A unique night out (and the ultimate dinner party): Great Conversations

I’ll admit, when I first got the invite to be a part of “Great Conversations” — the annual fundraiser for Morris Arts — I had two reactions:

  1. Why are they asking me?
  2. Why didn’t ROI-NJ think of this cool idea?

As the editor of ROI-NJ, I get dozens of invites for events each week.

None has been as creative and interesting as this one, which takes place Thursday, April 26, at the Madison Hotel in Morristown.

The concept is simple.

Instead of attending a gala to support an organization that does fine work in the community (and anyone in greater Morris County understands the efforts of Morris Arts), you can attend the area’s best dinner party and have a (wait for it) great conversation with an interesting figure in the arts, media, tech, health care, public service or business scene.

There will be a cocktail hour starting at 6 p.m., followed by table seating at 7:15.

Among this year’s conversationalists are a New York Times bestselling author, a robotics expert, a jazz saxophonist, Stanley Cup champion, a Medal of Honor recipient, a world-famous climate scientist, a celebrated chef and other similarly fascinating and accomplished individuals.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ on Morris Arts.)

Such as one of the people who helped co-create Public Enemy (Bill Stephney);

Or one of the leaders of New Jersey tech scene and creator of the Propelify event (Aaron Price);

Or the woman who makes it her business to promote the success of other women entrepreneurs (Linda Wellbrock);

Or the person who picks all of the art for Novartis in North and South America (Joanne Del Rio);

Or top executives from Morris County-based business giants Atlantic Health, Avis, Bayer and BASF.

You get the point.

There are only a few days left to register.

So, sign up fast at this link … or you might get stuck at a table with me.

The list of distinguished conversationalists is below:

Arts, music

  • Joanne Del Rio: Novartis art collection manager overseeing Novartis’ extensive art collection in North and South America; board chair for Save Ellis Island
  • Leia Gaccione: South + Pine American Eatery chef/owner of Morristown’s latest gastronomic success; former chef de cuisine for celebrity chef Bobby Flay; competed in 3 seasons of “Iron Chef America”
  • Mark Gross: Jazz saxophonist, recording artist and educator with 2 Grammy® award-winning projects; performed with Dizzy Gillespie, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and on Broadway; Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts faculty
  • Carly Murphy: Sotheby’s – vice president for global client development, contemporary art
  • Bill Stephney: Co-creator and producer for the rap group Public Enemy, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees; Def Jam Records’ former president; Broad Market Media principal; New Jersey Performing Arts Center producer and curator


  • James Kraus: Crum & Forster – senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary
  • Jason Levine: Mondelēz International – regional chief marketing officer, North America
  • Ned Linnen: Avis Budget Group – executive vice president and chief human resources officer
  • Robin Rotenberg: BASF Corp. – VP, corporate communications, and chief communications officer; former president, BASF Canada

Entrepreneurs & tech

  • Irene Chang Britt: Independent board director and strategic adviser; 30 years in consumer packaged goods, including president and C-suite executive at Pepperidge Farm
  • Michael Engel: PwC – Intelligent Process Automation leader for emerging technologies; adviser to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation
  • Aaron Price: CEO and founder, Propelify (one of the country’s largest innovation communities) and NJ Tech Meetup; tech community expert for the White House (Obama administration), Gov. Phil Murphy and the Wall Street Journal
  • Linda Wellbrock: CEO and founder of Leading Woman Entrepreneurs, a media and events company that recognizes outstanding women business owners and entrepreneurs


  • Carsten Brunn: Bayer Pharmaceuticals – president, Americas Region
  • Nancy Corcoran-Davidoff: Hackensack Meridian Health – EVP and chief experience officer
  • Alex Kelly: Allergan – EVP, corporate affairs, and chief communications officer
  • Carrie Eglinton Manner: Quest Diagnostics – SVP, advanced diagnostics; chair of the board for Thrive Networks
  • Suneet Varma: Pfizer Essential Health – global president
  • Joe Wilkins: Atlantic Health System – SVP and chief transformation officer


  • Jami McKeon: Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP – partner, chair of the firm; named among The National Law Journal’s “75 Most Outstanding Women Lawyers”


  • Tom Bergeron: ROI-NJ – editor and chief content officer of new multimedia New Jersey business publication; former NJBIZ editor
  • Christina Baker Kline: Highly acclaimed author of the New York Times bestsellers, “Orphan Train” and “A Piece of the World”
  • John Servidio: General manager of NJTV; VP of subsidiary stations for WNET

Military service

  • Col. Jack Jacobs (ret.): Medal of Honor recipient for service in Vietnam; NBC News military analyst

Real estate

  • Leslie E. Smith Jr.: Rockefeller Group – former EVP; developed the International Trade Center/New Jersey Foreign Trade Zone in Mount Olive; Smith & Main – principal

Science & medicine

  • Lisa Goddard, Ph.D.: Columbia University – director and senior research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society; global expert on El Niño, La Niña and near-term climate change
  • Allen Keller, M.D.: NYU School of Medicine – associate professor of medicine and director of Center for Health and Human Rights; Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture – director


  • Bruce Driver: New Jersey Devils defenseman, captain and Stanley Cup champion; two-time NCAA Division I national champion; Olympian
  • Brent Qvale: New York Jets offensive lineman, No. 79