Rorke Denver

Navy SEAL commander

Commander Rorke Denver has run every phase of training for the U.S. Navy SEALs and led special forces missions in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and other international hot spots. He starred in the film Act of Valor, based on true SEAL adventures. He is the author of “Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior” and “Worth Dying For: A Navy SEAL’s Call to a Nation.” Rorke also appeared in FOX’s American Grit, which followed 16 of the country’s toughest men and women as they faced military-grade and survival-themed challenges in the wilderness.

Denver is founder of Ever Onward, which uses Navy SEAL principles to call leaders to take action and be bold so they can perform at their highest levels. Denver is a graduate of the United States Army Ranger School. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Syracuse University, where he was an All-American lacrosse player. He earned a master’s degree in global business Leadership from the University of San Diego.

Merit Gest

Sales and human dynamics expert

Merit Gest, CSP, has more than 20 years of experience in human dynamics, sales and leadership. She is president of Merit-based Professional Development and has earned the highest designation in the speaking profession, certified speaking professional, which has been achieved by fewer than 12 percent of speakers worldwide.

Merit’s work experience and certifications in emotional intelligence and cultural transformation give her a unique perspective on sales, leadership, communication, change and success. She is the author of “Myth Shift: Challenging the Truths that Sabotage Success” and performs original stand-up comedy for fun.

John Venhuizen

President and CEO, Ace Hardware Corporation

John Venhuizen is president and chief executive officer of Ace Hardware Corporation. A 22-year veteran of Ace, he most recently served as president and chief operating officer. Venhuizen joined the Ace marketing department in 1992. After serving a number of corporate and field roles in marketing, category management and merchandising, Venhuizen was promoted to manager of marketing in 2000, where he oversaw Ace’s brand strategy, customer relationship management initiative, e-commerce and consumer research. In 2004, he became director of business development and led Ace’s aggressive growth strategy and implementation. In 2006, Venhuizen was promoted to vice president of business development. In 2008, he was named vice president, business development, retail training and international as Ace launched Ace International Holdings to expand brand licensees around the globe. In 2010, he was promoted to executive vice president over Ace’s supply chain, information technology, international and strategy.

Venhuizen serves on a number of boards including the Mark Morton Memorial Foundation, Ace International Holdings and Ace Retail Holdings. He is a graduate of Trinity Christian College and earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a marketing concentration.

Bill Taylor

Co-founder, Fast Company

Bill Taylor shows business leaders a path from now to next in a world filled with nonstop disruption. As a young entrepreneur, he co-founded Fast Company, the bold business magazine that redefined the genre and chronicled the tech-fueled revolution that transformed business and work. Highlighting free-thinking leaders and companies that are upending their organizations and industries is Taylor’s passion – and he had a front-row seat.

He has inspired a generation of executives and company-builders to think differently about leadership, change, culture and the world of work. The author of three best-selling books filled with new ways to innovate and succeed – “Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways,” “Practically Radical” and “Mavericks at Work” – Taylor also writes regularly for Harvard Business Review. He is a natural storyteller who inspires people to avoid the experience trap, not allowing what they know to limit what they can imagine about the future.

Taylor is a graduate of Princeton University and the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Chris Riddell

Futurist and digital pioneer

Chris Riddell is an award winning global futurist and industry recognized inspirational keynote speaker on emerging trends in our hyper-connected world. He is a global pattern-hunter, discovering and identifying how humans are changing and adapting to high-speed change, unlocking insights for businesses and leaders in today’s highly disrupted digital world.

Riddell is a strategic advisor and partner to the Australian Federal Police, providing real-time advice and insights on emerging trends and global drivers to inform strategy and capability development. A global trailblazer, he has worked for some of the largest and most defining businesses and brands.

Riddell was the first chief digital officer (CDO) for MARS Incorporated, architecting the corporate digital strategy behind brands including Whiskas, Pedigree, Wrigley, Starburst, Masterfoods, Snickers and Maltesers.

As a regular on Sky News Business, The Project on Ten, Channel 7’s The Morning Show, The Daily Edition prime time shows, and ABC 774 Radio, Riddell’s insights and expertise as a consumer technology trend-spotter extend far beyond the walls of the corporate world.

Jay Debertin

President and chief executive officer of CHS

Jay Debertin is president and chief executive officer of CHS, which employs 11,000 people and represents 600,000 farmer-owners nationwide. As president and CEO he has focused on strengthening the company by advancing operational excellence, accelerating its focus on results and delivering products and services that help the cooperative’s owners grow.

Debertin was named president and CEO in 2017 after 33 years in leadership roles within the company. He also chairs the board for Ventura Foods, LLC. Previously, he was executive vice president and chief operating officer for the company’s energy operations and processing and food ingredients. He joined CHS in 1984 in its petroleum division, holding a variety of leadership positions including overseeing energy marketing, crude oil supply, refining, pipelines and terminals, trading and risk management and transportation.

Debertin holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Dakota. He also earned an MBA from the University of Wisconsin.

Business breakout session speakers

Meet the speakers leading the business breakout sessions.