Charlene Wheeless Profile

  • Charlene Wheeless is a multi-faceted powerhouse in the business world.

  • She has extensive experience in executive communications, having served as a chief communications officer for several major corporations, including Bechtel Corporation.

  • She is a senior advisor for equity and justice at APCO Worldwide, she helps C-suite leaders and companies turn DE&I intentions into impact.
  • With more than three decades of experience in leadership, corporate affairs, communications, and operations, Wheeless leads her namesake firm, Charlene Wheeless LLC, where executives and teams turn to inspire and motivate others for breakthrough performance and to transform or strengthen their workplace culture, as well as partner with executives to fine-tune leadership capability, communications, executive presence, and influence.

    Additionally, she is a unique resource to help C-suite leaders, teams, and companies turn DE&I intention into DE&I impact. Wheeless also serves as the senior advisor for equity and justice for APCO Worldwide, a leading global communications and advocacy firm.

    Before starting her firm, she served as the principal vice president of Corporate Affairs of Bechtel Corporation, a $40B global infrastructure company. She was responsible for internal and external communications, reputation risk management, issues management, crisis communications, marketing communications, sustainability, and CSR. She provided executive counsel to business unit and C-suite leaders, including the company’s chairman and Bechtel clients on specific issues critical to the business, and worked with foreign government representatives. Additionally, she led the development of a corporate diplomacy and international relations discipline in the company, managed and co-led the company’s HQ relocation from San Francisco to the Washington, DC area, and is credited with rebranding the 100+-year-old firm.

    While there, she was also a board member of the Bechtel Foundation, the Bechtel Political Action Committee, and its Marketing and Business Development Council.

    Earlier, Wheeless held senior-level positions at multi-national firms, including Raytheon, CGI, and DynCorp, among others, where she handled M&A communications as well as crises involving government, legal, financial, and reputation risk for individuals and companies for more than 25 years as a senior advisor.

    As the first Black female executive at many companies, Wheeless brings a powerful perspective on how to help leaders nurture and develop their minority talent and create a culture of inclusion. She also has emerged as an important voice and influencer on equity and justice, and has appeared in scholarly and media outlets including, The Dialogue Project, Forbes, Business Insider, and Chief Executive, among others. She is an equally important voice in shaping the future of the communications profession. Wheeless is the immediate past chairman of the Page Society, the world’s leading professional association for senior public relations, agency, and corporate communications executives of Fortune 1000 companies. In this role, she provided guidance and strategy to the organization during the most difficult social and racially charged moments in recent history. She served as a thought partner for many executives as they grappled with handling these situations in the best interest of their people and their companies.

    In 2021, Wheeless was hand-selected to be a member of the exclusive and prestigious Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches community, a collection of global top executive coaches and leadership thinkers dedicated to paying it forward. She is also a member of the 100Coaches Agency.

    Amplify Publishing released Wheeless’s debut book, You Are Enough! Reclaiming Your Life and Career with Purpose, Passion and Unapologetic Authenticity, in 2021. The book has achieved bestseller status on numerous lists, including Women and Business, Mentor and Coaching, and Breast Cancer, and won two independent book awards for best non-fiction and inspirational books of 2021.

    You are Enough! chronicles Wheeless’s experience as a Black female executive, her courageous fight with cancer, and takes readers on a journey of reclaiming their lives with purpose and passion. It has been considered a blueprint for a saner way for people of color, especially women, to climb the corporate ladder.

    Wheeless has earned many awards over her career, including two Telly awards and more than 50 additional communications and leadership excellence awards. PR Week named her to the Global Power Book for most influential professionals in Public Relations for five consecutive years, The Network Journal named her among the 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business. She was also named by the Washington Business Journal as a Woman Worth Watching and to PR Week’s Hall of Femme (now called Women of Distinction) Awards.

    Wheeless is equally committed to her community, serving as the immediate past chairman of the HCA Virginia-Reston Hospital. Other board positions include the Institute for Public Relations, the Page Center, the Diversity Action Alliance, and The Black Experience, an effort to amplify the voices of leaders in the Black Community. She previously served as the chairman of the Reston Chamber of Commerce, was a commissioner on the Loudoun County (VA) Economic Authority, an appointed member of GO Virginia to increase entrepreneurship in the tech industry in the area, and a member of the advisory committee for the George Washington University Virginia Campus.

    Wheeless is a certified leadership coach and is a member of the National Speakers Association, in addition to other professional associations. She holds a BA in Journalism/PR, an MA in Public Communications, and an MBA with an emphasis in Marketing.

    She resides in the Washington DC Metro Area with her husband and two dogs. She has two adult children.

    Charlene Wheeless Speaking Videos

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    Charlene Wheeless's Speech Descriptions


    Audience: Everyone Needing the Inspiration To Be Their Best

    Key Focus: Resilience, Change, Transformation

    The "choice, not chance" mindset is a way of thinking and acting that recognizes that career success and personal growth are largely determined by the choices we make, rather than by luck or chance. It is a proactive and empowering perspective that focuses on taking control of your life and making deliberate decisions that lead to positive outcomes. People with this mindset understand that they have the power to shape their lives and their leadership through the choices they make. By embracing this mindset, individuals, companies and leaders are able to overcome challenges, achieve their goals, and create a fulfilling and meaningful outcome.

    Charlene shares with the audience strategies she's learned along the way that helped enable her success in business, overcome adversity of any kind, and her proven strategies for personal transformation to jump-start your career and perform at your best.


    Audience: Executives; Women, Individuals; Organizations

    Key Focus: Empowerment, Inspiration, Keys to Success

    Seven seconds of courage is a powerful concept introduced by Charlene Wheeless in her famous speech. The essence of her message is that it takes just seven seconds of courage to make a difference in our lives and the lives of those around us.

    Wheeless explains that we all have moments in our lives when we face fear, doubt, and uncertainty. We may feel intimidated by a challenging situation, uncertain about our abilities, or hesitant to take a risk. In those moments, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless.

    But Wheeless argues that we can break through those fears and doubts by finding the courage to act, even if it's just for a few seconds. She believes that seven seconds is all it takes to take that first step to transform your career, workplace, and your life.

    During those seven seconds of courage, Wheeless encourages us to tap into our inner strength, to be confident in ourselves, and to trust in our abilities. She emphasizes that courage isn't about being fearless but rather about pushing through our fears and doubts and taking action in spite of them.

    Wheeless also stresses the importance of taking risks and embracing failure. She reminds us that every successful person has failed at some point in their lives, but it's their courage and determination that allowed them to keep going and ultimately achieve their goals.

    Charlene Wheeless's speech on seven seconds of courage is a powerful message that encourages us to find the courage within ourselves to take action, face our fears, and overcome our doubts. She reminds us that we all have the potential to make a positive impact in our lives and the lives of those around us, and it only takes seven seconds of courage to get started.


    Audience: Business, Organizations, Community Leaders, Universal Audience

    Key Focus: DE&I, Empathy, Understanding, Leadership

    In "Lessons from Being Invisible," Charlene shares valuable insights into the experiences and challenges faced by people who feel invisible or marginalized in their workplaces and communities. Here are some of the key lessons from her speech:

    Acknowledge the problem: The first step towards addressing the issue of invisibility is to recognize its existence. Many people who feel invisible may not even realize that they are being excluded or ignored. Therefore, it's crucial to acknowledge the problem and take steps to address it.

    Speak up: When you feel invisible, it's easy to remain silent and to let others dominate the conversation. However, it's essential to speak up and share your ideas and opinions, even if they are different from others. By doing so, you can challenge the status quo and make a meaningful contribution.

    Build relationships: Wheeless emphasizes the importance of building relationships with others, especially those who are different from us. When we connect with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds, we can learn from their experiences and gain new insights.

    Seek out allies: Having allies who support us and advocate on our behalf can be a powerful tool for overcoming invisibility. Wheeless suggests seeking out mentors and sponsors who can offer guidance, advice, and opportunities.

    Be resilient: Overcoming invisibility is not easy, and it may take time and effort to achieve. Therefore, it's essential to be resilient and to persevere, even in the face of setbacks and challenges.

    Charlene's keynote on "Lessons from Being Invisible" highlights the importance of recognizing and addressing the problem of invisibility in our workplaces and communities. By speaking up, building relationships, seeking out allies, and being resilient, we can overcome this challenge and make a meaningful contribution to our organizations and society.

    What People are Saying about Seeing Charlene Speak

    Rating Entries

    “Every syllable of this talk rang of truth earned many times over…one of our participants blurted out that this virtual session was ‘like church,’ and immediately people piled on to upvote that statement.”

    — David Murray, EVP Speechwriter’s Assoc.

    “Few Black women have made it to the C-suite, but Charlene Wheeless did it! Now she uses the power of that experience to encourage other women to pursue their dreams, despite the barriers we might encounter. In this deeply personal and empowering message, Charlene also helps leaders see more clearly how they can support these dreams. Charlene’s charming and inspiring delivery will leave you feeling that you, too, can reach the top.“

    — Gena Cox, P.h.D.,

    “Charlene’s speech is a powerful reminder that we all have the choice to live the life we deserve by taking charge of our lives. Coming from Charlene, who has the professional and personal experience to back it up, this message is motivating and empowering: take a deep breath, make a decision, and take action.”

    — Robin Taub, CA, CPA

    “Charlene possesses the confidence to challenge the status quo and propose constructive alternate viewpoints and approaches to challenges. [It] is a trait that sets Charlene apart and one from which Bechtel has benefitted.”

    — COO, Bechtel Corporation

    “Charlene combines business acumen and strategic thought to bring forward the best solutions to business challenges. I could always depend on Charlene to come up with a unique communication solution to a vexing business problem. She was a dynamic partner.”

    — Paul V. Lombardi, CEO, DynCorp (retired)

    “In looking for ways to inspire and empower the outstanding female leaders on my team, I immediately thought of Charlene Wheeless. They were blown away by her experience and insights. I’ve clearly seen their confidence in themselves, their ideas, and their value to our organization at a different level after their time with Charlene.”

    — Brett Jewkes, Executive VP / Chief Brand and Communications Officer, AMB Sports + Entertainment / Blank Family of Businesses

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    Books by Charlene Wheeless:

    You Are Enough! Reclaiming Your Career and Your Life with Purpose, Passion, and Unapologetic Authenticity

    2021 Best Indie Book Award winner From renowned businesswoman and communications visionary Charlene Wheeless comes an inspiring memoir about facing life’s struggles with unrelenting courage and strength. Part memoir, part motivational guide, and a clear roadmap for thriving in career and in life, YOU ARE ENOUGH! draws from Wheeless’s experiences climbing the corporate ladder and battling breast cancer to illustrate life lessons for others. Personal recollections are used to illustrate that Black women not only have to contend with a glass ceiling, but also a concrete wall that makes it impossible to even see what lies on the other side, much less determine how to get there. While acknowledging that there’s no single path around that wall, Wheeless shares advice on how she navigated the route herself. For Wheeless, this means busting up stereotypes, breaking down barriers, and flat-out refusing to be ignored, pigeonholed, or forgotten. While YOU ARE ENOUGH! chronicles Charlene’s fearless quest to be the best possible version of herself in every aspect of her life, her story is everyone’s story regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. With wit, raw honesty, blazing courage, and solution-driven sensibility, Charlene reminds us that we are enough!

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