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Robert Gates
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Exclusively available through WSB

Robert Gates

“Core to leadership is the ability to relate to people – to empathize, understand, inspire, and motivate.”

Transformational Leader; Secretary of Defense (2006-2011); Bestselling Author

Expertise In:

  • U.S. Foreign Policy
  • National Security
  • Diplomacy
  • Patriotism
  • U.S. Current Events

Audience & Industry

  • Board Meetings and Executive Briefings
  • Corporations
  • Global Audiences
  • Senior Management Groups
  • The Finance Industry

A pragmatic consensus builder who helped mold intelligence and defense policies over the past nearly 50 years, Robert Gates has guided numerous large bureaucracies and private institutions through tumultuous and transformative change.

From Pentagon war rooms to corporate board rooms, Robert Gates has brought a depth and breadth of administrative expertise, geopolitical insight, business acumen, and bold vision to his numerous leadership roles.

Recognized as a consummate leader and dedicated patriot, he has served eight U.S. Presidents, influenced decades of U.S. intelligence and defense policies, and helped chart new paths for public and private institutions looking to adapt and transform.

The key to helping entities resistant to change, Gates believes, is to thoroughly know the organization and strive to bring all stakeholders on board. The leader of an organization is the engine of change and reform,” he says. “And his or her work is never done.”

Gates’s far-reaching outlook, sharp intellect, and consistent, consensus-building leadership have helped him ensure that institutions and organizations adapt to a rapidly changing world.

As the only Secretary of Defense to work for both Republican and Democratic administrations, Gates oversaw a huge shift away from conventional warfare toward anti-terrorist tactics. He also paved the way for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that discriminated against personnel based on sexual orientation. These policies helped change the tide of the war on terrorism, restore prestige to the armed forces, and increase national security.

While President of Texas A&M University, the fourth largest university in the country, Gates increased the diversity of the student body, without relying on affirmative action programs. He expanded the number of recruiting offices, added bilingual staff, and moved to a merit-based acceptance system that eliminated preferences for children of alumni. Since 2012, Gates has served as the Chancellor of the College of William & Mary, his alma mater, where he continues to champion policies of diversity and inclusion.

During his time as president of the Boys Scouts of America, Gates helped reverse steep membership declines and division among its core membership by reversing a policy of discrimination against leaders based on sexual orientation. Citing social, judicial, and political changes, the former Eagle Scout pursued a careful, gradual strategy to ensure the Boy Scouts would survive and thrive as an institution.

Most recently, he brought his global perspective and executive expertise to several corporate boards, including Fidelity Funds, one of the nation’s largest mutual fund companies, and Starbucks.

Gates was studying for a Master’s degree in history at Indiana University when he was recruited by the CIA. After a two-year stint in the Air Force, he began a 25 year-climb through the agency to become the first career officer to ascend to the top job. During his tenure as CIA Director, he is credited with rebuilding morale after a series of congressional investigations.

A bestselling author, Gates’ latest book, Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World, was published in 2020. His 2017 release, A Passion for Leadership, explores his experiences as a change agent at three sprawling organizations: the CIA, Texas A&M, and the Defense Department. His memoir, Duty, details his experiences as a Secretary of Defense at war. From the Shadows tells the behind-the-scenes story of America’s role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2011, Gates was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, by President Obama. He is also a three-time recipient of the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, one of the CIA’s most prestigious honors.

Named by both U.S. News & World Report and Time as one of the country’s best, most influential leaders, Gates shares with audiences an inspiring presentation on every organization’s need to change and how to successfully implement it. Practical, innovative, and humorous, Gates describes the lessons learned over a lifetime as one of America’s best leaders.

Offering a candid and fresh perspective on the state of current affairs, he imparts a renewed sense of optimism for the future.


“I've seen, all too often in my career, people coming in to lead agencies and organizations and trying to impose change from the top down. It never works,” says Gates. The former Secretary of Defense has successfully helped sprawling bureaucratic agencies chart new paths by building consensus from within the organizations.

Relevant to:
  • Corporations
  • Senior Management Groups

“Every organization needs to have a sense of permanent revolution,” says Gates, who has shepherded countless institutions through major shifts. Leaders need to preserve traditions and culture that make a company great, but prevent bureaucracy and inertia that can creep in and calcify progress, he emphasizes.

Relevant to:
  • Board Meetings and Executive Briefings
  • Corporations

To be an effective leader one needs micro knowledge, but not micro-management, believes Gates. To effect change in an organization, one must know it inside and out, and create buy-in from the rank and file, he adds.

Relevant to:
  • Senior Management Groups
  • The Finance Industry

Featured Videos

Robert Gates' Speech Topics


According to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, we face one of the most complex, dangerous, and uncertain international environments today.

From rising military tensions with Russia and China, to multiple conflicts in the Middle East and the threat of ISIS, and uncertain trade relations and economic challenges confronting Europe, he foresees a generation of conflict. He also predicts we will continue to face the most challenging international environment since the Cold War, and for some time to come.

In this presentation, Gates shares his views about the most pressing threats to global stability and America’s security. Drawing on his experiences as defense secretary under Presidents Bush and Obama, recounted vividly in his bestselling memoir, Duty, he reflects on the way America's government works, and too often does not work. Without political spin or a partisan outlook, he shares with audiences his realistic and optimistic outlook.

A Fireside Chat with Robert Gates

In this intimate speaking experience, audiences will hear from Robert Gates on the many facets of his long and storied career. From global politics and U.S. foreign policy to leadership challenges and conflict resolution, Gates offers his candid, measured perspective, laced with humor.

Undergirding all his advice is the tenet that great leaders listen and respond to their teams and embrace the power of compromise.

In this wide-ranging, unscripted conversation, listeners will benefit from the insight of one of the country’s most respected, and influential leaders.

Leading Through Change

Robert Gates believes there is no universal solution for effecting change. Instead, he says, leaders must understand their organizations thoroughly to find out how best to tackle their problems.

One of the most respected leaders in recent U.S. history, Gates served under eight presidents and successfully led four very different organizations through turbulent change: the Central Intelligence Agency, Texas A&M University, the Department of Defense, and the Boy Scouts of America.

In this talk, Gates offers bold and candid advice to help organizations create change and chart a course to success. With insights gleaned from real-life experiences helping large organizations navigate new paths, he shares how businesses can eliminate tunnel vision and prepare for the future – helping them take stock of what they are versus what they could be.

Key to any change, says Gates, is to bring everyone on board and build a sense of camaraderie that the change is critical to the organization’s future.

Companies have to change all the time to be competitive. How do you recognize and preserve the tradition and culture that made a company great, and determine the barriers preventing movement forward? Assessing the challenges of large institutions, Gates offers innovative and practical advice, sharing personal anecdotes and experiences as most pertinent to your audience.

Works by Robert Gates