Celebrating 25 Years - Part 2: Turning Points

Gail Davis, 27 February 2024

I am often asked about notable turning points for GDA Speakers. Over 25 years there have been many memorable moments, but there is definitely one that stands out.

One day in early 2000, I had lunch with my former colleague, Joyce McKee, whom I knew from work we’d done together for my previous employer, EDS. After we had enjoyed an hour’s worth of chatting and catching up, Joyce wrote the name “Elyse Gut” on a piece of paper and handed it over to me. She explained Elyse was responsible for a large human resource conference and hired a lot of speakers. After researching the conference to learn more, I called Elyse and left her a voicemail about Nando Parrado.

Nando Parrado and Gail Davis

Upon returning my call, Elyse and I had a nice conversation - she was very pleasant and it was clear she thought the world of Joyce. Very diplomatically Elyse explained that Nando didn’t have enough name recognition to draw a big crowd to her conference but that she would like to meet him if ever he came to town.

Fast forward a few months later and Nando is in Dallas. Elyse kept her word and agreed to meet with us. As we settled in to the conference room in her office, she called in several of her colleagues for what she assured them would be a quick meeting. Nando began sharing his story - everyone was captivated. By the end of the meeting, and without even taking a break, the team agreed to invite Nando to be one of the group’s three keynote speakers that fall.

Elyse Gut and Nando Parrado

This proved to be our first really big break. At the fall event, Nando ended up sharing the stage with no less than Sam Donaldson and Dave Barry in front of 1,800 people. During his presentation, the audience members grew so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. Afterwards, the line to buy Piers Paul Read’s book Alive stretched for what seemed like forever and they ended up selling out. 

Elyse was thrilled, which of course made me thrilled. But the excitement was only beginning to build. The next day, a member of the audience who happened to be a representative for the Society of Human Resource Management called to book Nando for the organization’s June, 2001 conference, where Nando would share the stage with Doris Kearns Goodwin and Gary Hamel in front of an audience of 12,000. 

There was no doubt about it, from that point on we were on the up and up! All thanks to that single pivotal meeting with Elyse Gut.