Mentor Spotlight: Jill Kelly, Global CMO, GroupM

May 19, 2021

As we continue to spotlight female leaders in their communities, we aim to bring forward unique perspectives from a diverse group of strong women. Jill Kelly, Chief Marketing Officer of GroupM, is no exception.

Jill shares with us her experience as a Korean American in the media industry and the challenges she’s had to overcome. She’s also been an advocate for multicultural marketing and holding brands accountable for conscious messaging.

Read more about Jill and her journey below, see how she’s encouraging other women to share the spotlight—and why it’s so important for leaders to ask questions.

How has your heritage and upbringing impacted your career and approach to your day-to-day role?

My upbringing and the circumstances that brought me to America have given me three gifts: perspective, empathy, and a desire to be better--- a better person, a better professional, a better parent, a better listener, a better ally.

And all three gifts have served me well through a variety of day-to-day activities—whether it’s having a tough conversation with a colleague, digesting a seemingly daunting challenge, recovering from a failed pursuit, or ‘seeing’ a different path to a solution. While these gifts may not always be exercised for every instance, I value what they give me. Perspective challenges my default approaches and muscle memory, empathy invites me to walk in another’s shoes, and the pursuit of being better is approaching life as a perpetual student.

As you encourage other women to step into their own identities, what tools from your journey do you offer or suggest?

In 2015 I wrote an op-ed piece titled: “10 Things I Know for Sure… sort of", and of these 10 'things, there are three tools that have been especially helpful in defining my persona and identity:

  • You don’t have to know everything; know enough to ask good questions. A leader does not know everything. A leader asks good questions that lift (and invites) the entire team to get to an answer.

  • Focus on the people who give you energy. We all know, perhaps painfully well, the people who exhaust and drain us. We also know the people who energize us, giving us fuel to run up hills with and for them. Invest and focus your calories on the hill-runners.

  • Own the moment. Whatever you are presenting —a discussion on the thickness of toilet paper to a crisis response plan — own the material and command your moment. If you take it seriously, everyone else will, too. If you rush or your audience senses a lack of conviction, they may not take you or the subject with reciprocating confidence.

As a leader, what qualities do you look for as signifiers of potential and future leadership members on your team?

Leadership is defined by character and behavior in addition to subject matter competencies and skills. While skills can be taught, and competencies can be expanded upon, leaders are motivated to doing the right thing for the business while also doing right for people and teams. While failure and success are outcomes for any leader, how the path to that outcome is traveled, is a mirror to a leader's standards, instincts, and motives.

This month is AAPI heritage month. As a Korean American, what is your take on the current climate? What has been helpful for you in navigating this time of social unrest?

First, my thoughts and condolences to the members of the AAPI community who have been hurt, degraded, spit on, and murdered during this heart-breaking and violent year in our community’s history. In April, the alarmingly high volume of assaults hit an unspeakable sadness with the devastation in Atlanta resulting in the deaths of eight people, six of the women were of Asian descent, including four ethnic Koreans.

Especially now, this moment, I need to remind myself that we are all human. Blood runs through all of our veins. We have minds that ache and bodies that break with every unkind word and threat. Every slash on a subway platform in broad daylight. Every from behind sidewalk attack and stabs leading to injury and stitches.

We also have hearts that soar and brighten with acts of generosity. It costs not a single penny to be kind. Be Kind. I would also add Speak up. Talk about what’s happening with our AAPI community. Silence sends a loud message. Don’t let it. Speak up, and often.

What have been some of the challenges as a Korean American in the media world, and on the flip side, some of the advantages?

The stereotypes associated with the AAPI community that makes its way in a passing comment in a meeting, an outright dismissive remark, or the insulting gesture of a colleague slanting their eyes, have been long-standing challenges. These stereotypes are exasperated or reinforced by the assignment of “model minority” or “invisible minority”, and the mythical characterization of being compliant and successful.

This is not acceptable. We have a voice. We have a mantle and this moment. I see it as a professional duty to my AAPI colleagues and our workforce at large to be a voice of awareness and champion for our community.

How do you pass the mic?

Be generous with the spotlight and be front and first to take ownership of failures. Passing the mic also means having confidence in knowing when to share the mic and when to relinquish it. This is not easy but will pay dividends for team health, morale, and productivity. Give good people oxygen to do great stuff. Most likely, they won’t disappoint.

What song, podcast, or audiobook would you recommend to your mentee?

Educated A Memoir by Tara Westover is a relatable story of survival and strength, that breaks through and rises above the heart-breaking conditions of upbringing and early childhood. As for a song, there is no beating Eminem’s Not Afraid from the 2010 album, Recovery to re-energize the running regimen that may have been derailed (for some of us) by the pandemic.

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