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I’m Ovell Barbee

I’ve walked the halls of Corporate America as an executive of Fortune 500 companies and renowned healthcare systems. As an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, I’ve challenged the status quo on behalf of others, including those who look like me.

The Corporate Gent

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan in a single-parent family who instilled the importance of hard work and education. I started working as a newspaper carrier at age 12. An aspiring news reporter, I earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Michigan, then pivoted my career path to earn a master’s in social work. I went on to attend Michigan State University for a second master’s degree in HR and labor relations.

As a human resources executive with a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion, I’ve held executive leadership roles in an array of companies and industries, including Motorola, Dow Kokam, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, General Motors/OnStar, Spectrum Health (now Corewell Health) and Indiana University Health.

I’ve led teams that drove sustained cultural change and reduced barriers for diverse populations with a “human centered” approach. I’ve implemented policies and practices that addressed systemic and unconscious barriers and bias, giving everyone opportunities to thrive within a corporate culture.

read my story

The Big House

In The Big House: A Human-Centered Approach to DEI and Human Resources, Ovell Barbee, Jr. delivers essential advice to company leaders on how to stop the silence, have difficult conversations addressing race and diversity, and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, to achieve an environment where everyone can flourish.

Barbee’s compelling examples of real-life experiences, combined with his passion for meaningful and authentic diversity, will motivate and inspire leaders to muster the courage to build a better, human-centered workplace.

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His combined expertise, alongside his personal journey and incredible storytelling ability, has made him one of the most sought after speakers on these topics.
Dr. Sandra Upton
Founder & Chief DEI Strategist, Upton Consulting Group
Ovell has a gift of bringing them to life while tearing down their intimidating walls. He makes the unspeakable safe in his reassuring voice filled with authenticity and lived experience. He brings the DE&I journey to life with passion, wisdom and an open heart.
Gwen Sandefur
Chief at Loud Minds
In eight insightful chapters, Ovell examines what matters most to today’s HR leaders and lays out an astute and actionable vision for the future of HR. Read The Big House to inform and inspire your own journey to DEI excellence.”
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP
President & CEO, Society for Human Resource Management
In sharing his ‘Big House’ journey, Ovell Barbee provides a template for overcoming obstacles, silencing the noise, and achieving the successes that come with the persistence of belief in oneself, and the willingness to see it through.
Lee E. Meadows, Ph.D
President of the National Association of African
Americans, State of Michigan Chapter
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Speaking Engagements

Every speaking engagement is an opportunity to create positive change in the workplace. Through speaking, I draw on my experience as a human resources executive and share practical strategies and insights to help organizations become more inclusive and supportive of their employees. Book an in-person or virtual speaking engagement on one of the following topics:

  • Keeping DEI Top of Mind
  • HR Vision of the Future
  • How Will You Be Remembered? Building a Human-Centered Leadership Brand
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