Luck Is Preparedness Meeting Opportunity
You’re 14 years old. Your mom owns a 72 horse stable, and your dad is a decorated World War II vet with his own auto and tire business. Every morning, you and your 4 brothers and sisters wake up at 5am, because if you want to be able to eat breakfast at 7, you better know those horses waiting outside come first. If mom says go clean the stalls and it’s 20 degrees or below, you don’t question it, you just do it.
When your parents own their own businesses, if there’s any question of how to get the job done, you figure it out. It doesn’t cross your mind how good it needs to be either, you just get it done, and get it done right.
Jean Kennedy, that 14-year-old kid who’s first job was training new riders, grew up working outside in those famous Midwest temperatures, cleaning, feeding and taking care of horses. Everything from getting up before daylight to exercise the horses in order to avoid the dangers of the heat, to stacking hay bales and making sure the stables were stocked, to spending her time staying up all night with sick horses, Jean had one heck of a job for a 14 year old.
If you ask Jean, it was this early exposure to hard work that put her on the path to achieve as much as she has thus far.
From her early beginnings as the managing editor for the American Automobile Association (AAA) travel magazines, to the launch of her own marketing consultancy, Jean Kennedy has been nothing short of fearless in her career. She’s someone who can seamlessly connect a hundred dots, sift through the symptoms, identify the problem, craft a plan of attack, and execute with deadly accurate precision.
Now it might be true that who you know will help get your foot in the door, but if you want them to come to you, it starts with a genuine work ethic and push to put your best foot forward. You don’t wait for someone to tell you how much effort you should put in or how good your work needs to be, you just do it to the best of your ability.
You can see this trait consistently throughout Jean’s career.
After she put in about six years with AAA, she received a phone call from a senior level marketing contact at the The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. They wanted her to come on as the Director of Public Relations, and manage the opening of the new Downtown St. Louis location. The ability to leave a digital footprint didn’t exist yet, so to be called out of the blue without ever applying surprised her at first. However, it turns out that work ethic I mentioned earlier stood out to a fellow writer she had worked with at AAA, which in turn led to a referral and her next success as a stand out public relations professional for a major hotel chain.
Her next big win would take her to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Her husband had just landed a new job out that way, and wanting to explore new opportunities herself, she followed suit. She picked up a role she would later describe as the job that taught her everything about the inner-workings of a non-profit organization. From raising capital for her own budgets, to formulating communication strategies that moved the mission of the organization forward, she learned it all.
This new venture as the Head of Marketing and Communications for the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts led to promoting and entertaining world renowned artists like Itzhak Perlman the American-Israeli violinist and the famous American singer Tony Bennett. Beyond the artists she worked with, she also partnered with local celebrities and professional athletes like the Green Bay Packers. Having worked with multiple professional athletes, the one that stands out the most is the deal she landed with Mike Holmgren, the NFL coach who would later go on to lead the Packers to two Super Bowls. Coach Holmgren was about to do his first ever nationally televised interview with NBC. As anyone would rightfully be nervous for such an event, he needed some media training and coaching. In exchange for preparing him to go on live, she received a full one hour special via NBC for the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, a priceless win for her organization.
A few more years pass, and Jean decides she wants to move back home to St. Louis. With an abundance of experience in the travel and entertainment space, she landed a job with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. Her primary role was to address a $6M marketing and advertising expense that had been sourced to other agencies, and bring the work in-house. Without a doubt, she followed through and saved the Commission millions. Some more time passes, and one day she gets a call to come to a meeting where city officials would be discussing the pitch to bring the LA Rams to St. Louis. She thinks she’s there just to take notes and report back, but in reality she’s there for the same reason she’s been everywhere else. At one point during the meeting everyone gets quiet, and a voice turns to Jean and says: “So we’re going to need you to put together the proposal and prepare us for our pitch for when we go to LA.”
She can’t and doesn’t take full credit, but as she tells it, her Mom would always brag and tell people that she’s the one that got the Rams to come to St. Louis.
For some this might be a pinnacle in their career. For Jean, this was just a push for what came next. After enough experience to do just about whatever she wanted, she did just that and set out to start her own marketing and communications consultancy. Yet another successful venture, she worked with clients like Scottrade and the St. Louis Art Museum, managed and wrote content for a few major magazines, and would occasionally take on a small to medium size business and craft their entire go-to-market strategy. Running a virtual agency, she did the account work, the strategy, the writing, and when needed, would work with the network of creative partners she had built over the years.
After 15 years of running a successful business, she decided to take another step in her career and started pursuing work with other St. Louis based advertising agencies. By 2010 she had transitioned to a full-time position. She currently works with Paradowski Creative, but how she ended up there is a story in and of itself. She had worked with two other agencies, Henning Communications and Bigwidesky. When she was at Bigwidesky, she worked on two award winning projects. The first was Forward Through Ferguson, a campaign that was picked up by the New York Times and soon after went viral, and the next was an Emmy she won for a campaign she did for the United Soybean Board. She forwarded the two achievements on to Paradowski’s leadership, and next you know it she gets brought on as a Senior Account Director for some of their top accounts.
When asked how she was able to go from humble beginnings as a Journalism grad from the University of Missouri to all of this, she recalled something her mom would often tell her.
"You make your own luck, but at the end of the day, luck is really just preparedness meeting opportunity."
Whether you’re holding the reins running your own business, or an employee of a cause other than your own, your accountability to deliver results remains the same. Always put your best foot forward, always strive for that next step, and never give up.