For a while now, I’ve wanted to interview women I know or know of who have careers and full family lives. I am fascinated and in awe of women who run their own companies, live their lives honestly, and speak their own minds, loudly & bravely.
My first interview is withKel Kelly, who I met on Twitter. Don’t ask me how. She’s not somebody I work with or would know through work. I work in the high tech industry, usually around a lot of men who wear suits. That’s the beauty of social media — I’ve connected with all kinds of people, all over the world, from Boston, to Malaysia to Tel Aviv.
Kel Kelly lives an open and out life online. She co-founded her firm with her spouse Ginny Pitcher. She blogs about topics from working mothers to Scott Brown (yes, that Scott Brown). Kelly is a woman who refuses to take meetings when she’s scheduled to go to her kids’ sports games. How awesome is that?
Q: What does your company do?
A: Kel & Partners is the anti-agency agency for public relations and social media. We build and leverage fresh, high ROI strategies for our clients and then execute the plans via standout public relations and social media initiatives. The majority of our clients are consumer-focused, internet-based businesses like Zappos, Swap, Spreadshirt, uSell, 6PM, et al. It’s a fun gig and I love what I do.
Q: Why did you start your own company?
A: When I turned 40 I decided that I needed to get control of my schedule. My job at the time had me traveling all over the world and I needed more time to be with my kids. I started Kel & Partners and my primary motivation was to bring happiness and balance into my life and to control my schedule. And I did just that. I never missed anything in any of my kids’ lives. Whether it was a sports game, concert, teacher meeting, doctor’s appointment or whatever, I was always there. In nine years, I have never worked on Wednesday afternoon (except in the summer) because my kids always have a game. I remember one time a prospective client worth $300,000 of potential revenue said they could only meet on a Wednesday afternoon and I said no. I never compromised my integrity when it came to making my kids my #1 priority.
Q: How would you describe yourself, politically & socially?
A: Politically: I wear the term “bleeding heart liberal“ like a badge of honor. There are a lot of underdogs in the world and I think we have an obligation to help them.
Socially: I am definitely an extrovert. I do things that make me happy and enjoy spending time with the people I love.
Q: What are the challenges of living such an open life on social media?
A: Interestingly enough, I haven’t had any challenges living an open life on social media. I have never received any hate-driven tweets or blog comments. I believe in being who you are and not changing to please people. My heart drives every action in my life. I think people appreciate the honesty. I also think it helps change the perception some people have of gays.
Q: How have you guided your kids on using social media?
A: I always remind them that social media is like a genie in a bottle. Once the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t stuff her back in. What they communicate via social channels says more about them than they can ever say about themselves and they need to be aware of that. Does that mean I approve of every tweet they have ever sent out? Hell no. However, I believe they need to walk their own path and learn along the way.
Q: Who were/are your mother/parenting & work inspirations and role models and why?
A: My Mom was my primary role model. My parents were divorced and I grew up relatively poor. I remember that she was constantly worrying about being able to pay the bills. One particular memory that stands out is the time our oilman filled the oil tank for free because my Mom didn’t have any money and it was the dead of winter. In spite of all of this, my Mom had an amazing work ethic. She would take the bus into Boston every single day to her secretarial job. She was a single working mother long before single working mothers were around. My Mom managed to raise three kids while maintaining a full-time job. I definitely got my work ethic from her. I also got my compassionate heart from my Mom. Everything my Mom did was driven by her heart and desire to help people in need. My life is driven by the same motivation. I’m lucky because my kids have that same heart. I was taught to stand up for the underdog and to spontaneously give to those in need. One of my favorite things to do is find people working minimum wage jobs — who looks like they need a break — and give them $100 for no reason. I can’t begin to tell you how much happiness that has brought to people who can’t get their eyeballs above water. Although my kids are poor students, they playfully tease me that they are just like me and find themselves doing the same thing, although the dollar amount is much smaller than $100.
Q: How do you think being a mother has affected the way you are as a CEO?
A: Being a Mom is the driving force behind how I am as a CEO. I am not driven by money. My sole motivation is to bring happiness to my employees, my clients, my family and myself. The vast majority of my employees are Moms. Kel & Partners gives them the respect, compassion and flexibility to ensure they never have to sacrifice their family for their jobs. That means my employee who has a son who is a cancer survivor can go to all his appointments without worrying about having to be out of the office. It also means that my employee who has an autistic son can miss a really important meeting and not be judged because his situation means she can’t make a critical work commitment. I love and value my employees more than anything else in business.
Q: What has your hardest parenting moment(s) been so far?
A: I would say the hardest parenting moment is seeing the sadness the kids are dealing with over having their Dad – who I divorced sixteen years ago – drop out of their lives. He has addiction issues and if you know anything about addicts, their addiction drives their every action. In this case, it means going from being someone who was a consistent, healthy part of their lives to virtually dropping off the planet. Although he shows up a few times a year, there is no consistency in his presence. This is so hard for the kids and brings them such sadness. My three oldest kids are happy, well-adjusted, accountable, fun, amazing young adults and their Dad has missed sharing this experience. It’s incredibly sad for everyone.
Q: My son is about to be a tween. What’s one (or two) things you think I should know (and others on mothertalkers.com about parenting tweens?
A: The one thing I think every parent should know is that really good kids can and will make really dumb mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. They are not destined for a lifetime of being a derelict. They just made a mistake. If you raised them to be accountable, they will learn from the experience. I honestly believe that some of the bad decisions my kids made were the greatest learning experiences of their lives. Just love them unconditionally and all will be fine.