Peggy Humes | CITI CARDS
“When you inspire and encourage people through mutual trust and respect, they’ll walk through walls for you.” So says Peggy Humes, Kansas City site president for Citigroup’s Citi Cards. Getting people to the point of wall-busting, though, takes some doing when change is the order of the day. And in financial services, change has been in ample supply over the past couple of years. “In these tough economic times, businesses have to change their strategy in order to stay competitive and profitable,” she said. “When you change the way you’ve always done things, you have to make some tough decisions, and that can create stress in the environment.”
Easing that stress means being an open and honest communicator for the roughly 2,200 employees who work in her division. “I think it is imperative to communicate frequently, not only what is happening but, most importantly, why,” she said. “It’s important to inspire others by speaking of a better future. … Speak in positive, optimistic language and be a beacon of hope.” Inspirational leaders, she says, are the key to employee engagement, innovation and success.
“You must develop and communicate a specific, consistent, and memorable vision that guides your business and your decisions,” she said. “You must have passion for what you do, be willing to make tough decisions and stand up for what you believe. Be honest, be real and invest in people emotionally.” After all, she says, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Bonnie Kelly, Teresa Walsh | SILPADA DESIGNS
Not long after their oldest children enrolled for first grade, Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh began a journey that would take them to the pinnacle of business success in the Kansas City region. They’ve been nearly inseparable since that first meeting in 1985, working together as room mothers and then as fledgling business owners, testing various ways to make money as stay-at-home moms.
Then they hit on the winning formulation. It combined their love for silver jewelry, their passion for design and their desire to really make something of a business—together. The seed capital for that vision amounted to $25 from each household’s grocery fund. Starting with a series of informal jewelry parties, their business became “formal” with the launch of Silpada Designs from Kelly’s basement in 1997.
Every year, for more than a decade, annual growth exceeded 100 percent. Silpada now has more than 300 employees at its corporate offices in Lenexa and more than 28,000 sales representatives around the world, and has seen revenues soar to roughly $280 million a year. Earlier this year, Kelly and Walsh agreed to sell the company to Avon Products for a minimum of $650 million, perhaps the largest business sales in the region for 2010. You’ll burn out a calculator trying to compute the ROI on that $50 pinched from their cookie jars.
The biggest challenge to getting from there to here, they said, came in 2001, after annual revenues tripled from $1 million the year before. “We quickly realized we had to put an infrastructure in place to support what we saw as some dramatic growth in the coming years,” they said—and yes, they even respond to interview questions as a duo. “From that point, Silpada has taken a proactive business approach to stay ahead of the growth.”
The biggest lesson they learned from that, they said, was that the commitment to quality trumps all, and not just for the customer. It has to be a win-win-win for the company, its employees and its representatives as well, they said.
For a quarter-century, each has served as mentor to the other. “We are energized by each other’s passion to help other women look and feel their very best,” they said. “As best friends, we balance each other and play off of each other’s strengths. And, most importantly, we can always count on each other.”
Their story is the classic American Dream fulfilled, and one that they wish to pass along to legions of women hoping to achieve it themselves.
“It’s important that you balance your growth and never lose sight of your customers, representatives and employees. It also helps when you’re passionate about what you do,” Kelly and Walsh said. “Every day, we are inspired by the individual stories this business creates . . . the women who have solely supported their families, the women who have found new friends, the women who have experienced their self-confidence soar—the list goes on.”
Each of those success stories, they said, proves the value of surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and support you. And if you have that? “You realize,” they said, that “there are no limits to what you can achieve.”