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Leading Where You Are with Joe Erwin

Posted by: McClain Talley on Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Greenville Chamber’s Annual Leadership Summit is always an opportunity for people to build their leadership capacity and challenge themselves to think differently. We always feature influential leaders from our community, and this year our keynote speaker was Joe Erwin. Joe is a proud Clemson graduate, and after pursuing a marketing career in New York City, came back to Greenville with his wife Gretchen and founded Erwin-Penland. Over the next 30 years, Erwin-Penland grew from a staff of two employees to a company of over 400 people with offices in Greenville and New York. Erwin is passionate about leadership and serves on the leadership team of Clemson’s Erwin Center for Brand Communications, as well as provides consulting services to several large and small agencies.

His keynote for our Annual Leadership Summit was Leading Where You Are. He began by explaining the nature of pitching a campaign to a client, how expensive and time consuming it could be to create and how sometimes it doesn’t work out. Upon finishing, he unveiled a stack of haphazardly cut cardboard signs and began telling his audience his story. As he spoke about the importance of “Leading Where You Are,” and how he learned to do so from his many interesting life experiences, he would hold up a corresponding cardboard sign with a doodle and a quote on it.  He talked about the importance of leading a team, how people should “dare to be crazy, because when they do they work with joy and make great things happen,” the importance of planning and setting a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG), and even told the story of how he first fired someone to highlight the importance of a team that loves working together.

He left everyone in attendance with a challenged perspective of what it means to be an effective leader and a sense of empowerment. His closing statement repurposed what he shared as one of his most favorite quotes he had ever heard, and was the most engaging part of his keynote speech: “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”


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