2015 Illini Comeback Guests


Lyle Orwig

Lyle Orwig Portrait From his childhood on the family farm in east-central Illinois and his rise to state office in the Future Farmers of America to the 1992 founding of Charleston|Orwig, a strategic communications consulting firm, Lyle Orwig has maintained a passion for agriculture, marketing communications, reputation management and corporate social responsibility that continues to earn him national recognition. In 1999, the National Agri-Marketing Association named Orwig its “National Communicator of the Year,” while the National Association of Farm Broadcasters honored Orwig with the Dix Harper Meritorious Service Award in 2006, the group’s highest recognition for a non-broadcaster. A member of The Farm Journal Foundation Board since 2010, where he provides counsel for the organization’s Farmers Feeding the World initiative, Orwig was one of the two inaugural inductees into the Ag Relations Council’s Public Relations Hall of Fame. With Charleston|Orwig, he leads the Wisconsin-based firm’s communications projects for clients such as ARM & HAMMER, Yamaha Outdoors, Dairyland Seed and Smithfield Foods. Orwig and his co-founder, John Charleston, were inducted into the national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame in 2005. A recipient of the University of Illinois ACES (Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences) Alumni Award of Merit in 2008, Orwig earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and economics from the College of Agriculture in 1974.

James E. Sparks

James E. Sparks Portrait James E. Sparks currently leads The Sparks Group, a communications and branding firm he founded in 2012 to help companies propel growth and navigate the challenges that come with business cycles and expansion. As one of the original marketing members behind the successful launch of Discover Card, Sparks helped shepherd the Discover’s growth into a $2.3 billion enterprise. He established Discover’s co-op advertising and card member marketing programs; developed and managed the National Sales Relationship team responsible for Discover’s top 500 merchants; helped design the Discover Card Merchant Acquirer Relations program; and negotiated contracts with Elavon (previously NOVA), Global Payments, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS Lynk) and numerous other acquirers that sparked the successful conversion of 22 million merchants to Discover Card and spurred the Discover Card’s acceptance at key international merchants. Before joining Discover Card, Sparks worked at Continental Bank and held management positions with several advertising agencies, including Ketchum M&S. He started his advertising and marketing career with the Chicago Sun-Times. A trustee for McCormick Theological Seminary and Thresholds, a non-profit serving the homeless, Sparks is an adjunct professor of marketing strategy at National Louis University. A past University of Illinois Alumnus of the Year honoree, Sparks earned his bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing from the university in 1977.