenya for every home it sells in the name of the homebuyer. Through the success of her companies, Turner is resetting the standard of what is possible for women and young people across the globe. She has won several national and international awards for speed of growth, innovation and trajectory.
Turner will be recognized as a 2019 Inspiring Woman.
Our Past Speakers
Since 2011, the Women’s Leadership Conference has featured more than 275 world-class speakers. To learn more, select from annual archives below.