Margery Kraus: “Spending time with your children is essential for the development of self-confidence and to fuel personal achievement”

Spending time with your children is essential for the development of these roots and the foundational understanding of what is expected as well as what is appropriate and valued. These roots are more than a parent’s love or pride and they are not about the quantity of time but rather the quality of that time. […]

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Spending time with your children is essential for the development of these roots and the foundational understanding of what is expected as well as what is appropriate and valued. These roots are more than a parent’s love or pride and they are not about the quantity of time but rather the quality of that time. They build self-confidence and fuel personal achievement. One of the side benefits of me having a career is that, over the years, my husband got to develop a special relationship with his children that men of his age rarely got to do. He became a role model of a different kind as well. My husband has gotten a lot of joy out of that special relationship with the children. As the kids grew and watched us as a couple, they looked to us for different things but respected us as individuals, which has been an important aspect of the health of our family.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, a global advisory and advocacy communications consultancy headquartered in Washington, D.C., specializes in public affairs, communication and business consulting for major multinationals. Ms. Kraus founded APCO in 1984 and transformed it from a company with one small Washington office to a multinational consulting firm in major cities throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In September 2004, Ms. Kraus led a management buyout of her firm, making APCO one of the largest privately owned communication and public affairs firms in the world. Throughout the years, her approach has been to fuse the best local experience with a global perspective, resulting in an international agency with a unique culture based on seamless teamwork. Ms. Kraus’ achievements have been recognized over the years through a number of prestigious awards, including the Enterprising Women of the Year Award (2019); PRWeek’s Top 20 Most Influential Communicator (2018), honoring the top communicators of the past 20 years; PRWeek Hall of Femme (2017); PR News’ PR People Hall of Fame (2015); C200 Foundation Entrepreneurial Champion Award (2015); PRWeek Hall of Fame (2014); U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress Corporate Statesmanship Award (2013); Volunteers of America (Greater New York) Spirit of the Founders (2012); the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Agency Mentorship (2012); Global Thinkers Forum Excellence in Leadership (2012); Arthur W. Page Society’s Hall of Fame (2011); Institute for Public Relations’ Alexander Hamilton Medal for lifetime contributions to professional public relations (2010); Washington Business Hall of Fame (2009); Enterprising Women Hall of Fame (2009); Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in the services category in Greater Washington (2006); Washington PR Woman of the Year (2006); and PR News Lifetime Achievement (2005). Ms. Kraus specializes in providing strategic counsel on issue-based communication, crisis management, market entry and corporate reputation across diverse industry groups. The range of her experience is reflected in APCO’s industry practice groups. In addition, she pioneered one of the industry’s earliest practices in corporate responsibility and the development of public/private partnerships. Prior to starting APCO, Ms. Kraus assisted in the creation and development of the Close Up Foundation, a multi-million-dollar educational foundation sponsored in part by the United States Congress. Ms. Kraus continues to be involved with the foundation by serving on its board of directors. Ms. Kraus is active on other institutional and corporate boards and committees. She is chairman of the board of the Women Presidents’ Organization; serves on the international advisory board of Tikehau Capital, the social responsibility advisory board of Univision Communications Corporate, and the advisory board of Enterprising Women magazine; is a trustee of the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, the Institute for Public Relations and American University; and sits on the advisory board of the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. In addition, she is a past chairman of the Public Affairs Council and the board of directors of the PR Council. She also served as a trustee for Northwestern Mutual for more than a decade. Ms. Kraus is the author of numerous articles in the fields of public affairs management and corporate reputation and has been a guest lecturer throughout the world. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in political science and public law from the American University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up Franklin, New Jersey — a small mining town of 3,000 people — where my family had a general store. My father immigrated to the U.S. from Poland when he was a toddler, and his family settled in Franklin where his father became the town baker. My mother was also born in Poland, but she was raised in Cuba; her family were also bakers and my father and my mother met on a date arranged by their parents.

From the time we could remember, we all worked at the general store — which was open 12 hours a day, six days week — and did our part to help our parents. My mother worked in the store as well, leaving when she can to go home to cook dinner, make sure we did our homework and take care of the house. I never really thought of her as a working mother, although in retrospect, she really had to balance a lot of things.

My father also owned the Franklin Miners — a semi-professional football team, originally formed by the mine workers in town who played on weekends for recreation. When the mines closed in 1955, my father took over the team and built it into the best semi-professional team in the U.S. Football became a part of our life and in traveling with my father, I learned how to dance between raindrops — when to be tough and when not to be — and how to handle myself in difficult situations. Stories of a young woman traveling with a semi-pro football team could fill a book, and prepared me for just about anything in life.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I have always worked hard and dreamed big. I decided to go to college early, leaving high school after my junior year to enroll at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. My first job out of college was as a high school civics teacher; it’s amazing how much one can learn about life — both triumph and tragedy — from teaching teenagers. I also came to understand how the formation of strong roots influenced life choices. My time in the classroom made me believe, more than ever, in the importance of personal experience in shaping education and self-esteem, which led me down the path to my role in the formation of the Close Up Foundation — a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic education organization in Washington, D.C., which offers programming to educate and inspire young people to participate in their government.

Close Up put me — a girl from a small mining town in New Jersey — in front of some of the most important leaders of this country and along with the students, I had the chance to meet and work with four different presidents: Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton. It also introduced me to the law firm Arnold & Porter (A&P); after a group of A&P partners got to know me and see what I had done with the Close Up Foundation, they were convinced that it was time to start an affiliate of the law firm and that I should run it! After months of turning down the offer, I decided to try and test my ability to convert the skills I had developed at Close Up into something new and different. Here I was, often the only woman in the room, with these highly-educated, high-powered men, and I was the daughter of immigrants.

In the middle of the ensuing self-questioning, I was helping my then-sixteen-year-old son with his homework and came across a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that served a guidepost for the next 34 years: “no one can make you feel inferior without your own consent.” That was the last day of my self-doubt; I came to work the next day and never looked back. The next big career milestone for me was the breakaway from A&P and the birth of my independent company, APCO Worldwide.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

My day to day is very hectic and no two days are ever the same! I spend time helping to build my company’s brand, work closely with key clients, secure new business and work with the management team to advance our performance and generally to provide a strategic direction for the future. This requires being on the road quite a bit and travel often to fulfill these responsibilities. As a result, people ask me how I handle jet lag and adjust to time zones. It’s simple: I’ve learned to live in my own time zone. In client services, you eat and sleep when you can, and get done what needs to be done. That’s why work-life integration is so important: it keeps everything fluid and flexible across the board.

This schedule, on most days, start at 5:30am and ends at some times as late as 10pm or 11pm, depending upon what public events and other more social networking makes sense. When I am on the road, it is especially intense as I try to spend as much time as possible with staff as well as keep the normal schedule.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Almost since the beginning of parenthood, I had a little sign in my house that read, “The only lasting thing of value you give your children is roots and wings.” As parents, we seek to create the most stable and supportive environment for our children and to make it clear what is expected, so their “roots” are strong and they have a clear understanding of basic values that guide the family unit: respect for each other, telling the truth, working hard, keeping your word, and a sense of modesty and fair play.

If these basic values are embraced, you know your children can accept the responsibilities of freedom because they will make good choices and stay true to their roots. We can then look forward to the day that they earn their independence and “wings” as we watch them grow and develop into passionate and productive members of society. Each person has to take their own life’s journey, and I am happy that my children had the wings to choose their own path to independence, in spite of my periodic absences.

Spending time with your children is essential for the development of these roots and the foundational understanding of what is expected as well as what is appropriate and valued. These roots are more than a parent’s love or pride and they are not about the quantity of time but rather the quality of that time. They build self-confidence and fuel personal achievement. One of the side benefits of me having a career is that, over the years, my husband got to develop a special relationship with his children that men of his age rarely got to do. He became a role model of a different kind as well. My husband has gotten a lot of joy out of that special relationship with the children. As the kids grew and watched us as a couple, they looked to us for different things but respected us as individuals, which has been an important aspect of the health of our family.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

There is no substitute for spending quality time with your kids. It is one way to impart values, demonstrate things by example and developing deep personal ties for a lifetime. I know that I learned a lot from spending quality time with my parents…whether at work with them or at home. For instance, my desire to make a difference is something I learned from my parents — from my dad through the way he helped those less fortunate, providing store credit when people needed it; from my mom through her religious beliefs. In Judaism, there is a word, tzedakah, which in English is charity or giving aid, assistance, and money to the poor and needy or to worthy causes. In other religions, I have come to know that the same concept applies, like Sadaqah in the Muslim world. However, the nature of these words is very different than charity. The root of the word tzedakah means righteousness, justice, or fairness. So helping others who need it is simply an act of justice, doing what is right.

For me, it’s living a life of meaning and trying to make a difference. I’ve tried to do this personally with my family by passing this down to our children and grandchildren. This is something that has to happen by developing personal bonds and spending quality time together. When I volunteered my time to help others, I involved my kids from the time they were small. It was important to get them involved early so they could see that their actions to help those in need made a difference. Through their involvement in Scouts, they often took on projects to help others, whether it was food drives, volunteering to clean up playgrounds, or gathering presents and distributing them for the holidays. Giving back became a natural part of our lives, and I am pleased to see this continue in the next generations. Once you have this drive to help others, it continues throughout life.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

From the time that I was quite young, I have felt like a citizen of the world; traveling around the globe for work and pleasure is my lifeblood. When my children were young, I thought it would be great to have them see what I did and why I was gone when I had to travel. So, I created the “Ten-Year-Old-Trip,” first for my kids and now for my grandchildren. The age, although originally arbitrary, provided a fixed time when the kids knew they had a chance to join their mother on a business trip. In the beginning, all of the kids had an identical trip — to Denver, Colorado, for meeting and then into the mountains to experience the majesty of the Rockies and see some of the American West.

Each of these trips meant a lot to me, but it wasn’t until 31 years later that I fully understood how much these trips meant to my children. When my oldest daughter participated in the trip, she never really talked a lot about it. It wasn’t until her daughter was nine that I came to appreciate that it must have made an impression because my granddaughter called me just before her tenth birthday to announce to me that she was going to be ten on her next birthday (as if a grandmother is not tracking this!). When I told her that it was natural to turn ten after being nine, she immediately got impatient with me and said, “I know that, Grandma, but it is time for my ten-year-old trip!” This was something we had never discussed, and there could only have been one source for this — her mother. So 31 years later, I learned that it had indeed had the intended consequences.

These trips were not about where we went, but rather, it was about having an experience shaped by each of my children and now, grandchildren. As we went along, each of the kids did a lot of research in advance, and it was great fun both to spend the quality time and to have this unique experience. The ten-year-old-trip has been a crucial part of work-life integration for me, exposing the kids to a world beyond home while giving them a window into my life at work — it’s important to share life’s experiences with your fellow workers and your work experience with your family.

It is not just these high-profile moments that highlight the importance of quality than quantity. On a daily basis, our home was always a center of activity for our kids and their friends. So while I was probably one of the only mothers that had a full-time job at that time, our kids always knew that while my time was limited, they could count on me to plan things for them and their friends and be an active participant in their activities.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

One thing I learned early on was to be in the present. What I mean by that is my model of work and life integration didn’t allow me to carry all my work home and all my problems to work.

The second thing that became clear was that I needed to have a really secure spouse, and we had to be in agreement on how everything was going to work. Believe me, it took a while for us to adjust, but we agreed it was a partnership that all of us — kids included — would participate in, pitching in. This made all the difference in the world, giving me such a strong support system.

I learned a lot from my early experiences. I learned the importance of being able to multitask and use time efficiently. I also learned the valuable lesson of sharing your difficulties and your joys with those at home who support you. Part of this was engaging the whole family in the tasks that needed to be done . . . divide and conquer! So the kids learned how to put dinner on the table, look after siblings, and help with the many things that are time-consuming. So, you not only get to regain some time in the schedule but you also teach your kids important skills and responsibilities. Teamwork.

Finally, I knew I couldn’t do everything or be at all of my kids’ activities, so I would pick the most important ones and ensure I was fully present and in the moment when I was there. My kids new that if I committed to be at their activity or sporting event, they could rely on me to be there, on time and fully engaged, nothing would derail those commitments. They were also engaged in the decision-making process in determining participation in these activities.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

Parents are role models to their children by example, so by demonstrating commitment to meet challenging goals and overcome obstacles, parents encourage children to move outside of their comfort zones to explore and achieve and be creative about how they approach life’s problems.

Kids watch their parents and their grandparents. They take note of some of the things that may not be obvious at the time. I think being purposeful about engaging your kids in some of the big family decisions and outcomes gives them a sense of efficacy but also sends a powerful message about mutual trust and respect.

A good example of the implementation of this philosophy was a vacation that was taken 35 years ago that has impacted our entire family forever. In a holiday vacation taken on the eve of my start at APCO, we decided as a family to go to Cancun Mexico for a week’s vacation over Christmas. It was a great time and we had a meeting at the end of the week: my husband, our three teenage kids and me. Should we invest/buy a time-share in Cancun? What were the implications of having the same place to go each year? What would we forgo if we took this step? We decided to go forward but no one could have anticipated the outcome. Thirty-five years later, our kids still feel invested in this decision. Every year they, their kids and us — and usually a few other stray relatives and friends — go on this vacation together unless their work keeps them home (our daughter is often producing NFL football and our son-in-law is the announcer for the Bruins so often they cannot go). Cancun trips have become a fabric of our family life and the memories are too many to recount here. It is a glue that has helped the next generation to bond together and a common experience that strengthens our maturing relationships.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

There is no other way to describe the success I have had in my life and most especially in building my business than dreaming big. I think as my kids have grown and now their kids, they have seen what big dreams produce and then have helped to enable them. Much of this is attributable to a saying that my mother always shared with me (and inspired me to dream big): where there is a will, there is a way. It made me stubbornly pursue my dreams no matter how many people told me they were out of reach. And I assume it did the same for my mother, who was an immigrant from both Poland then Cuba who ended up living a solid middle class life in the U.S. — no matter the odds.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” a saying they say that originates from 1640, is not an archaic phrase to me; it is a way of life and, wherever possible, a business and life promise. I believe this stubborn persistence to pursue my dreams has demonstrated to my family and colleagues at work that I embrace this in a way that has inspired them to persist in achieving their own goals, personally and professionally.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

While every business is motivated to give a financial return to those who have invested time and cash, I have always felt that APCO should do more. We should use our platform as a force for good. Part of being a good business is being a positive contributor to society. I am proud that the company has been able to be a successful business while providing flexibility to get involved in things that we think important. I have felt that mandate is especially important in regard to advancing women across the globe. Perhaps it is a way to share the good fortune that I have enjoyed. I often reflect that as a child of immigrants, I not only have had a fantastic opportunity, but I should also have a responsibility to those less fortunate.

In many ways, my professional success has been a function of a supportive and engaged family, and my ability to be fully engaged with my family has been a function of a fulfilled professional career. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has worked for me, and I hope these personal experiences can give others ideas about how to make this difficult balance work for them. When it comes to work and family balance, everybody has to have their own formula. The way I’ve done it is not for everyone. My advice is to find your own way and go in with your eyes open.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

The iconic book when I was raising my children was Baby and Child Care, written by Dr. Benjamin Spock. It was almost the Bible for parents at that time, with all sort of useful parenting and medical information. Most importantly, however, Dr. Spock’s advice to mothers was to “trust yourself.”

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

“Never underestimate the value of being underestimated.” I am proud of the many successes we have had over the years but that ladder of success is never straight and I have tried to learn from all the mistakes along the way. Most of all, I have learned that as a woman entrepreneur, there is sometimes real power in being underestimated! My hope for the future is that I have developed a company that is built to last and that the generations that follow operate with the same sense of purpose I have tried to instill in the work we do and the impact we have.

What I learned was that if people are prejudiced or biased, use it to your advantage, because they will never see you coming. I can give you scores of examples of how I was able to come away with deals done and challenges accomplished just because I was able to outmaneuver those who underestimated me in some way. If people are blind to confidence and success, I am going to use it in a way that is helpful to what I want to accomplish.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

Thirty-five years ago, I started a movement to have a place where really smart and nice people can come together, have a fulfilled career while creating important opportunities or solving important problems through creative collaboration for our clients and whenever possible find solutions that contribute to a better world. I hope this continues for generations to come and people can use their life’s work to make the world a better place and not shy away from challenges or obstacles that get in the way. So in a way, the movement has already started — purpose — finding meaning beyond profits for a business and learning that we all have a responsibility and opportunity to contribute to a better world.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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