Cash is King — You hear this phrase in business school all the time, but understanding how to manage cash for a startup is a whole different skill set. In the early days of our business, there were times when I was actively managing cash on a daily or weekly basis. Knowing how to forecast cash, estimate burn and then figure out how much money to raise is crucial for any business, but especially for those in hyper-growth mode.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Michaels.
Kerry Michaels is the Co-Founder and CEO of William Murray Golf based in Austin, TX where she drives the team to think differently, break away from the sea of blue-striped polos and bring the brand’s authentic stories to life. Prior to William Murray Golf, Kerry had a passion for high-end consumer brands and worked in multiple capacities for companies like Oakley and Waterworks — from Finance and Ops to E-Commerce and Marketing. A true entrepreneur at heart — she enjoys being fully immersed in all aspects of business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
From a young age, I always knew I wanted to run my own company. My dad is an entrepreneur, so it’s kind of in my blood. When I was in business school for undergrad, most people I knew were focusing in on one subject. I never understood why you had to pick one focus area, and took accounting, finance and marketing. I wanted to understand it all — and that mentality stuck with me throughout my career. My experience is varied across company types and discipline areas, and I think that’s what best prepared me to take on the challenge of starting a brand from the ground up.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we first started William Murray Golf, my Co-Founder, Brandon Barrett, and I invited the Murray family to Austin to meet the team and help provide design inspiration as we started designing into our first seasons as a brand. It’s always been really important to us that we tie-in purpose and storytelling to each and every print we create. To our surprise, all six brothers flew to Austin and we spent hours hearing them tell family stories for the first time. It was a surreal experience to be with all of the brothers and hear what it was like growing up in the Murray household. One of the highlights of the trip was going to Broken Spoke and two-stepping with Bill Murray. I had never danced the two-step before, but Bill was really good and made me somehow feel like I knew what I was doing.
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?
Something I learned in the beginning of my career was to double check mass marketing emails before hitting send! I made a few errors early on, from sending emails to the wrong target segments to including the wrong links. Now I’m very diligent about testing in general — whether that’s an email or web functionality. This is something I continue to keep in mind every day and share with my team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been very fortunate to have so many amazing people in my life support me in many different ways. Early in my career, I had many bosses who had really high expectations, but setting the bar high for me was a huge motivator. I’ve stayed in touch with many of them over the years, and they are great mentors in continuing to ask the tough question and to push me along the way.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Before any big decision, I like to come overly prepared and find time to quiet my mind. If I come prepared and understand the full situation, then I have the confidence to trust my instincts and make the best decisions possible. I also make sure I have the time to either go for a run in the morning and/or meditate. Being able to quiet all the noise helps me stay focused and to see the big picture. Over the years, I’ve learned that I need both preparation and quiet time for all of the big moments in life!
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It’s no secret that diversity of thought across organizations, especially at the executive level, has been proven to benefit companies. Having a diverse group of people brings about greater innovation through a rich exchange of ideas, and it’s innovation that will drive companies to do bigger and better things. Diversity shows up in so many different ways — race and nationality come to mind, but so do gender, age, religion and so many other things that make us all unique. At WMG, part of our larger purpose is to find ways to bring out each and every person’s unique personalities. We want to embrace differences and find ways to stand out from everyone else in an authentic way.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Leaders should demonstrate what diversity and inclusion should look like. To build an organizational culture that embraces equity, senior leaders should set the tone for their teams. Pay attention to how you are showing up every day — the things you say and do show what you value.
- Create an accepting atmosphere. Organizations should encourage creativity and celebrate their employees’ unique qualities that help bring different ideas to the table.
- Understand that there is always room for improvement. Similarly to any goal, understand that creating an inclusive and representative society is an ongoing journey. We are all learning along the way from each other. As a leader if you are willing to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, your team will be much more willing to share their ideas.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The CEO is challenged with planning for the downside and looking to the future. You always have to be prepared to execute on a worst case scenario to keep the business running. However, you also must continue to find the white space — the opportunities to expand your business. It’s a balance between being a realist and an optimist.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One “myth” I would like to dispel is that the CEO doesn’t have a boss — they are the boss. We absolutely have a boss — many bosses — they are our board, investors and ultimately our customers.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
From my perspective, the biggest challenge women face is finding a balance between having a career and having a family. The pressures on us women as the primary caregiver are much different compared to our male counterparts. Even with supportive partners who help carry a lot of the load at home, women carry the pressures and guilt in different ways. Mom guilt is a real thing! The key is to realize there is no such thing as a perfect balance — we make sacrifices each and every day — sometimes for our job and sometimes for our family — and that is okay. In order for women to continue climbing the ranks and staying in the workforce, we have to realize that doing our best is enough, asking for help is okay and setting an example for our kids will help change their future.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Here at William Murray Golf, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Every day is truly a new day — there’s always a new challenge or hurdle to overcome. Because I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, it has allowed me to embrace uncertainty and push past the fear of the unknown. Now I’m able to look at challenges as opportunities to do something I’ve never done before.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
The good news is that there is no one perfect type of executive. I do believe that there are three key things you need to have in order to be successful at the executive level — drive, grit and passion. Drive keeps you motivated and moving forward, grit helps you get back up time and time again and passion is what gives you and your team purpose and meaning. If you have all three of those things in your role as an executive, then you can get through anything that comes your way.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Setting expectations is not micro-managing. There’s this fear of being labeled a “micro-manager” — and so often what happens is that we give people too much freedom and not enough direction. I find it incredibly important to set expectations for a role or project right from the beginning. I’m usually disappointed in the results when I don’t do this, and it’s because I have some set of standards that weren’t communicated. Help set your teams up for success by laying out the framework and boundaries — this will empower them to do more because they have the right guidance in place.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
When Brandon and I first started William Murray Golf, the idea was to create a fun golf apparel brand that told stories of Bill and his family through designs. What we never could have imagined was just how much this brand could impact people’s lives. Every Monday on our weekly company call, our e-Commerce team shares WMG “love stories” from our customers. We call them love stories because our customers really will gush over how much our brand (and of course Bill Murray) has changed their lives. We get so many amazing pictures from customers sharing intimate moments — from going into surgery wearing WMG to family reunions, birthdays, weddings, etc. There’s a quote from Bill we use as a lot in our marketing that reads, “The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything.” This quote really resonates with our customers and they write in telling us how this has changed the way they approach golf…and life. I feel so lucky to be part of a company that is having a positive impact on people’s lives each and every day.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Trust your instincts — As a leader of a company, no one knows your business better than you do — so while it’s great to welcome different perspectives and advice, trust your gut — you know what to do!
- The toughest part of the job is the people — My dad told me this when I was younger, but I didn’t really understand what he meant. Figuring out how to create the right culture and make sure everyone feels empowered and engaged is not easy stuff! Additionally, there’s hiring and firing and creating company policies — these are all things I wasn’t thinking about when I started a business.
- Cash is King — You hear this phrase in business school all the time, but understanding how to manage cash for a startup is a whole different skill set. In the early days of our business, there were times when I was actively managing cash on a daily or weekly basis. Knowing how to forecast cash, estimate burn and then figure out how much money to raise is crucial for any business, but especially for those in hyper-growth mode.
- Pay attention in business law — Being at the executive level, I feel like I’m constantly looking at contracts! I never would have guessed that this would be the case. Yes, lawyers are a great resource to help along the way, but I wish I knew a little more about business law before I started.
- Get the best lawyer you can afford — Lawyers are expensive, but when it comes time for the big important things, like raising money, exit strategies — hire the best of the best. If they are good, they will be worth every penny.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m very passionate about the idea of starting entrepreneurship education with our youth at a younger age. Unless you have an entrepreneur in the family, your first exposure is usually in college — and that’s if you choose to go down the business path. I think there’s so much opportunity to open our kids’ minds to a new way of thinking at an early age and see problems as opportunities to make the world a better place. Anyone can become an entrepreneur — it’s a skill that can be learned. The earlier we can start teaching it, the more innovative companies our world will see.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” I find this quote to be so helpful as an entrepreneur. This is not an easy path and there are so many decisions along the way. All we can do is make the best informed decision in the moment and move on. If we keep worrying about something we did, said or something that could have been, we will never get out of the weeds to see the possibilities. We can learn from the past, but the key is not to get stuck there.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Sara Blakely. She is such a force and an inspiration to so many women who dream of starting their own business. Her story epitomizes what it means to have passion for an idea and grit to keep going. With all of her success she remains humble and committed to philanthropy — and she also has a really fun Instagram that I love to follow.