Innovations 2020 Opening Keynote Roy Spence

Opening General Session Keynote
Sunday, March 1, 4:00 - 5:30 PM

Roy Spence

Co-Founder and Chairman, GSD&M; Co-Founder and CEO, The Purpose Institute; and Founder, The Promiseland Project

Keynote Address

The Power of Purpose in Business and in Life

In today’s world of hyperconnectivity, people are feeling more disconnected from themselves and their core Purpose—in life, in their work, and even in their country—than maybe ever before. This is where the power of Purpose comes in. Seeking and discovering Purpose in your life and your life’s work is challenging and yet energizing, and a powerful force to counter chaos and divisiveness. Roy Spence has made it his life’s journey to discover and bring to life the path to Purpose and higher calling for leaders in all sectors of society.

The Promiseland Project is a long-term marketing and grassroots campaign to unleash the power of Purpose to bridge the cultural divide, to inspire and motivate people of all walks of life to get out there and walk in other’s shoes, and to respect the dignity of all work. The Project is focused on the massive shortage of high-skilled workers in America and is preparing a national and extensive marketing campaign designed to do the following:

  1. Dismantle the myth that a four-year college path is the only path to a successful career and life in America.
  2. Champion the Purpose and values of community colleges as a proven career path for individuals to find their own purpose, skill up, and make a living and life doing what they love to do.


It was 1971, and four University of Texas soon-to-be graduates decided to start an advertising agency in Austin, Texas—then a funky little college town known primarily for hippies, Texas Longhorns, and Willie Nelson. Their simple business plan was to stay together, stay in Austin, and use the power of marketing to make a difference. Forty-seven years later, Spence and his partners are still together, still in Austin, and still trying to make a difference. Spence signs every letter with the words, “Ride at Dawn.” That’s not just a sign-off, it’s a manifesto—a call to action to live life to its fullest every day.

Spence and his partners built GSD&M from scratch into a marketing, advertising, and idea machine: flying with Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines; riding with Sam Walton, founder of Walmart; driving with BMW and the PGA TOUR; and defending freedom with the United States Air Force. They also donated their time and talent to create compelling public service awareness (PSA) ads to mobilize goodwill in moments that matter the most (e.g., after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti) and, recently, filmed and produced PSAs with the five former presidents for hurricane relief for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Spence’s passion is entrepreneurship, which he refers to as “the miracle of America.” He deeply believes that when America is at her best, it does not matter what your last name or zip code is. If you can dream it, you can build it. Spence is also co-founder and CEO of The Purpose Institute, which is also home-based in Austin. The Purpose Institute is singularly focused on discovering the higher calling purpose and core values that define and shape an organization’s culture and the core purpose that captures the difference an organization makes in the world.

Spence co-authored The Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Its Not What You Sell, Its What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose, and authored The 10 Essential Hugs of Life, a collection of heartwarming stories about the need for gratitude and love.

In 2018, Spence founded The Promiseland Project to unleash the power of purpose‐inspired marketing and messaging to help bridge the massive cultural divide in America. The Promiseland Project is a large and diverse group of purpose‐driven communications professionals from all over America whose passion is a unified America. The goal is to inspire and engage the American people to help move America from the dark winter of political and cultural division into a bright new dawn of a culture of “us.”

Spence is also a Gallup Senior Adviser as Gallup’s expert on purpose and a champion of Clifton’s Strengths Movement. Over 14 million people around the world have taken Clifton’s StrengthsFinder assessment, all in the effort to help people everywhere discover and then play to their strengths in work and life.

Spence has been inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame and The University of Texas McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame. Texas Monthly magazine named him “Adman of the Century,” and he is a Distinguished Alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin as well as a Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation board member.

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