Kristen Blessman | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kristen Blessman

Background:  

Founded in 1988, the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce is a Denver-based nonprofit aimed at providing opportunities and visibility for women in business.

Before joining the CWCC in early 2017, Kristen Blessman served as the chief marketing officer for Goodwill Industries of Denver.

The Mistake:

I didn’t aspire to leadership.

Looking back on when I first started my career search, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had a degree in English, and that typically funnels into sales. I also have an outgoing personality, so sales and marketing was where I ended up. I didn’t really have any greater ambitions at that time.

Even though my father always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, I never thought of myself at the top of the leadership chain.

When you go into marketing, it’s mostly dominated by women. In those early years, I had tremendous female leaders that always had me aspiring for more.

One example: When I was working in higher education, I met this incredible woman, the VP of marketing at the University of Denver at the time. I saw her marrying everything I wanted to do and later moving to New York City. Once I saw someone model that for me, it’s what I started aspiring to do for myself.

Years later, I don’t think I would have made the choices I did if it weren’t for strong, female role models like that. Women do it very differently than men, I think. When you see women having children, having a spouse, having lives and still operating in leadership roles, that’s really important. Before I saw women like that, I wouldn’t have thought to pursue it for myself.

It was more than that for me though. It was actually a man who said explicitly, “I think you’d be a good leader.” When I started at Goodwill, he was the VP of IT. He had a long, admirable career in IT, and he really didn’t need to work. Later, when he was promoted to the CEO role, he valued my voice, even though he was an engineer and I was in sales and marketing. That was the first time a man had done that.

When he first told me he thought I could be a CEO, I remember refusing, telling him no. I didn’t think I could work 75 hours per week and give my family what they needed. He basically said, “You could do this. You’re smart enough. You’re capable enough. The way your mind works, how strategic you are, you’d actually be really good at it.”

Even though my father always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, I never thought of myself at the top of the leadership chain.

The Lesson:

It sounds cliché, but I’d say jump in.

Oftentimes as women, we talk ourselves out of it. At Goodwill, when I’d leave the office at 6:30 at night to go home and be with my son, I’d look in the CEO’s office and his light would still be on. I’d get home at eight and I’d still be getting emails from him.

I didn’t think I could do that, and I didn’t think I wanted it.

So to a young woman in business, I’d say don’t talk yourself out of it. We can do it; we just need to do it differently. We remain as committed as a man, but we’re better at wearing multiple hats and juggling.

The Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce is on Twitter at @cowomenschamber.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce.

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