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“5 Things You Should Do to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry”, With Kelley Thornton, CEO of Tiege Hanley

We’re living through an age in which many young people feel they’re owed something or that they deserve success because they’ve jumped through the standard hoops they were told to jump through. The reality is that hard work is critical to any real success and often times the work itself never actually gets any easier, […]

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We’re living through an age in which many young people feel they’re owed something or that they deserve success because they’ve jumped through the standard hoops they were told to jump through. The reality is that hard work is critical to any real success and often times the work itself never actually gets any easier, you just get smarter and stronger. If I could inspire a movement, I’d bring about a mindset that it’s cool to take personal responsibility for you own outcomes. That hard work is fulfilling and rewarding and makes you feel good, and failures are thought of as opportunities to learn and grow. Nothing in life is free, things that are worth doing aren’t always easy, and nothing should be taken for granted. It takes a lot of courage to be successful because there’s nothing but obstacles to overcome along the way and you won’t always know how to approach them. My movement would hopefully encourage a relentless dedication to earning your own success, owning your failures, and learning from both outcomes.


I had the pleasure to interview Kelley Thornton, CEO and Founder of Tiege Hanley. The Tiege Hanley brand was created around three main tenants: it must be sensible, simple and affordable. Kelley’s goal is to help regular guys look and feel confident by creating a skin care system that was easy to understand and to use. With more than 20 years of experience in consumer goods, Kelley is a veteran of creating new and innovative ways to connect consumer packaged goods companies to retail customers, boasting annual sales in the multimillions. The Author of “The Inadequacy of POP Design and Ways to Improve,” Kelley has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Connecticut and is a member of The Economic Club of Chicago.


Thank you so much for joining us Kelley. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was born and raised in Towson, MD. My parents divorced when I was just a toddler but both remained active in my life. When I was a junior in high school I relocated to Brookfield, CT, thinking it would be an opportunity to focus more on my education. Throughout my final two years of high school I painted local homes to earn money to put toward my college tuition. House painting would become a passion of mine that I would remain dedicated to throughout my college career, resulting in my first entrepreneurial endeavor.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I’m not sure I’d label myself an authority figure on thought leadership. I haven’t developed a new thesis or school of thought on the concept, but I have had a significant amount of professional experience that has shaped my views and the ways in which I run my business.

Throughout my 20-year-career in the display and packaging industry I learned some really valuable lessons about creativity and open-mindedness. You can’t deliver customers the same solutions over and over again. You have to encourage a spirit of creativity throughout an organization to continually surprise and delight. When I left that industry to start Purchase Point, I learned how crucial it was to think broadly, to anticipate challenges, quickly understand concepts and data trends, and leverage that information into sound business decisions.

My ability to ask good questions, identify pain points and come up with solutions is what I believe makes me something of an authority on how to grow a business and be successful.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Back in the 1990s I had a meeting with a client in Lincoln, NE. I was flying in from Chicago and the owner of my company was flying in from our corporate office in New York to join me. The plan was to meet in front of the client’s office building, but he was late, so I went in without him. I was in the lobby waiting for the client when the owner of my company called my cell phone to tell me he had been waiting at the address I provided for the last 30 minutes. I knew that couldn’t be, so I pulled up the email I sent him and read him the address. He confirmed the address, again indicating he was in the right place. I politely asked him “Are you sure? Because I don’t see you.” I read my email to him a second time and it occurred to me I did give him the correct address, but the wrong city. He was in Omaha and I was in Lincoln.

That day I realized just how important it is to double check your work and to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible. I also realized it requires great empathy to be a great leader.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I think at the highest level, thought leaders are viewed by their teammates as an authority on a particular subject, but it goes much deeper than that. Thought leaders have the ability to be innovative and creative, to take risks, to recognize failures, but also have the courage to stay the course. It’s their vision and their determination to try new things and to understand when something isn’t working. Good leaders, thought leaders, don’t necessarily always have this combination of skills. Influencers have the creativity and usually a vision, but that doesn’t make them leaders or risk takers by default.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I don’t think anyone can just become a thought leader over night or even over a weekend. People develop into thought leaders after a variety of experiences. It takes the right combination of intuition and creativity to fully evolve, but you can start to develop some of the right skills immediately. Start with creativity. Try some things. Fail at them. Take a broad look at what you did and try to understand what’s not working as well as what is. Then try again, and again, and again.

Let’s talk about business opportunities, specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

My current business, Tiege Hanley, is a good example of thought leadership. We had a great idea from the onset: Men’s skin care should be uncomplicated. We took that idea and launched Tiege.com, Version One. The basic concept was that guys have been marketed to the same way big companies market their products to women. We asked ourselves “Why would that work when there is little-to-no context in this country for guys to talk about their skin care regimen?”

So we tried to create that context, but we failed. It didn’t mean our ideas weren’t great, but we failed to think broadly enough about the landscape. We were selling other companies’ products. Once we introduced them to those products there was nothing stopping them from buying them from Amazon.com. When we rebooted, we decided to make a critical change. We’d build our own brand of products, actually named Tiege Hanley, and we’d create exceptional product formulas that you couldn’t find anywhere else. We decided to package it into a 30-day supply with clear instructions so that guys could get exactly what they wanted, without going to the store, and without spending a fortune trying to recreate our lineup with a variety of other manufacturers’ goods.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Network. A lot: I suggest meeting others in your industry, outside your industry, and with common interests at least once a week for coffee.
  2. Read. A lot: Stay current. I consider myself a global thought leader so I pay a great deal of attention to national and international news.
  3. Go deeper: On topics that interest you, spend time trying to fully understand them, regardless of whether they are business or personal issues.
  4. Help others: Particularly colleagues or others interested in business or starting a company.
  5. Be humble: Always. Constantly work on it.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I gravitate toward entrepreneurs and I’m very impressed with Steve Easterbrook of McDonald’s. He is a big time thought leader. He moved the iconic McDonald’s campus to downtown Chicago, rapidly expanded the concept of checkout kiosks, pushed for food delivery like UberEats, always valuing progress over perfection. Steve demonstrated that big companies can change with the times and figure out ways to be agile in doing so, primarily by focusing on the customer.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I don’t think I agree with that statement. It’s hard not to admire Elon Musk for his thought leadership yet some still see him as arrogant and controversial. Is Musk a thought leader? I believe so, 100 percent. You can use a different term to describe him but the concept is the same. The people in the arena must be referred to as something, right?

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Don’t be boring. It’s a sure sign you are heading down the path to burnout.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We’re living through an age in which many young people feel they’re owed something or that they deserve success because they’ve jumped through the standard hoops they were told to jump through. The reality is that hard work is critical to any real success and often times the work itself never actually gets any easier, you just get smarter and stronger. If I could inspire a movement, I’d bring about a mindset that it’s cool to take personal responsibility for you own outcomes. That hard work is fulfilling and rewarding and makes you feel good, and failures are thought of as opportunities to learn and grow.

Nothing in life is free, things that are worth doing aren’t always easy, and nothing should be taken for granted. It takes a lot of courage to be successful because there’s nothing but obstacles to overcome along the way and you won’t always know how to approach them. My movement would hopefully encourage a relentless dedication to earning your own success, owning your failures, and learning from both outcomes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life has encompassed an inordinate amount of change. I’ve learned being able to adapt to change is a major differentiator in people. It’s not the sexiest quote, but Darwin once said:

“It’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Bono (of U2). I’m trying to help guys look and feel amazing, got any tips?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on Instagram @Kelley.Thornton

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