This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are used for visitor analysis, others are essential to making our site function properly and improve the user experience. By using this site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Click Accept to consent and dismiss this message or Deny to leave this website. Read our Privacy Statement for more.
Share |

2018 Annual Conference


Go to: Breakout Speakers

Keynote Speakers

Chester Elton


Chester Elton, #1 Bestselling Business Author, Organizational Culture, Employee Engagement and Leadership Expert

One of today’s most influential voices in workplace trends, Chester Elton has spent two decades helping clients engage their employees to execute on strategy, vision, and values. In his provocative, inspiring and always entertaining talks, #1 bestselling leadership author Chester Elton provides real solutions to leaders looking to manage change, drive innovation, and lead a multi-generational workforce. Elton’s work is supported by research with more than 850,000 working adults, revealing the proven secrets behind high-performance cultures and teams.

He has been called the “apostle of appreciation” by Canada’s Globe and Mail, “creative and refreshing‚” by the New York Times, and a “must read for modern managers” by CNN Elton is co-author of the New York Times and #1 USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling leadership books, All In, The Carrot Principle and The Best Team Wins. His books have been translated in more than 30 languages and have sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide.

Elton is often quoted in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fast Company and the New York Times. He has appeared on NBC’s Today, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, National Public Radio and CBS’s 60 Minutes. In 2017 Global Gurus research organization ranked him as #15 in the world’s top leadership experts and #10 in the world’s top organizational culture experts. 

Elton is the co-founder of The Culture Works, a global training company and is a board member of Camp Corral, a non-profit for the children of wounded and fallen military heroes. He serves as a leadership consultant to firms such as American Express, AT&T, Avis Budget Group and Procter & Gamble. He is most proud, however, to be the father of four exceptional children-more exceptional now they’ve grown up and left home.

David Sturt


David Sturt, Author of New York Times bestseller Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, and Executive Vice President of O.C. Tanner Company

David Sturt is an Executive Vice President of O.C. Tanner, a $500 million global recognition and culture company. He is also a New York Times bestselling author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love and the newly released companion book, Appreciate.

His work and interviews have been published in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Inc.; and he co-authors a weekly leadership column for

David has spoken at TEDx, and to thousands of business leaders at conferences around the world, and at companies including Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Nationwide, Tata, Home Depot, and MGM.

David has a bachelor’s degree in Training and Development and an MBA, and has two decades of experience in research, innovation, and leadership. He was born in England, raised in South Africa, and educated in the US and Asia.

David is driven by making a difference in the world. For a more extensive bio for David, go to


Dennis Borchers


Dennis Borchers, Tractor Supply Co.

Dennis has over 10 years of experience in corporate level communications and almost 20 years of experience in retail. As the Manager of HR Communications at Tractor Supply Company, Dennis is responsible for building communication strategies that support existing and new Human Resource initiatives. He ensures that these are communicated appropriately and efficiently to all areas of the organization. Dennis is proficient in public speaking, training all levels of Team members, and organizational communication. Prior to joining Tractor Supply, Dennis held positions with Dollar General, Old Navy, and Staples in various roles. Dennis holds a Bachelors (BA) in Public Speaking from Western Kentucky University.

Kimberly Huffman


Kimberly Huffman, Dollar General

Kimberly Huffman joined Dollar General in 2012; she has held multiple roles increasing in responsibility. Kimberly is currently the Director of Organizational Development at Dollar General Corporation, where she and her team are focused on creating and implementing impactful talent management strategies focused on employee development, engagement, and driving other vital business priorities. Kimberly graduated Summa Cum Laude from Minot State University with Bachelor degrees in Business Management & Marketing, Minor in Accounting, and Concentration in Statistics. Prior to Dollar General, Kimberly worked for the government at the Community Center on Minot Air Force Base, in the non-profit sector with a student organization Enactus. Through her work there she was recruited by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., where she held positions in their headquarter office. When Kimberly has free time, she enjoys spending it with her husband and 3 young children.

Go to: Keynote Speakers

Breakout Speakers


Carl Anderson


Carl Anderson, Delta Air Lines, Inc.

An innovative, strategic, engagement leader with extensive experience in driving measured improvement with employee experience initiatives. Carl Anderson serves as the Manager of Global Employee Recognition for Delta Air Lines, Inc. where he is responsible for establishing the strategy for Delta’s global employee recognition programs, ensuring alignment with Delta’s corporate flight plan, values, and employee brand proposition. Credited for employee recognition innovations that have inspired teams to top tier performance. Carl is acknowledged as an solutions-driven, employee recognition professional with strong culture development skills. As a 16-year Delta veteran, Carl works to deepen and broaden the emotional connection that Delta employees have with their company, colleagues, and leaders. He is an innovative, visionary leader - strategically focused on creating and promoting a culture of recognition at Delta by implementing incentive and recognition programs that are directly aligned with the company’s strategy and business goals for over 80,000 employees. Carl also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Recognition Professionals International and the Incentive Federation International, where he works to bring awareness, credibility and accountability to employee recognition innovations and education as a systematic method for culture improvements throughout the workplace. As a recipient of Delta’s Chairman’s Club award and CEO Servant Leadership Award, Carl believes in the principles of ongoing listening and responding, a commitment to actively involving people in business decisions, passionate celebrations, and collective successes while implementing a compassionate, holistic approach to caring for people.


Cori Champagne


Cori Champagne, MIT

Cori Champagne joined MIT in 2011 as Administrator for MIT’s Recognition program, serving the community of over 12,000+ employees at the Institute. Cori’s responsibilities include ongoing development and sustainability of the Institute-wide Recognition program, managing resources, and advising on program use and best practices. In 2016, the Recognition program joined the Strategic Talent Management team, and was also a recipient of RPI’s Best Overall Practice Award. Cori has a background in arts administration and teaching, and before joining MIT, led educational programming at several non-profit organizations.

Chris Dornfeld


Chris Dornfeld, Maritz Motivation Solutions

For 20 years, Chris has applied his talents in strategy, technology and performance management to solve complex problems and build high performing organizations. With a background spanning start-up companies, global corporations, higher education and government as the CIO for the City of St. Louis- Chris has a unique vantage point on engagement, culture, technology and our changing work experience. Chris frequently contributes to industry publications and speaks around the country on employee engagement, people analytics and building entrepreneurial organizations.


Tonda Ferguson


Tonda Ferguson, CRP, Southwest Airlines

Tonda works for Southwest Airlines—a company known for putting employees first. Tonda began her Southwest career 36 years ago when the company had approximately 3,000 employees, and she has seen the Southwest team grow to more than 56,000 employees. Tonda started the Employee Communications Department 34 years ago, and the employees have been her focus since. Today, she leads the Employee Engagement Team that creates many strategic enterprise recognition and incentive programs that support the purpose, vision, and values of Southwest Airlines. The team also oversees the companywide recognition platform and the recognition points system. Tonda also oversees the Employee Engagement Survey and assists in drafting executive communications. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Dallas Ronald McDonald House. Tonda is a graduate of Leadership Texas. She received her Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) designation in 2011, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for Recognition Professionals International.


Brent Gafford


Brent Gafford, Artist

Writing songs and playing them out live is all this Country singer and songwriter knows to do. With over 350+ live shows under his belt, frontman Brent Gafford is far from a newcomer on the scene. The Carrollton, Georgia native is, however, a newcomer to Music City, USA. After four years of cutting his teeth in the local Atlanta music scene, 27-year-old Brent Gafford made the move the Nashville in the Summer of 2017. Well-equipped with his strong, pure vocal talent and knack for creating infectious melodies, Gafford is ready to make some noise in his new home base in Music City.  The Brent Gafford Band continues to blaze a trail of making true, original Country music that is unique in and of itself. Gafford's style is undeniably commercial, yet doesn't undermine the organic twang of the 90's Country that inspired Brent from an early age. The band continues to frequent the stages of Atlanta staples like the Dixie Tavern and Smith's Olde Bar, where hometown heroes like the Zac Brown Band got their start. BGB's presence continues to grow following the release of their debut EP "Song on the Radio". Brent is hard at work writing for his next studio album expected to drop in 2018.


Karen Gray


Karen Gray, O.C. Tanner Company

Karen brings 22 years of recognition industry experience in sales, consulting and project management to her current position at O.C. Tanner overseeing the implementation of global recognition solutions and their supporting strategies. In 2014, she engaged in the development and roll-out of the company’s new implementation methodology. Leveraging her background as advisor to top organizations on recognition best practices designed to inspire and deliver impact, Karen applied her knowledge of appreciation and engagement strategies to construct a framework for implementation that maximizes value within a streamlined approach. A results-oriented professional with a passion for coaching, developing and motivating high-performing teams, she thrives on fostering a culture of engagement and empowerment through servant management and appreciation. Karen has lived in Arizona, Michigan, Alaska and Texas – and now calls Florida home. She virtually manages her coast to coast team from a home office in Jacksonville. When she’s not working, Karen is an enthusiast of running, strength training and practicing yoga. More relaxing past-times include cooking, reading or planning for her next travel destination.


Ashlee Green


Ashlee Green, CRP, Verizon Wireless

Ashlee Green is currently a Customer Relationship Marketing Manager with Verizon. In her role, Ashlee partners with the Customer Service organization supporting over 30,000 employees to drive the use of unique marketing capabilities. During her 15 years with Verizon, Ashlee has held various management and operational roles within the Customer Service organization that support both the customer and employee experience. Ashlee has also been a member of RPI since 2011, CPR certified in 2014 and joined the Board of Directors in 2018.


Dee Hansford


Dee Hansford, CRP, Dee Hansford Consulting

As a former manager of Walt Disney World's Cast Communications and Cast Recognition departments, she understands the leader's perspective. As an internal coach, consultant and facilitator, she led the design and implementation of Walt Disney World's first global recognition program, Partners in Excellence. The task involved coaching over 6,000 leaders in recognition/communication skills. Participation in the program increased 76% in one year while cast satisfaction ratings of local day-to-day recognition increased 15%. Shortly after forming Dee Hansford Consulting, Dee was hired to help California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) create a recognition-based culture to support their strategic business objectives. CalPERS' employee and customer satisfaction scores have risen dramatically, productivity and teamwork have been enhanced and CalPERS is considered a "destination" employer, receiving the Recognition Professional International’s Best Program Award for 2002. California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) employed Dee as a consultant to design their recognition infrastructure which received the RPI “Best Overall Program” Award in 2012. Dee openly shares her recognition know-how by contributing to the continued evolution of CRP and Recognition Fundamentals (RF) curriculum. She is a founding RPI board member and co-chairs the Learning Action Team.


Theresa Harkins


Theresa Harkins, CRP, Inspirus, LLC

Theresa is a visionary, strategic leader as indicated by the achievement of such esteemed certifications as the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Certified Compensation Professional (CCP). She was an early innovator in the deployment of global enterprise employee recognition strategies by using her training and facilitation skills and knowledge to assist in the implemention of these initiatives. As a chartered professional in the recognition industry, Theresa eliminated the splintered recognition approach in her organization by creating an aggregated program structure to provide a sense of unity and consistency in the company. With this desire, Theresa led the development of the award-winning best practice recognition programs at Delta Air Lines. Theresa currently leads the Solutions division at Inspirus, where she consults with clients as a respected expert in the industry to design recognition programs that align with the organization's cultural goals and needs.


Cord Himelstein


Cord Himelstein, HALO Recognition

Cord Himelstein has helped HALO Recognition become one of the leading providers of employee rewards, recognition and incentive solutions. He is responsible for leading the company’s strategic marketing and communications efforts and works closely with customers to help them develop measurable workforce recognition strategies and create memorable experiences for their employees. Cord is also a recognized HR thought leader. He is a regular contributor to the HALO Recognition blog, as well as publications including Forbes, SHRM, Workspan, TLNT, Smartbrief and Entrepreneur.


Amy J. Hurley


Amy J. Hurley, LSW, CRP, Ohio State University – Wexner Medical Center

Amy J. Hurley, LSW, CRP, is the Program Director for Faculty and Staff Recognition at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. She and her team provide encouraging recognition tools to the 25,000+ faculty and staff and take pride in finding innovative solutions for encouraging their diverse population to use the tools regularly. She is on the Board of Directors for Recognition Professionals International. A big Buckeye fan, Amy has been known to have buckeye treats with her at most presentations... Hope to see you at our breakout session!


Alicia Jenkins


Alicia Jenkins, WorldatWork

Alicia Jenkins is a Program Manager of Survey Research at WorldatWork, focusing on leveraging data to develop digestible, insightful reports that help the association’s audiences make key decisions for their organizations. An experienced research professional with experience in conducting quantitative research on a wide variety of topics, Jenkins has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, and a master’s degree from Wake Forest University.


David Klein


David Klein, Carnival Cruise Line

David Klein is currently the Director, Shipboard Human Resources for Carnival Cruise Line — “The World’s Most Popular Cruise Line®” — which carries millions of passengers every year on their fleet of 26 ships. In his role, David leads the development and operationalization of the infrastructure, processes and programs used to develop, promote, and retain Carnival’s 40,000 shipboard employees. Prior to join Carnival in 2015, David held a variety of roles in the areas of Learning, OD & HR Business Partnership for QVC, Inc. David holds a Master of Arts from West Chester University of Pennsylvania in Industrial Organizational Psychology, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Business from University of West Florida. Away from work, David is a foodie and avid traveler who loves experiencing cultures and tastes around the world and in his current home of Miami Beach, Florida.


Iryna Leonova


Iryna Leonova, CRP, The University of Calgary

Iryna Leonova is passionate about utilizing scientific methods in HR work to identify reliable metrics, measure progress, and predict future trends. Iryna holds a B.Sc. (Hons) in genetics and cytology and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from V. Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine. After switching her career focus to Human Resources, Iryna has worked in both private and public sector. She graduated from the Human Resources Management Certificate program offered by the University of Calgary and earned the Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) designation from Recognition Professionals International.


Susie Lyons


Susie Lyons, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Susie Lyons is an Engagement Consultant for Workforce Performance Excellence at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (over 23,000 employees) in Nashville, TN. Susie has worked at Vanderbilt in the areas of human resources, engagement and recognition for over 30 years and teaches ‘Leadership Tactics for Engagement’ including recognition to VUMC’s new leaders. She is a CRP graduate and former RPI Board Member.


Melissa Minkow


Melissa Minkow, St. Joseph's Healthcare System

Throughout Ms. Minkow’s career, she has focused on increasing patient satisfaction, clinical process improvements, and hospital HCAHPS. A common thread has always been recognizing with purpose for progress. Past positions at New York-Presbyterian Healthcare, Errand Solutions, and TVR Communications allowed both learning and leading to help clients chart a clear path to positive clinical, service, and financial outcomes through staff training and best practices implementation. Her current role as Manager of Patient Experience at St. Joseph’s Health in NJ allows her to combine past experience with today’s healthcare challenges in delivering safe, highly reliable, service oriented care while engaging and motivating staff. She was a CRP and served on the board of Recognition Professionals International for 5 years.


Bob Nelson


Dr. Bob Nelson, Nelson Motivation, Inc.

Dr. Bob Nelson is the leading advocate for employee recognition worldwide and the only person who has done a Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. He has presented on six continents and consulted for 80% of the Fortune 500 on the topic. His classic book, 1501 Ways to Reward Employees, is in its 63rd printing and has sold over 2 million copies; his latest book is Recognizing & Engaging Employees for Dummies.

Gail Rawlinson, CRP, Alberta Health Services

Gail has been an HR Advisor in Recognition Services at Alberta Health Services for 10 years. She was certified as a Recognition Professional in 2015. Gail develops and implements recognition programs and practices to approximately 130,000 staff, physicians and volunteers.


Elena Rhodes


Elena Rhodes, The University of Calgary

Elena Rhodes holds a B.Sc. (Hons) in Actuarial Science from the University of Calgary and the professional actuarial designation of a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries. She spent over 15 years in pension actuarial consulting before shifting her career to the HR field at her alma mater in 2013. There she manages the various retirement programs offered to the university’s 6,000+ employees. She also developed and provided numerous pension & retirement education events to large and small employee audiences. To this, she has added the management of the employee recognition function and implementation of the university’s recognition strategy. Elena completed the University of Calgary’s HR Management Certificate program in 2016 and is a CPHR Candidate.

James Robinson-Long, Biltmore

James has worked in Human Resources for over 30 years. He has practiced in every HR arena including staffing, affirmative action, classification and compensation, benefits, training, HRIS design and implementation, employee relations and administration. He is currently employee relations manager with Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, coordinating employee recognition events, engagement activities and resolving employee relations issues. Past employment has included private and public sector, universities, non-profits and for-profit companies in Indiana, Colorado and North Carolina.


Jeff Ross


Jeff Ross, CPA, CRP, C.A. Short Company

Jeff Ross is a certified public accountant. He joined the C.A. Short Company as its controller in June 1993 and was promoted to Chief Financial Officer in November 1996. In January 2010, he was promoted to President and Chief Financial Officer. In November 2017, he became CEO and CFO. Jeff is a Certified Recognition Professional as designated by Recognition Professionals International. Jeff was employed as an accountant by Hausser + Taylor, a large public accounting and consulting firm from September 1989 until June 1993. Jeff serves on the Board of Directors of 2XSalt Ministries, Charlotte, NC and is a member of North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants, The Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He graduated from The Ohio State University with Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees in 1989.


Barbara Ruddy


Barbara Ruddy, CRP, Arizona Department of Economic Security

Barbara brings to RPI more than 20 years of experience in the field of employee recognition. As a long-time employee with the State of Arizona, Department of Economic Security, an organization of almost 10,000 employees, Barbara was responsible for the design, implementation and ongoing management of an employee recognition system that has served as a model for many other organizations. In these roles, Barbara helped others realize that recognition isn't just a nice thing to do; it’s a smart business strategy for success. As an active supporter of RPI since 1998, Barbara chairs the “Pamela Sabin Recognition Champion Award Program” committee. In addition to being a CRP and RF facilitator, Barbara is a member of the RPI Community Action Team, striving to strengthen the engagement of current members and build membership to share best practices in the field of employee recognition for all organizations, large and small.


Roy Saunderson


Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, Vistance Institute at Rideau, Inc.

Roy is Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions providing recognition consulting, education and thought leadership. He has been a subject matter expert in helping companies give real recognition the right way, wherever they work, for the past 20 years. He serves on RPI’s Education Committee and has been a judge on the Best Practices Awards Committee for the past 10 years. Roy is the author of Giving the Real Recognition Way and is a popular columnist in Incentive Magazine and Training Magazine.


Joanne Smith


Joanne Smith, Delta Air Lines

Joanne Smith is Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Delta Air Lines. She is responsible for preserving the airline's unique culture of positive engagement with its more than 80,000 employees, overseeing talent management and development, HR service delivery, diversity and inclusion, HR policies and programs. Throughout her 30-year career in the travel industry, Joanne has received numerous awards and recognition including 25 Power Women to Watch in Atlanta, Advertising Age Top 10 Women to Watch, Wall Street Journal’s Top Women to Watch, Honored Alumni of the Orfalea College of Business and AWNY Changing the Game Award. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, the Delta Air Lines Foundation, University of Minnesota Foundation National Diversity Advisory Board and is an Advisory Board Member of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.


Dan Stern


Dan Stern, BAE System

Dan Stern is the director of BAE Systems engagement programs & platforms. Design and manage all aspects of the IMPACT enterprise recognition program.  Lead communication outreach program to employee base of 28,000 to encourage engagement activities. Created metric driven business measures in recognition to foster understanding of value to executive management. In addition Dan manages international compensation projects and supports M&A activities as they relate to the compensation function. Dan has 25 years of human resource experience across all functional areas.


Lindsay Strack


Lindsay Strack, WorldatWork

Lindsay Strack is a Program Manager of Survey Research at WorldatWork, delivering timely, practical and relevant results on key total rewards issues. Her experience includes conducting quantitative research in human resources, total rewards, public health and health care. Strack holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.


Jason Thomson


Jason Thomson, CRP, Jigsaw

For more than two decades and a thousand projects, marketer, Creative Director, speechwriter, storyteller and ideation lead Jason Thomson has been hired to passionately win over audiences and sell ideas through presentations, writing and storytelling. The world’s smartest organizations turn to Jason’s creative leadership and original mind as a way to create better presentations to address sales, marketing, HR and operational challenges. Jason helps your leaders explore, develop and sell with engaging and clear presentations that inspire action. As a professional thinker, copywriter and speaker, Jason has fueled the trajectory of the world’s most important brands, including Intel, RBC Royal Bank, Nissan, Entertainment One and McCain Foods. His powerful perspective on what it takes to imagine, develop and sell an idea transforms audiences, leaving them forever prepared to think faster, better and brighter.


Paul White


Dr. Paul White, Appreciation at Work

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist whose passion is to help organizations build healthy work relationships and positive work cultures. Co-author of the best selling The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, and author of The Vibrant Workplace, Dr. White assists leaders and organizations in learning how to communicate authentic appreciation across all types of workplace relationships. Energetic, humorous and thought-provoking, Dr. White is a widely sought-after speaker and trainer both nationally and internationally.