Speech: Kelly McGinnis, 2019 Corporate Honoree

Beth Ward Francesconi: Hello, my name is Beth Ward Francesconi. I work in internal communications and executive communications for Levi Strauss & Company. It’s my dream job. I’m a California native, and like the company, I’ve always kept a pair of 501s ones in my closet. And I love that I have a work uniform, where my decisions each morning are, should I wear denim or khaki? But we’re not here to talk about my closet. After 27 years of working in communications, I can honestly say this is the best gig I’ve got yet. And the woman I have to thank for bringing me to the pants production plant is my mentor and the person we’re here to honor Kelly McGinnis, Chief Communications Officer for Levi Strauss. Kelly hates it when I start to share the work journey we’ve been on to together as it started over 25 years ago at Fleishman Hillard in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a coral fellow and I was an assistant account executive at the time. We both worked on the Southwestern Bell account pitching futuristic phone technologies like caller ID, and voice activated dialing. We worked on public service programs like the lifeline campaign. And we were colleagues in arms, helping Southwestern Bell reunite all of mob bells, babies in a succession of mergers that led Kelly to leave St. Louis for San Antonio. Even as a junior member of the team, Kelly pushed for more, more coverage, more opportunities, more executions. So never want to be satisfied with the status quo. In location or professional opportunity, Kelly’s career continued to skyrocket ans she launched one of the big startups during the tech boom of the early 2000s, Drugstore.com.

And once the virtual pill retailer opened, she left Seattle for San Francisco to lead the Fleishman Hillard office and we continue to work together, building tools and technologies to benefit some of the firm’s biggest clients like Yahoo and Sony. When I moved to San Francisco in 2007, hoping to take a three month sabbatical to help transition my family to our new West Coast digs, Kelly arrived on my doorstep and convinced me to help her in a competitive pitch to keep visa as the offices largest and most lucrative client. I told her I was taking a break, but Kelly never takes no for an answer. Believing more can be done, even when the timing seems impossible. I caved, staff the pitch and of course we won the business. From there she continue to bring me along as she conquered the advertising world launching one of the things integrated marketing agencies to service the Dell account. After working for the agency for 13 months, I told Kelly, “I would work for you anywhere, but I can’t work for Dell.”

As the great mentor she is, she let me go, knowing I would be more successful and productive in my next role recruiting. Kelly went on to lead Corporate Communications for Dell computer Corporation commuting from San Francisco to Austin for several years, while raising her two little girls Megan and Bix alongside her husband Don. By 2013, she traded motherboards for mom jeans, taking the chief Communications officer role at Levi’s reporting to chip Berg, the relatively new CEO and lucky me my mentor needed employee comms help and rescue me from HR back to my first love PR. If you ask Chips how he would describe Kelly, he would say emphatically, she’s wicked smart. She is that, but what sets Kelly apart from other communicators, and why she is a role model mentor is that she never settles for done. She always pushes for perfection. Her success is grounded in her well stocked mind. One where she’s constantly learning and improving her craft. Her curiosity is infectious, her ability to synthesize material and produce spot on content, admirable, and her encouragement and belief that those around her can do the unimaginable are the secrets to her success and those with whom she’s worked.

We’ve done the math and eight of Kelly’s mentees have gone on to become CCOs of global organizations. If you aspire to a leadership role, working with Kelly is a sure bet to landing one. Kelly bands her mentees together into a professional network, one which she relies on to enact real change in society. Over the past year and a half, her contemporaries from the Arthur page society, along with her past agency and corporate colleagues know this to be true. They have all been on the receiving end of numerous phone calls, asking them to join her and our organization to fight for the issues of our time, like gun safety and increase voter participation. She channels her mentees into a network of loud advocates to better society. I’ll end by sharing my nickname for Kelly which is Pita, short for pain in the… I gave her that designation years ago and it’s stuck. She knows when she’s driving for better ideas, searching for new ways of working or inspiring the team to dream bigger. Her collective success is hard, but delivers world class results. And while it’s been close to three decades in the making, it’s my honor and pleasure to introduce my mentor and the mentor to so many in the communications profession, Kelly McGinnis.

Kelly McGinnis: Enough said, [inaudible 00:49:36]. I am incredibly grateful to have the chance to work with people like Beth every day and I will say that she calls me Pita pretty much every day. And one of my very first supervisors told me that I was shameless in a good way and that has been something that has driven me from the very beginning, of being persistent and pushing forward. So first and foremost, I’m going to ask everyone in the room who’s representing a corporate entity, and anyone who works for an agency to encourage your clients, please, please, please engage in the civic engagement work that’s ahead of us and encourage your companies to join time to vote. It is an opportunity, no one should have to choose between a paycheck and the opportunity to go and cast their ballot. We’re a year out from next year and I hope everyone will join us. And it’s been incredibly rewarding to be a part of this community of communicators who have banded together on really important issues. I’m incredibly proud that we had almost 240 companies join us in a letter to the Senate on gun violence prevention, the fact that we’ve had hundreds of companies join us on to voting.

There’s a huge vacuum right now in terms of leadership and all of us have so much influence in our organizations to make a difference. And so I hope that all of you will use that influence that you have in your organization to make a difference. In terms of mentorship, I have three really simple rules. First and foremost, I believe that people can do big things and I love that it terrifies them when I say, “you’ll be fine, go, go, go, go.” And they come back and they surprised themselves and they have 100 more ideas than I ever thought, too that we all need to bring our whole selves to work and when you can bring everything that you are to work, that you can accomplish so much else, and that we all have, like all these quirks on the edges, and that’s what makes it fun.

And number three is really the most important one. And that is all about the fact that not only is it about your whole self, not only is it about believing in big things, but it’s about having people who are much smarter than you around you. So I work really, really hard to find people who are way beyond my, yes, my boss calls me wicked smart, but the people around me are so much smarter and they push and push and push and together, that’s how we make great things happen and I’m super grateful to have the chance to work with folks like Beth and others on the team. So thank you very much. I’m super grateful. And again, everybody vote.