Restless and relentless is how Jacki Kelley describes herself. And no wonder. Dentsu’s president, chief client officer’s stellar career includes leadership roles at Bloomberg, IPG Mediabrands and UM Worldwide. Read on to hear why it’s important to “pick people” to surround yourself with in order to become a successful leader.
Why did you choose to join Dentsu?
While there is plenty of noise about the challenges facing agencies, I believe there is no better place to marry the math and the magic – no better team sport. I went looking for a network that had exceptional capability across each discipline: data, analytics and tech at the heart; a track-record of smart M&A and an ability to invest in the future; and a culture that believed in the power of integration. Not just as a tagline but deeply believed and was changing structures and accountability to make integration seamless for clients.
How did you get to where you are today?
Hard work, amazing teams, exceptional leaders and divine intervention. I never underestimate the ultimate power of faith. I grew up in Colorado – the fifth generation of cattle ranchers – which taught me responsibility at a young age and instilled in me that no job was too big – or too small. I have always been willing to do what it takes to meet a goal – some would say I am relentless. That shoe fits. The most pivotal moments in my career have been when I had to make a decision to stay or leap to a new opportunity where I could become a beginner again. I am restless in my desire to make an impact and have a high bar for the people I want to do it with. Fortunately, my batting average is good but there is always risk in leaping.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for women today?
"I believe women and the next generation are in the best position to force progress."
I think the opportunities are endless and we are at a critical moment. 2018 broke the silence and created consequence for bad behavior. Now we must create positive solutions for meaningful change. The list is long: equal pay for equal work, parity in the senior ranks of every organization and in the board room; evolved thinking around flexible schedules – there is a lot to do and limited patience to do it which creates the best shot for real progress. As my friend Shelley Zalis always says, “there is power in the pack.” I believe women and the next generation are in the best position to force progress. The best talent will vote with their feet and companies will have to demonstrate progress to real change if they want to attract and retain the best people.
What career advice can you share?
"'Pick people' is my belief that we are the product of the company we keep.
The advice I always share is to pick people and environments where you can learn and stretch. It sounds simple but it’s actually hard to find both of these; consistently. “Pick people” is my belief that we are the product of the company we keep. If you are around smart, accomplished, generous, secure, innovative, kind, determined people – you will have a better shot at becoming these things yourself. And these types of leaders will be more likely to create environments of possibility where if you are willing to stretch, the opportunities will be endless.
What one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
By no means have I been perfect, but I would do it all again. Even the bad stuff has helped me fall forward in important ways. I am not one for do-overs, simply learn from it, allow it to season you and move forward in a positive way.
Who helped you in your journey, and what advice did they give you that really shaped your thinking?
"I encourage people to be awkward as that means they are learning."
So many people helped me in my journey but there are three types of people that stand out. Those that believed in my potential long before my performance or experience suggested they should; those that challenged me to leap to the unknown and try something completely new and those that told me the truth -- even if it hurt -- because they cared about my success. The motive in that last one is really important! These experiences have shaped my approach as a leader. I bet on potential. I encourage people to be awkward as that means they are learning, and I tend to be very direct out of respect for the people I work with and their ultimate success.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I would still choose this but I have lots of interests so if there were three lives were apportioned to me, I would be in our crazy industry, run for public office and be a social worker! There is still time to conquer the last two and much work to be done!