Theatre Communications Group Names James Rhee as Plenary Speaker at 33rd TCG National Conference

The event will be held in Chicago, IL from June 20th to 22nd, 2024.

By: Apr. 25, 2024
Theatre Communications Group Names James Rhee as Plenary Speaker at 33rd TCG National Conference
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Theatre Communications Group has revealed thatJames Rheee, acclaimed CEO, entrepreneurship professor, founder, and bestselling author, will be a plenary speaker at the 33rd TCG National Conference. Held in Chicago, IL from June 20th to 22nd, 2024, in association with the League of Chicago Theatres, the TCG National Conference will draw between 700 to over 1,000 theatre professionals from around the world. Rhee serves as the Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship and senior advisor to the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership at Howard University. 

Rhee will discuss his new book, red helicopter - a parable for our times, with TCG's chief executive officer, Karena Fiorenza. Their conversation will draw from Rhee's human-centered framework for business and personal achievement to address the challenges—and opportunities—currently facing theatres and theatre workers. red helicopter debuted as #1 on USA Today's nonfiction best-selling booklist.

“I'm so thrilled that James accepted our invitation to share his story and insights into successful change management,” said Fiorenza. “In this time of both continued upheaval and chrysalis, his experience at Ashley Stewart and beyond are powerful examples of how theatres can build cultures of compassion, goodwill, and strategic business acumen. As James puts it in his beautiful new book, combining the power of kindness with a little math can inspire a more intuitive and human-centered approach to change. He is the embodiment of applying joyful rigor to all that he does—a trait to which we should all aspire. James is also just a fun and incredible human so my hope is that our conversation will not only spark moments of ‘aha!' and self-examination in your professional practices, but also spark joy, love, and laughter in your soul.”  

“I have no doubt that James and Karena's conversation will provide both inspiration and practical approaches to change management for our attendees,” said LaTeshia Ellerson, chief growth officer, TCG. “We're proud to partner with the League of Chicago Theatres in featuring a wide-range of programming, from plenaries with thought leaders like James to skills-building sessions to exciting performance showcasing Chicago's vibrant theatre scene.”

About red helicopter: In kindergarten, James Rhee received a toy red helicopter after a simple act of kindness—the innocent generosity of sharing his lunch. Nearly four decades later, the lessons from this small gift helped him develop a human-centered framework for business and personal success. Rhee, a Korean American man with no prior background as CEO, unexpectedly took the helm of Ashley Stewart, an iconic company predominantly employing and serving Black women. The world bet against him, but Rhee trusted his instincts to identify, measure, and unleash the intangible goodwill at the company's core, a decision which ultimately multiplied its fortunes several times over. Inspired by the values his dying immigrant parents instilled in him, he knew that a radically different—yet familiar—approach was required to lead this twice-bankrupt company from the jaws of liquidation to transcendent success. 

Through its convenings, TCG continues to serve as a connector for theatres to share best practices and new business and artistic models with one another. TCG presents plenary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, and performances throughout the National Conference.  Past keynote speakers have included leading artists and thinkers, such as Julian Brave NoiseCat, Billy Porter, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jer Thorp, Anand Giridharadas, Samantha Power, Stephanie Ybarra, Mona Eltahawy, Jeff Chang, Jane McGonigal, and Baratunde Thurston. In December of 2022, TCG announced a return to a biennial National Conference schedule, with 2023 as the first off-year. After virtual conferences in 2020 and 2021, TCG held its first hybrid National Conference in Pittsburgh, PA in 2022. The 2024 Conference will build on the learnings of 2022 and include a virtual attendance option in addition to the in-person experience. Learn more about the Conference here

James Rhee 

is a high school teacher, Harvard Law graduate, and private equity investor who became the unexpected Chairman and CEO of Ashley Stewart, where his transformative partnership with a primarily Black female employee and customer base shocked the business community and inspired the world. His TED Talk and Dare to Lead interview with Brené Brown have captured the imagination of millions.

His leadership philosophy and operating system bridge peoples, industries, and ideas, and are the foundation of red helicopter, his media-education platform, and his teaching at Howard University as the John H. Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Duke Law School.

James's processes have been tested and proven in the private sector for over 25 years. After helping manage billions of dollars of private equity in elite Boston-based firms, James started a family-office investment platform, FirePine Group, which has stewarded the capital of some of the world's most sophisticated investors and continues to provide capital to entrepreneurs creating true systemic value. He serves on the Board of Directors of Xponance, a more than $17-billion asset management and investment firm focused on emerging manager strategies. He is an honoree of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program, as well as a former board member of the National Retail Federation.

A charter member of the Advisory Council of JP Morgan Chase's Advancing Black Pathways and the Governing Committee of the CEO Action for Racial Equity, James has been recognized for his numerous civic contributions: he was a Frederick Douglass honoree of the New York Urban League, the recipient of the Council of Korean Americans' Trailblazer Award, and an honoree of One To World's Fulbright Award. He is a member of Ashoka's Entrepreneur-to-Entrepreneur Network and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Coalition for Asian American Children and Families.

Formerly an editor of Harvard Law Review and a director of Harvard University's American Repertory Theater, James' book, red helicopter―a parable for our times debuted as the #1 national bestselling non-fiction book. Various music and multimedia projects related to it are in progress. He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

Karena Fiorenza 

(she/her/ella) is the CEO and Founder of Ánimo Consulting, a boutique management consulting firm that supports organizations with strategy, culture building, coaching, change management and fractional C-Suite executive services. Karena brings two decades of experience as an equity-driven executive leader with a demonstrated history of initiating positive organizational change while advancing art, mission, people, culture and revenue goals. Previous tenures include: Interim CEO for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; General Manager for UNIVERSES, Steppenwolf Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; Associate Managing Director at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre; and Executive Director of contemporary dance company Robert Moses' Kin. She holds two bachelor's degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, an MFA in Theater Management from Yale University and was a 2021 Civic Leadership Academy Fellow at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Karena currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, CA with her husband, toddler, and fluffy dog and finds joy in also being a modern stained and fused glass artist.


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