Be humble — No one wants to work for or with an arrogant self-promoter. When you become a leader, it’s really not about you anymore. It’s about the team and the company. Own your mistakes and be willing to talk about them. It’ll give others the courage to take risks.
I had the pleasure to interview Kelli Beougher. Kelli leads the company’s account management, advertising sales, operations and merchandising duties as chief operating officer. She also manages the integration of domestic and international acquisitions for the company. Since joining RetailMeNot, Inc. in 2009 as employee number two, Kelli has instrumentally grown the company in the United States and abroad by expanding the portfolio of websites and growing a team of top talent. Prior to RetailMeNot, she was the senior vice president at LinkShare, where she was responsible for advertiser and publisher services and all lines of business in North America. Kelli started her career in GE Capital’s management program. At GE, she held roles in client and corporate marketing and Six Sigma operations. Kelli holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career at GE Capital and was fortunate to be a part of their two-year Management Development Program. Early in my career, the company made a significant investment in my development. I had the opportunity to work in multiple functions and manage people, large programs and budgets before I barely knew enough to be dangerous. My managers, all of whom were exceptional, gave me ownership of a number ambiguous situations and empowered me to go figure it out. It was a very collaborative and data-led culture, and that early experience gave me a solid foundation for the broad operating role I have today.
Then about nine years ago, I decided to take a risk, leave Manhattan to come back to Austin, and join this very early stage startup: WhaleShark Media (now RetailMeNot), as one of the very first employees. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to grow along with the business, leading to natural step changes in scope of responsibility and a special connection to our mission, culture, team and customers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Less than a year into the company’s existence, I worked alongside our founder, Cotter Cunningham, to raise considerable capital to buy RetailMeNot.com. We were ultimately successful and acquired the business. Then the real fun began — learning, running and rapidly scaling the website while building out our team. This experience included many firsts for me, and was an intense period of growth that required a lot of learning on the fly. Super fun — terrifying at times — and incredibly fulfilling.
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?
What I remember most about starting out isn’t so much a particular funny mistake but, rather, being tossed into a series of new environments and ambiguous situations where I had little to no relevant experience. These were all part of the GE management program, and every six months I found myself in a new city with new functions and responsibilities. I remember being given my first project which was to build a call center forecasting/staffing model. Huh? I had no idea where to even begin. Through a lot of support, a thousand questions and loads of determination, I managed to figure it out. Those first years helped me develop resilience and taught me to embrace rather than fear change and ambiguity.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Two things come to mind when I think about how proud I am of RetailMeNot: our mission to help make everyday life more affordable, and our highly transparent, inclusive and collaborative culture.
As part of our Diversity and Inclusion program, we have a number of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) where team members come together, on an entirely volunteer basis, to connect around something that is important to them. The level of engagement is incredible. It gives folks a special way of connecting and leading. I’m lucky to be the Executive Sponsor of our Parents ERG supporting two of our team members that lead the group. I love my discussions with the folks involved in this group — we inevitably spend half the meeting telling stories about our kids and sharing parenting advice. I’m usually the one asking for advice!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My best advice is to help each individual on the team see their connection to the company vision and strategy. Create a team environment where everyone can find their voice as opposed to a dynamic where the loudest voice in the room always wins. Be candid and open.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
When teams are small, it’s so much easier to know everyone by name and stay connected at all levels of the organization. As organizations grow, that becomes so much harder. My advice is to be purposeful about carving out time to stay connected. Also, with larger teams, it’s even more critical to help folks understand how their work matters and supports the bigger picture.
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?
It’s impossible for me to highlight just one, as I’ve been so lucky to have a number of great managers and mentors throughout my career. They encouraged me to speak my mind, nudged me to take on new and sometimes uncomfortable challenges, and gave me more responsibility before I knew I was ready.
I was lucky to work with a couple of very strong female leaders earlier in my career: Beth Petrunoff at GE and Heidi Messer, co-founder of LinkShare. Both Beth and Heidi are supportive, fearless, highly intelligent, candid, authentic women. With them as role models, it felt natural to take a seat at the table and express my opinion.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have been incredibly fortunate in my life, and I’m most proud of my role in supporting a small and very special children’s home outside of Nairobi called Maisha Children’s Home. A woman by the name Susan Wangare, supported by her daughter and son-in-law, rescued over 20 children from the streets and slums of Nairobi and brought them into her home. With the help of an amazing team of selfless caregivers, the kids are growing up in a loving environment, getting an education, and thriving. Spending time at Maisha, experiencing day to day life with the children, is one of my greatest life experiences. I’m so inspired by their smiles, laughter, resilience and deep bond with one other.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
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. 🙂
We’re tethered to our devices. I don’t know exactly what the “movement” is but as a society we need to put our phones down, look up, take a deep breath and spend more time being present and connecting on a more personal level.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Two come to mind.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Mahatma Gandhi. For me, this is about having alignment in my life. Whenever I start to feel there is a fundamental disconnect between what’s in my mind, words and actions, it’s time to check in with myself, reflect and bring things back into a state of balance. I think this is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to maintaining a steady yoga practice.
“You can’t have it all, all at once.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a working mom and single parent, it’s an honest and comforting acknowledgement of the difficult trade-offs all working parents face on a daily basis.
Some of the biggest 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.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is such an inspiration and force for positive change. So many things I admire about her not the least of which is her courage, perseverance and authentic style. She has said: “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” So humble and simple. I love it.
My daughter, who is two and a half, has this great RBG t-shirt that was given to her by one of my dearest friends. We’ve been reading a book called Who Will I Be?. The book talks about jobs where you can help people. As she put on her RBG shirt the other day, we talked about Justice Ginsburg and how she helps make the world a better place. She responded, “That’s cool mommy”. I couldn’t agree more.