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Bill Strickland | An Extraordinary Business and Community Leader
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

As the founder and chairman of the Manchester Bidwell arts and training center, Bill Strickland inspires hope, generates jobs, and empowers citizens to become experts in any field—regardless of their circumstances. Strickland shows us how to pursue social restoration and profit with a conscience. His leadership fuels a deep desire to make the world we live in a better place—and anyone who hears him speak will undoubtedly be compelled to act.

“Bill Strickland is a genius because he sees the inherent genius in everyone”

— Jeff Skoll, Former president of eBay

Bill Strickland has created a blueprint for building centers that help end the cycle of poverty and poor education. But his true legacy lies in his ethical leadership, unwavering passion for people, and the steadfast belief that if you give them the right tools, they can—and will—perform miraculous deeds. To date, Bill has guided thousands of people towards employment, passion, craft, and dignity in their actions, even when it seemed like the odds were against him. After years of trying to raise the money for what would become Manchester Bidwell, Strickland changed tack: he persuaded one of Pittsburgh’s leading architects to design a new arts and training center. Then, he hit the pavement, showing the city’s business leaders, charity foundations, and public authorities why it was in their interest to fund his plan. Forty years later, he has a paradigm-shifting social enterprise that’s partnered with billion-dollar brands like Heinz and Bayer, won awards, broken records, and reshaped the business of social change.


In his revolutionary book Make the Impossible Possible, written with Vince Rause, Strickland shows how each of us can reach our fullest potential and achieve the “impossible” in our own lives and careers—and perhaps change the world a little in the process. Rather than teaching you how to succeed by the book, Strickland will show you how to defy habit, find your purpose, and build your business against the grain of conventional logic. Perhaps most important of all, the book helps us face our failures and come out on the other side of our challenges with renewed hope and resilience.

Strickland was once named one of 25 members of the White House Council for Community Solutions by President Obama, and for years now, the MacArthur Genius has shared his unshakable message of leadership, self-worth, and our intrinsic ability for remarkable transformation, to rapt audiences. He was also honored by the US Senate for his contribution to social innovation, was a recipient of The White House’s “Coming Up Taller” Award, and the founder of the Grammy-winning MCG Jazz, the most successful jazz subscription series in America.


“Bill's belief in everyone's individual talents and skills even in the face of poverty or former institutionalization speaks to his love of the human spirit.”


“Bill showed us that even in the face of resistance and negativity, so much can be accomplished if we look towards the greater good.”


“One of the biggest take-aways that I got from Bill was how it only takes one person, one thing, or one moment to inspire you and move you enough to take action.”


“To me, the biggest takeaway from Bill's talk is that nobody should be given up on. So many of the problems we face are a result of unequal qualities of life between people. The privilege of the few is paid for by the disparity of the many. What made Bill’s projects so successful was his ability to provide people born into bad situations with hope.”


“Bill’s talk was so moving and inspirational, that if I had only seen him, the conference would have been worth it. His message will resonate with me forever.”

Next Concept HR Association

“I’m writing to thank you for your help facilitating Bill Strickland’s engagement at our national convening this week. Despite the snow, we had a full house to hear his remarks, and we were so glad. People from around the country were moved to tears and moved to action (even better). One team made a commitment at the closing remarks. They said, ‘Yesterday we had a fully compliant state plan. This morning, after hearing Bill Strickland, we decided to blow it up and create a disruptive, innovative state plan.’ That is awesome!”

US Department of Education

“Bill Strickland spoke to 502 Freshman students about his book *Make the Impossible Possible.* He also engaged some of our faculty, who are teaching this book, in an informal discussion. He made such an impression on our students and faculty. Our students were inspired by his talk, as at least 100 or more waited for him after the presentation to take pictures, get autographs and speak with him personally.”

Florida A&M University

“Everyone is still raving about Bill’s keynote. He received a standing ovation which is rare for our conferences as many of our delegates are fairly cynical after seeing many, many speakers over the years. However, Bill’s inspiring story really touched them and I’m sure will stay with them for a long time to come. He is also just a lovely man and everyone really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with him at our gala dinner.”


Speech Topics

The Art of Leadership and the Business of Social Change

Strickland is a mesmerizing speaker who will inspire you to make a difference, in your life and in the lives of those around you. Ever-gracious, he delivers a profoundly simple, optimistic message for leaders: give people the tools they need, treat them with respect, and they will perform miraculous deeds. He also delves into his story of hope: of how a kid from Pittsburgh’s ghetto would go on to lecture at Harvard and serve on the board of the National Endowment of the Arts; of his meeting with a pottery teacher who would change his life; of growing a near-bankrupt community center into one of the most acclaimed social organizations in the world. Throughout, he shares his powerful set of beliefs: for example, that we all make ourselves “poor” in one way or another when we accept that we are not smart, experienced, or talented enough to accomplish something. “A successful life is not something you simply pursue—it is something that you create, moment by moment.”

Grit at School
A Teacher Saved My Life
Growing up in a rough part of Pittsburgh, Bill Strickland saw a hopeless path laid out before him. Then one day a chance encounter with a high school pottery teacher gave him a new passion. It gave him something to look forward to every day. Strickland credits that teacher with saving his life. That’s the power of one teacher. Strickland’s acclaimed Manchester Bidwell organization has the same impact, but on a grander scale. It comes down to respect and attention, on an individual level. Technology can make educating easier, but it’ll never be able to replace the emotional support that’s so key in helping young people succeed. Only a teacher can provide that. This rousing keynote is Strickland’s call-to-arms for fellow educators. He champions them as some of the most important people in the world and, calling on over three decades of experience, will demonstrate the power they have to make lives better. This talk is for all education groups, and will cast teachers in a great light.