Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly to Speak at CSU’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum

Gabrielle GiffordsCOLUMBUS, Ga. — Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle D. “Gabby” Giffords and her husband, former space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, will headline the eighth annual Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, hosted by Columbus State University’s Cunningham Center-based Leadership Institute, on Aug. 26-27, at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

Giffords, a Democrat, began serving Arizona’s 8th Congressional District in 2006 and was re-elected twice, in 2008 and 2010. She was seriously injured a week into her third term, on Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire at a Tucson shopping center where Giffords was meeting with constituents. Six people were killed and 13 injured. Giffords sustained a gunshot wound to the head among her injuries yet, in less than seven months, she returned to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Giffords resigned her seat in January 2012 to focus on her recovery.

Kelly, a retired U.S. Navy captain, is also a best-selling author, prostate cancer survivor and an experienced naval aviator who flew combat missions during the Gulf War, winning the Legion of Merit, two Defense Superior Service Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. Selected as an astronaut in 1996, Kelly flew the first of his four missions in 2001 aboard Endeavour, the same space shuttle he commanded on its final flight in May 2011. He has also commanded space shuttle Discovery and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station four times. (NASA recently donated a nozzle used on Endeavour and Discovery for display at CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center.)

“As a family, they have modeled the kind of leadership for how one deals with tragedy, and they did it on an international stage,” said Ed Helton, interim executive director of the Cunningham Center. “We are honored to have them here to share their story with us and to learn what we are sure will be invaluable lessons.”

Second-day speakers for the forum are:

  • Seth Godin, an author widely considered one of the world’s leading experts on online marketing.
  • Tom Mullins, founding pastor of one of the nation’s largest churches, the non-denominational Christ Fellowship, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
  • David Novak, chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, Inc., which operates or licenses Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and other restaurants worldwide.
  • John Stankey, group president and chief strategy officer of AT&T Inc.
  • Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co.
  • Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning.

“Once again we have a simply outstanding lineup,” Helton said. “We will have three of the most effective CEOs (Novak, Stankey and Mulally) with us, which will really highlight the business component of the forum.”

Godin, who Business Week described as “the ultimate entrepreneur for the Information Age, “ brings to the Blanchard forum “a unique perspective on marketing and an innovative approach to selling and promoting business — which is invaluable when so many of us are competing for ways to engage customers and varied audiences,” Helton said. “We’re also fortunate to have our own commanding general (McMaster) and Mullins with us sharing their knowledge on leadership from vastly difference arenas.”

Registration for the full conference is $429. Tickets for tables of eight are $3,400. About a fourth of the tickets for the event have already been sold as individuals and companies register daily. For more information and to register, visit

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Editors: High-resolution original photos of Giffords, Kelly