Keynote Speaker


Mitch Utterback
Retired U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel

Mitch Utterback is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel and former member of the California and Colorado National Guard. He has deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. Mitch commanded troops along the U.S. border with Mexico as part of the interagency effort to interdict the flow of narcotics coming north, and was stationed behind the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.

In Colorado, he served as the agency representative and military liaison to the incident commander during the wildfires of 2012-2013 and the flood of 2013. His duties also included briefing the media on the military contributions to the response effort, and he was usually mistaken for the public information officer!

Since retiring in 2015, Mitch has opened a task book for liaison officer and joined the Boulder County, Colorado Type III IMT. He recently completed a master’s in journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder thanks to the GI Bill and traveled alone to Mosul, Iraq to rejoin his former Iraqi special operations teammates to document their fight against ISIS for his thesis.

Mitch also holds a master’s in Homeland Security from San Diego State University and appears regularly on cable television as a military and national security analyst.

Featured Speakers

Preston Cline
Director, Wharton Leadership Ventures
McNulty Leadership Program
The Wharton School

Preston began his formal career in the late 1980’s leading 60-day remote wilderness trips with adjudicated youth out of New Jersey. Trained as a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, a NAUI Rescue Diver and an Ocean Lifeguard Trainer, Preston has led both terrestrial and marine Search and Rescue teams, leading the primary, secondary and tertiary responses to a number of critical and catastrophic incidents. In addition, he has served as an incident investigator, an expert witness and a critical incident stress manager on cases involving fatalities in remote environments.

Prior to coming to Wharton, Preston ran Adventure Management, an operational risk management consulting firm that worked with governments and universities around the world on issues related to teaching and working in remote environments. Preston graduated with honors from Rutgers University, with Bachelors of Environmental Science and a minor in Professional Youth Work, as well as a Masters of Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Risk and Prevention Program, where he completed formal research in the etymology and epistemology of risk. Having been cold, wet, tired and hungry on all seven continents he is currently trying to live the life of an academic by pursuing his doctorate in the Educational Leadership program at the UPENN Graduate School of Education studying the training and education of Mission Critical Teams. Preston lives with his amazing wife Amy and together they are looked after by Sydney the super dog, while the two cats Kittery and La Paz plot their eventual downfall.

Brian Fennessy
Fire Chief
City of San Diego

Brian Fennessy was appointed Fire Chief for the City of San Diego on September 3, 2015 and confirmed by the City Council on September 22, 2015. He was sworn in as the City’s 17th Fire Chief on November 12, 2015.

Chief Fennessy began his fire service career in 1978 where he served on and led both U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management hotshot and/or helishot crews for thirteen years. He was hired by the City of San Diego in October 1990 and has served and promoted through all ranks of the Fire-Rescue Department.

As Chief, he directs a department of more than 1300 firefighters, lifeguards, paramedics and civilian personnel with a budget just over $237,000,000. Chief Fennessy also serves on a number of international, national, state and local committees and boards; many of which are leadership development focused.

Becoming a more Mission-Driven Culture (MDC) is one of his long-term visions for the organization. MDC describes a set of principles for operating successfully despite friction, danger, and uncertainty. It defines key values and attitudes that generate cohesive and adaptive action, strengthening resilience in times of uncertainty. These values include the aggressive pursuit of truth as well as communicating intent to promote decision-making and initiative among those in the field.

Beyond the purview of business process engineering and technological tools, the operational effectiveness of any organization depends on the attitudes and behavior of its people. The underlying values and beliefs – and how they are represented and reinforced through the processes and systems of the organization – define the operational culture. The quality of cohesion, adaptiveness, and resilience is predominantly determined by the strength of this culture.

Chris Van Gorder, FACHE
President and CEO
Scripps Health

As president and CEO of Scripps Health since 2000, Chris Van Gorder has been instrumental in positioning Scripps among the nation’s foremost health care institutions. Now he is leading the restructure of the $3.1 billion, integrated health system to align with the new landscape of health care reform.

At Scripps Health, Van Gorder oversees all functions of the integrated health system. More than 15,000 employees and 3,000 affiliated physicians provide care at Scripps, which has made the Fortune magazine “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 10 consecutive years. On the quality front, Scripps has been named to both the U.S. News Best Hospitals list and the Truven Health Analytics 100 Top Hospitals list for several years running.

Van Gorder’s rise to health care executive has been unconventional. His journey began as a hospital patient, when as a police officer he was critically injured during a family dispute call. After a lengthy recovery and starting a new career in hospital security, Van Gorder continued his education in health care management and rose to levels of increased responsibility.

Van Gorder received his master’s degree in public administration/health services administration at the University of Southern California, completed the Wharton CEO Program at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Los Angeles. He continues to serve the public as a reserve assistant sheriff in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, in charge of the Law Enforcement and Search and Rescue Reserves. He also is a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT) and an instructor for the American Red Cross.