INTERVIEW: SARAH CLAYTON / PHOTOGRAPHS: BHAV PATEL
Kelly Lawrance is Customer Success Manager at Achievers. She was interviewed as part of Tell Her Story’s ongoing partnership with Achievers Women’s Network (AWN). The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.
At the time of our interview Kelly is negotiating a major contract renewal, settling into a new home and planning the final details of her wedding. She’s fitting 48 hours of to-dos into every 24-hour period but remains collected and generous with her time. I have her total focus during our interview: her ability to be present through chaos demonstrates why she’s so good at what she does. It’s not about what you want out of life, it’s what you’re willing to put in to get it. There’s a reason 2018 has been a big year for Kelly.
SC: Can you tell me a about your family, background, where you came from?
KL: I grew up in Markham Ontario and have a sister who’s four years older. My parents are very, very different and I feel like I have a bit of both of them in me. My dad is a free spirited, go with the flow, sleep-in kind of guy who works freelance as a camera operator. I grew up going on set with him all the time and was an extra on TV shows like Goosebumps and Degrassi. Take your kid to work day was always super interesting and I was so proud of what he did. My mom is a type-A, organized and driven hard worker who worked at her family business. She lived at home until she married at 29 and saved every penny – I am not kidding you. She did not buy a single article of clothing or go out for dinner. That’s how she could buy her and my dad’s first house in full. I remember seeing her growing up and thinking ‘how are you always so busy’ – now I see myself doing the exact same thing.
I was really involved in sports growing up. There was practice 4 nights a week with tournaments on weekends and my dad never missed a single game. The day his dad passed away was the first time my volleyball team made it to OFSAA finals, which was so important to me. He drove up to Collingwood to be with his family, then drove all the way back just to see our final game. I was lucky to grow up with a lot of support and love, and that’s still there today.
SC: How did you get to where you are today?
KL: I’ve always had a sense of adventure – fun is my number one priority. Throughout university, I worked as a waterski instructor in the summers. During my second year of university I went on a mission trip to Romania to work at orphanages. That really opened my eyes to how different the world was. My mom was always like get a real job, don’t spend all your money on travel, but I knew that was to come. I’m a very motivated person, but I wanted to take advantage of being able to live a more adventurous life.
Much to my mother’s chagrin, I took two years to travel after school. I spent a year in Whistler as a server where I met people from all over the world. It was hard, hard work, but I was so motivated to save so I could book a one-way ticket and travel the world after. Working at a restaurant and travelling were two invaluable experiences for me. In a restaurant you have the stress of time management and dealing with difficult customers. It’s difficult, but you learn so much. Travel makes you more open-minded, shows you a different world of how people live and gives you perspective. I now commit to one big travel adventure every two years, the most recent one being India.
SC: Once you landed from your travels, how did your career take shape? What guidance would you give others?
KL: After travelling I came home and felt a little behind. I would look at my friends who had experience in the corporate world and I felt a little defeated at that point. I initially started applying for jobs in the film industry, taking after my dad, and then my best friend reached out to me and told me about Achievers. I leveraged my network, which I think is a huge part of finding a job these days, and that’s how I got my start at Achievers as a Member Experience Coordinator.
In Member Experience, you see a completely different side of things. A valuable trait I gained was resiliency because I was on the phone all day dealing with people who were mostly unhappy – plus tech was a whole new world to me. I didn’t think that I would ever work at a technology company, but now that I work in tech I can’t imagine working anywhere else. A few months into my role I started thinking what’s next. I work best when I know what I’m working towards. I have an analytical mind and had my eye on the Professional Services team, so I enrolled In a Project Management course at the University of Toronto. With my limited corporate work experience at the time, I figured anything could help. I made it very clear to my leaders that I was looking for that next step, networked internally to find out what I needed to make the transition and worked my way into a new role on the Professional Services team. Make it clear that you’re willing to invest in your professional growth, even outside of work, and people will respond.
I realized what I loved the most about my time in Professional Services was building a rapport with customers. I liked the idea of building relationships over time, investing in their long-term success and really being able to own my accounts. I’m motivated by pace, change and ownership – and that brought me to my current place on the Customer Success Team. I think it’s easy to hold yourself back by wondering what if I put myself out there and I don’t get the position? But if you do nothing, nothing will change. Being clear about what you want is important, even if you’re not ready today but want to be there in 8 months. Be vocal.
SC: Tech has traditionally been considered a male dominated industry, how do you perceive the landscape?
KL: I recently learned that one of my customers in a more male-dominated industry includes a note about the growth of women in leadership roles when they send out their monthly HR update to the organization. This is an example of a company who realizes that they’re behind and is actively trying to fix it. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve been held back by my gender in tech. I think I’ve been given all the opportunity I deserve. I think the tech space is actually ahead of a lot of industries in terms of gender equality. I’ve received a lot of mentorship and guidance from women in my career and they’ve served as a huge source of inspiration and motivation for what I can work towards. Women building other women up really helps to progress things forward. I’ll never forget an old mentor giving me the book Lean In, and the fact that it was her book and her copy, I knew: I have to read this. Those little things go a long way.
SC: How do you balance your mental and physical health in this digital, high performance work environment?
KL: Working out is so important to my physical and mental health, but I had a really hard time finding time to do it. About 3 years ago a spot in a boot camp class across the street opened up, which was a perfect opportunity. Set time, prepaid – I could commit to that. More of my colleagues joined as spaces opened up and we now have a group that works out twice a week. I put myself in a position where I’m forced to be held accountable to go and it’s completely changed my life. I’m at a place where my body craves it and I love it.
I also have ebbs and flows with my job. For every busy period, there is a counterbalance of a time that’s not as busy and I try to take advantage of those times. My job is also one where if I work really hard I see the fruits of my labour, so I don’t feel like I’m grinding it out for nothing. Every time I work long hours I really focus on what I’m working towards and why that gets me so excited. It’s important to love what you do: it helps when times get crazy.
SC: As someone who works in the industry, what are your thoughts on technology addiction?
KL: It makes me nostalgic. I remember spending my childhood riding my bike and spending hours at the park. This is a childhood type that we’ll likely never see again (hopefully I’m wrong). I think the first step is recognizing how you spend your time: are there better things you can be doing with it than refreshing social media? I used to use technology as a way to kill time in transit, but I recently joined a book club, so I bring my book along for my commute and that’s had a really positive impact on me. Technology can be a huge value add, it’s just everything in moderation. It’s the new way to get information, but it’s not the only way to spend your time.
SC: Is there something now that you wish you could have told yourself ten years ago?
KL: Advice I would give others that has served well for me is to not be afraid to put yourself out there and go after the next opportunity. Just because the time isn’t right or you’re not ready right now doesn’t mean you can’t get there. One thing I’m really proud of with my career at Achievers is that I’m not afraid to vocalize what I want, and I’ve had incredible support along the way.
SC: Last pieces of advice?
KL: Never underestimate the power of mentorship and to concept of pay it forward. There’s been stages of my career where women have encouraged me to take the next step. Now I’m getting to the stage in my career where I have the opportunity to pay it forward to others.