You either grow or you die and you are going to make mistakes along the way, probably a lot of them. But, in my opinion, mistakes don’t upset resilient people. Rather, mistakes fuel resilient people — they learn from them and they get better, faster.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Thornton. Kelley was born and raised in Towson, MD. His parents divorced when he was just a toddler but both remained active in his life. As a child and young adult he was outgoing and intrepid, generally the one to come up with ideas to keep himself and his friends occupied. He also participated in a variety of organized sports and developed into a talented lacrosse player. He later coached the sport and credits the experience with contributing to his understanding of what it takes to motivate and lead a group of individuals. When he was a junior in high school he relocated to Brookfield, CT, thinking it would be an opportunity to focus more on his education. Throughout his final two years of high school he started a house painting business to earn money he would put toward his college tuition. He hired several of his fellow high school friends and the team worked together for six years, resulting in his first entrepreneurial endeavor. One Connecticut Sunday morning, Kelley put flyers on every car in every church parking lot in town to advertise his house painting business. He thought generating even a few leads from the idea would be great, but the marketing campaign was more successful than he could have anticipated. Kelley and his team wound up with enough business to last the duration of their college careers. Summer in New England was the perfect time to paint and left Kelley debt free when he finished his degree at The University of Connecticut. After college, Kelley entered the workforce in the Metropolitan New York area as a sales representative in the display and packaging industry. A few years into his career he was tasked with developing a Chicago presence for his company, Phoenix Display & Packaging. He relocated to Chicago in 1993 and continued his trajectory to National Accounts Manager and ultimately Regional Sales Manager. After a successful 20-year-career in the throes of Corporate America, he left the industry to found his own company, Purchase Point LLC. Purchase Point helps consumer packaged goods companies think differently about their in-store merchandising platforms. The business grew quickly, serving international customers and challenging Kelley and his colleagues to bring a creative approach to every situation they encountered. Kelley stepped away from Purchase Point after 10 years to focus on his next company, Tiege Hanley, but remains a board member and advisor. Entrepreneurial spirit and drive led him to create Tiege Hanley, a subscription skin care service for men. He founded the company with three partners to create meaningful, accessible, affordable, and clinically relevant skin care for guys. Now over three years old, Tiege Hanley continues to grow, shipping internationally to over 108 countries monthly and is currently focused on building a great community of guys that want to look and feel amazing. The Tiege Hanley brand was created around three main tenants: it must be sensible, simple and affordable. The mission was clear: 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 multi millions. The author of the article “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 me Kelley! What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success as a leader at Tiege Hanley?
Vision, very good people instincts, and tenacity.
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company stand out from the crowd?
There are a couple of very unique aspects to Tiege Hanley. One is that we offer skin care systems because we believe that having a good skin care routine is critical to long term health and feeling good about yourself. Second, we are a subscription company which makes it easy for guys by sending them the products they want every month. Also, as a direct to consumer subscription company, we can offer a low price on ridiculously good quality products. Lastly, we are focused on preventing the most common form of cancer — melanoma. With over five million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year, it’s no surprise that the issue hits close to home for our team members. Several of our products protect guys from the sun’s harmful rays. So, donating to The Skin Cancer Foundation has been part of Tiege Hanley’s core mission since day one.
How has your company continued to thrive in the face of rapid change and disruption in your industry?
We have done an outstanding job adapting to change by listening to our customers and having the agility to make changes based on their feedback. We have a fail fast mentality which has served us well.
All of my successful clients seem to have one quality in common, and that is resilience. What does resilience mean to you?
Resilience is one of the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur. Some might think that you become more resilient as an entrepreneur and, while that might be true, I think you are either wired to be a business owner or you are not. Nothing is easy, even in companies that have a lot going for them, like Tiege Hanley. You either grow or you die and you are going to make mistakes along the way, probably a lot of them. But, in my opinion, mistakes don’t upset resilient people. Rather, mistakes fuel resilient people — they learn from them and they get better, faster.
When you think of tenacity and endurance, what person comes to mind?
There are so many great examples. I have so much respect for the men and women that serve this country and if I have one regret in life is that I didn’t serve. I really enjoyed reading Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken. The life story of Louis Zamperini’s tenacity is so amazing and inspiring. Anyone that knows his storey knows what it means to never quit and never give up.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway?
Interestingly, this happened with Tiege version one, our first attempt to launch Tiege Hanley. We met with our advisory board and told them our idea. The idea was to sell a skin care routine directly to customers on the internet, with a focus on routine and education. We were selling other bands in a box. Our advisory board said “You don’t have a plan, you don’t have a product and you don’t have a unique selling proposition. So, go sell one box, and we aren’t talking to friends and family, and see how hard it is.” I thought “we will show you” but they were correct, we couldn’t sell anything. Within 60 days after launch we basically knew we were done. Our ‘did it anyway’ became Tiege version two when we pivoted the business model by producing our own product and adding Aaron Marino as a Co-Founder — here we are 3 years later!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever?
I probably had more setbacks than bounce backs! At the second company I started, Purchase Point LLC, which was an Instore Design and Strategy company, I worried about getting paid by customers in time to make payroll, but I always found a way to make ends meet. Then you would have one really big project come in and it puts enough wind in your sails to take you through the next several downturns. Most business owners know what I mean, there are highs and lows. Sometimes both can be extreme.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency?
I had a lot of changes in my life as a child. Most of it was related to the tumultuous relationship that my parents had with each other. As an example, I went to five different schools before 9th grade, two different high schools, and three different colleges. I lived in four different states and probably seven different houses growing up. As I got older I began to understand that most people don’t handle change well. Yet, adapting to change helped me survive, meet people and make the best of the inconsistent circumstances around me.
What strategies do you use to strengthen your resilience today?
My first job was in sales. When you start right out of college into sales all you do is cold selling and we did it all over the phone. I was selling merchandising displays to CPG display buyers. I would call dozens of prospects every week. Most of the time I would get hung up on but sometimes they would take my call. If I got someone on the phone it made the last dozen hang ups worth it. If I got someone interested it would motivate me for a couple of days. If I got an appointment it made the entire week of calling worth it! I developed a mental toughness for rejection. I was the only one of six in my hiring class still working in the job after twelve months.
What are your thoughts on how leaders can create a more resilient workforce?
I talk about change and agility frequently with my management team. But you have to understand how much agility you can impose on people before they lose faith in you. We are always trying new things and many times it doesn’t work. The key is to always be positive, listen to the team’s input and be patient when you are evaluating the results of a project.
Extensive research suggests that people who have a clear purpose in their lives are more likely to persevere during difficult times. What is your purpose?
To be the best husband, father, friend and steward I can be, while staying laser focused on our company’s vision of ‘Changing the Face of Skin Care for Men.’
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
I have a picture of Muhammad Ali in our office. I am very motivated by what he accomplished as a boxer and a role model. His resilience is one of the things that made him great. I love this quote: “Inside or outside the ring, ain’t nothing wrong with going down, it’s staying down that’s wrong.”
Can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Instagram @Kelley.Thornton
This interview was inspiring. Thank you very much.
About the Author
Alexandra Friedman is an executive business coach with more than 25 years of experience enhancing the performance of individuals, teams, and companies such as Xerox, Peppers and Rogers Group, Microsoft, and The Wall Street Journal. She received an MS in Management from Loyola Marymount University and earned her Executive Coaching certification from Columbia University.
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