Kelly Gray is a consummate risk taker. After 17 years in the hospitality industry, she was up for a new challenge. She took a 45% pay cut, left a VP position and started from scratch. This trailblazer worked her way to the top, pioneering change and excellence along the way. Always conscious of giving back, Kelly shares her strategies for paying it forward.
Model Healthy Boundaries
So many young professionals look to their higher ups to see how to behave at work. Leaving the office at reasonable hours, making time for family, having a life outside of work—these are important lessons that may not seem directly tied to the success of a business, but are at its core. I once worked in an office where we had condensed hours: on Fridays we worked from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. My boss made a point of saying goodbye to people on his way out at 11:30, so everyone knew he didn’t expect them to stay if he was leaving.
Know That Talent Trumps Experience
Too often we tell ourselves we can’t do a certain job because of lack of experience. When I see someone with great promise, I take a risk on her. Early on in my own career a higher up saw my potential. He was more confident in me than I was in myself and pushed me to go after a more ambitious job. These things don’t happen by accident! When people ask, where am I going to find a sponsor? I tell them, if you are doing the right things, they will find YOU.
Create Waves of Change
Women face unique challenges in the workplace. I had an idea to bring in female leaders from FedEx to share their stories about overcoming obstacles in their own careers. After that meeting one woman told me, “I walked into the room a manager, and I walked out a leader.” My idea spread into a grassroots movement: the women went back to their locations and organized their own meetings. We call it the EDGE program: education and development through group experience.
Use Intuition to Advance
Have the courage to listen to that little voice inside your head—it’s usually right. I was unhappy in a career of 17 years in the hospitality industry. My intuition told me to move on. I was a VP reporting to the highest level HR executive, but I left and went to FedEx for a manager level position. There was not a single person in my life who thought I was sane! I took a 45% pay cut because I saw it as an investment in my future. I had the conviction to go my own way, and knew I was going to hit some obstacles and that it wouldn’t be easy, but I let my passion and my intuition fuel me.
Long Term Friendship
I’m an only child, and because I never had any siblings, my friends became my family. Many of them I’ve known for over 25 years—they’ve helped me get through some tough times. When my son was young, I had to relocate for work, and I knew no one at the new location. I would not have survived without my network.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls—an incredible true story about the author’s childhood growing up in poverty. Ms. Walls, against all odds, ended up in New York at 17, and today is a successful journalist and novelist. Her story inspired me because it illustrates that we all have challenges, but we can overcome them.
Bring Others Along
When I grow in a company, I want to take others with me. I look for people with talent and promise, and I make sure to support and mentor them so that when I get offered a new position, I have a successor to fill my shoes.