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Steve  Pemberton

Steve Pemberton

Chief Human Resources Officer & Best Selling Author


“Steve Pemberton was one of the most incredible speakers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. His message fit perfectly with our programming as he customized every last word. His own personal story had the audience standing in ovation at the end.” –Cyracom International

“I have been coming to our conference for 47 years and I’ve never met a man like him; heard a story like his or witnessed an impact like the one he had on us. A good man made great by his goodness.” - NAEYC

Steve Pemberton is a visionary senior human resource (HR) executive, human capital strategist, bestselling author, ardent human rights champion, youth advocate and one of the most inspiring leaders of our time. A passionate communicator and powerful presenter, Steve is widely appreciated for his ability to connect with a broad spectrum of audiences. From corporate America and the non-profit world to healthcare and higher education, Steve's relentless mission and framework continue to inspire and encourage others to deliver trusted guideposts for living, learning and leading. Read More >

From Monster.com to Walgreens, Steve has consistently served in leadership positions that have furthered his gift for seeking the greater good and creating engaged communities and organizations. Most recently, he served as the chief HR officer of Workhuman, a technology company that delivers performance management and employee engagement solutions to corporations worldwide. There, he avidly fostered the company's goal of inspiring HR leaders to embrace more humanity and cultivate a higher purpose in the workplace and their communities. Steve is exceptionally skilled at creating inspiring, innovative environments while recognizing and developing talent. His "next practices" approach has successfully created award-winning organizational cultures that create maximum performance.

Steve's philosophy on human capital has been shaped by positions that delivered talent solutions to HR executives. As a result, he has observed how domestic and international organizations manage talent, particularly as the relationship between employer and employee has transformed in a world still recovering from a global pandemic. A highly sought-after voice on workplace trends, he presents at the most recognizable HR conferences in the world, is interviewed often by the business media on human capital matters and consults with organizations across the world on their talent strategies.

Beyond his professional achievements in the world of HR, Steve is also widely known as the author of two critically acclaimed, bestselling books. His first, A Chance in the World, shares his extraordinary story of how he defied seemingly impossible odds as an orphan navigating the perils of the foster care system all while trying to solve the mystery of his own identity. In 2018, the book was adapted into an independent film of the same name. A partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt led to creating an integrated social-emotional learning curriculum based on the book, taught today in high schools throughout the United States.

Steve's second book, The Lighthouse Effect: How Ordinary People Can Have an Extraordinary Impact in the World, offers practical encouragement for becoming a "human lighthouse" – turning personal pain into a purposeful mission to help others, as he has done in his own life. The overwhelming response to The Lighthouse Effect is what led Steve to create The Lighthouse Academy, the inspiring life-coaching platform that is transforming lives each and every day.

The power of his life story, and its many engaging insights, has led to numerous high-profile media appearances, including the Today Show, CBS Evening News, Tamron Hall, the Today Show and People magazine.

Steve's personal and professional accomplishments have been recognized through numerous honors. A former candidate for the United States Senate, he received the prestigious Horizon Award from the U.S. Congress, presented to private-sector individuals who have expanded opportunities for all Americans through their own contributions and who have set exceptional examples for young people through their successes in life. Steve is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achiever Award by the New England Opportunity Association. Winston-Salem State University, Providence College and Boston College are among the institutions that awarded him an honorary doctorate.

With a steadfast commitment to people and community wellbeing, Steve gives abundantly of his time, talent and convictions. His robust history of service includes membership on the boards of the University & College Accountability Network, Loyola Academy, Boston College, The Wily Network, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, Boys Hope Girls Hope and Disability: IN, the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide. At every turn, Steve continues with his own "Lighthouse Effect" by fulfilling his mission for all to have "A Chance in the World."

As a keynote speaker, Steve has earned high praise for his highly collaborative style, working closely with clients to seamlessly customize his content to the messaging goals and themes for each event. A gifted communicator and powerful storyteller, he consistently receives stellar reviews for his ability to connect with a wide spectrum of audiences and organizations. As one client said, "Steve Pemberton was one of the most incredible speakers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing." Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Extraordinary Journey of Steve Pemberton

How Sharing Your Story Can Help You Find Common Connections With Others | The Tamron Hall Show

Virtual Keynote: Human Lighthouse & the Power of Gratitude

Boston College Class of 2020 Commencement Address

A Chance in the World Promo

Creating A Different Vision

The Power of Education

A Chance in the World Sneak Preview

A Chance in the World - Reunion

Speaking Reel

On Diversity and Inclusion

Hope Is a Powerful Word

Speech Topics

A Chance in the World

Steve Pemberton’s inspirational story, A Chance in the World, has touched the hearts of millions. In this inspiring presentation, Pemberton tells how he defied seemingly impossible odds as an orphaned boy navigating the foster care system — all while trying to solve the mystery of his own identity and destiny. Pemberton also provides valuable lessons on self-empowerment, breaking negative cycles, creating a vision and achieving your goals — even when everyone says you don’t have a chance in the world. This unforgettable keynote from an exceptional speaker can be customized to reflect your organization’s focus, culture, objectives and specific challenges.

The Lighthouse Effect: How Ordinary People Can Have an Extraordinary Impact in the World

Throughout his life, Steve Pemberton has learned an astonishing amount. But one lesson, more than any other, has always stuck with him: Not all heroes wear capes. There are ordinary people who may not even know they’ve completely changed the course of a person’s life. Pemberton likens them to human lighthouses. Like a lighthouse, their job is to protect the journey of the traveler. They’re humble and steady. They seek no reward. They require no recognition. And yet, we all set our compasses by them. They direct us back to the goodness in each other and in our own hearts. Read More >

In this inspirational talk, Pemberton shares stories of his own human lighthouses. You will meet those who have turned personal pain into possibilities for themselves and those around them. You’ll learn what motivates them, where their compassion comes from and the lessons their lives can offer us. Pemberton also offers a framework for living, earning and leading — a way to more positively engage with one another, to build trust, to see beyond the labels that define us to the human experiences that bond us. This unforgettable keynote, workshop or master class can be customized to reflect your organization’s focus, culture, objectives and specific challenges. Read Less ^

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.: MLK & The Lighthouse Effect

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not just an annual recognition of the life and legacy of a civil rights leader. It is an opportunity to look inward and ask ourselves what we can do to bring about a more equal world and what tangible actions we can take to ensure that all voices are heard — and valued — says bestselling author and business leader Steve Pemberton. It’s what Dr. King dreamed of and what Pemberton tries to achieve every day. In this inspirational presentation, informed by Pemberton’s turbulent journey of growing up in the foster care system, Pemberton asks us to reconsider King’s legacy in the context of the enduring structure of the lighthouse and how each day offers us an opportunity to find a lighthouse for ourselves and to become one for another. At a time when the very notion of diversity needs to be re-defended and re-defined, you’ll be renewed and inspired to make your own contributions to helping us find our collective humanity.

A Chance to Lead: Navigating Adversity with Strategies from Everyday Heroes

Steve Pemberton has discovered invaluable life lessons and leadership strategies in the stories of everyday heroes that have triumphed in the face of adversity. These inspiring people do not necessarily fit America’s ideas of a traditional hero. Instead, they’re redefining what heroism truly means through their character and values, as well as the humility, strength, courage and perseverance that they’ve shown in challenging circumstances. Drawing from these inspirational stories and his own odds-defying personal and professional journey, Pemberton shares strategies that any leader, team or organization can use to navigate adversity, overcome obstacles and bring the best out of every employee.

A New Take on Diversity: Moving from Labels to Experiences

After growing up in foster care and being labeled as a boy “without a chance in the world” Steve Pemberton has never cared for labeling people. Drawing upon his experience as the former Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, Pemberton discusses how the conversation on diversity should move away from a sole emphasis on classifying people by their visible characteristics. Instead, we should focus on who they are and the life experience they bring. Pemberton will outline how this approach brought increased shareholder value to Walgreens and Monster—and how it can be implemented by any company. By shifting the paradigm, you won’t just get more out of your employees. You’ll increase focus, company morale, customer engagement and top-line revenue.

A Chance to Lead: Recognizing Potential to Maximize Performance

As an orphaned foster child, Steve Pemberton was “given a chance” by a teacher that saw his potential. This life-changing event would later shape his leadership as a human resources executive and diversity officer at Monster.com and Walgreens. In this compelling keynote for executives, hiring managers and recruiters, Pemberton lays out strategies for leaders that recognize hidden talent and create an organizational culture that gives each team member their best chance at success. Pemberton shares real-life examples of employees and executives that saw the potential in people by looking beyond what others would see as disabilities or liabilities. He also shows how micro-cultural changes can grow to become cultural norms within your entire organization.

A Chance to Lead: Breaking the Cycle in Health Disparities

After years of being trapped in the foster care system, Steve Pemberton went on a search for his biological family. He discovered gaps in a health care system that ended up playing a tremendous role in shaping his life. He found that his grandmother had died of heart disease at just 40 years old, leaving all her children behind, including Pemberton’s mother, who had been battling with alcoholism and other health issues. Neither had access to treatment because the family was too poor to afford proper health coverage. Steve understands firsthand how social determinants of health can influence and damage lives and communities. He shares his personal story to help elevate the conversation around health disparities, hoping to make a difference in lives now and in generations to come, so that everyone has a "Chance in The World."

Breakout Session: Effective Strategies for Building a Great Team

This empowering, interactive breakout session from Steve Pemberton focuses on the key strategies and behaviors that drive successful teams and further collaboration. Participants will learn how to leverage different views to improve outcomes, understand how to ask the right questions to build a powerful team dynamic, and build a culture of inspired engagement.

What Is a Man's Responsibility to Advance Women in the Workplace?

Steve Pemberton, Chief Human Resources Officer at Workhuman (formerly Globoforce), tackles this often-discussed topic with candor, clarity and conviction. His long career in diversity and inclusion work at Monster.com and now Walgreens Boots Alliance led him to develop the Five Rs for advancing women in the workplace: Recognize, Respect, Regard, Re-Evaluate, Repeat. This framework has created a sustainable culture of inclusivity that moves beyond corrective action to a powerful embrace of the competitive advantage that full inclusion of women often provides. Told in Pemberton's inspirational style with powerful examples, audiences will leave empowered and inspired to move forward in their gender inclusion journey.

One America: The Micro Cultural Changes to Bring the “United” Back into U.S.A.

Steve Pemberton recently wrote, “There is a quiet whisper happening in our country today and we’re wondering whether or not we’re getting this right. We’re wondering about the daily deluge of cynicism, the me-first kind of behaviors, the “if it bleeds it leads” kind of culture and becoming increasingly disconnected as we are becoming technologically connected. In this inspiring keynote, Steve Pemberton calls for all of us to drive cultural change and bring the “united” back to the United States through a “One America” ideology. Pemberton uses his own story to demonstrate how people can unite as one to overcome impossible odds—inspiring all of us to return to faith and service.