Kelly Leonard is the CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation. Headquartered in Montgomery County, MD, Taylor-Leonard offers training, business development, and technology consulting that helps customers leverage their networks, reduce ambiguities, and increase operational performance. The company engages in a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, giving back to Montgomery College ACES, the Nehemiah Project, the Montgomery Business Development Corporation, and more. In 2014, Kelly received a Minerva Entrepreneur Women-Owned Business of the Year Award.
Kelly Leonard spoke with citybizlist founder Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: What made you decide to leave GE and start your own company?
KELLY LEONARD: It was a bit scary leaving GE and having the comfort of that “good job,” but because my husband and I had already planned to be business owners, we saw, unlike a lot of our peers, where they were starting families and immediately a spouse was coming home to take care of children, we sort of did the reverse of that. We decided that we wanted to be in a position to have greater flexibility in our life once our children reached middle to high school age. That was about the time I left GE, was when our son was in middle school. So, it was a planned exit, trust me, I’m a planner! [Laughter]
My husband left Price Waterhouse, not by choice, in 2001, just after the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, he was laid off by Price Waterhouse Coopers—he and several thousand of his peers, as a result of just the turn in the economy. He had set out to just start his own company, to not be beholden to the corporate challenges, to be in a position to start his own company to manage that process and to grow the business the way he desired. He was able to leverage a lot of the connections and clients that he had built through Price Waterhouse, and because he had great relationships with a lot of the partners, there was a willingness for them to help him to get his consultancy up off the ground.
Can you tell us about your husband and his role in the company?
Yes, Jerome, his background as a technologist is CRM—customer relationship management—and he has over 20 years of familiarity with really large, complex customer relation management systems like Siebel, Oracle, SalesForce. So, as he was growing our practice, a lot of our clients—while they understood the dynamics around how to use technology from a sales marketing service perspective to connect with their clients and prospects—when social media came on the scene, there was this confusion, or even apprehension of them using social media, and so the industry termed it “social CRM.”
Because I have a corporate training background, we spent a lot of time and resources learning LinkedIn because we saw it as being probably the most reputable platform in the social media space, and the most widely accepted platform in the business-to-business, business-to-government space. So, we focused our energy on learning everything that we could about that platform.
What is it like working alongside your spouse?
Working with my spouse can at times pose a challenge. It’s always funny because, in addition to working with my husband, we serve our local church as marriage mentors. We have these conversations with husband and wife teams all the time. They’ll come to us and say, “Oh my gosh! How could you work with your spouse? I could never work with my spouse.” And we just sort of laugh at that because we’re thinking, “But you married that person, right?” I think it’s this healthy approach to making sure that you have this understanding and this awareness of what your personal strengths are, and having the confidence that you are well-gifted and able to do a particular thing, and just having this understanding that “hey, you stay in your lane, I’ll stay in mine, and no one will get hurt.”
Do you have an entrepreneurial role model?
Well, that’s a difficult question, because there are so many of them, and many of them I don’t even have a personal relationship with. If I had to pick just one person—and of course, this person doesn’t know me—my favorite would be Oprah! [Laughter] Everyone says Oprah, right? So much of it is because when you look at just the dynasty that Oprah has created, the fact that even though she is just this phenomenal woman, she’s led by integrity, she looks at the much bigger picture in terms of just not “what’s in it for me,” but “how can I serve, how can I bless other people, I’m blessed to be a blessing.” I think that’s a total game changer. You can really tell that she leads with integrity and with her heart. Because of that, I truly admire women like Oprah.
Why is corporate social responsibility important to you, and what kinds of philanthropic activities are you involved in?
We have a number of causes that we support as an organization. I personally support one that’s near and dear to our hearts, which is that we have an affiliation with a global training, business development, and financing organization called Nehemiah Project. In that capacity, we as Taylor-Leonard Corporation, we partnered with Nehemiah to introduce a curriculum called Biblical Entrepreneurship. What this curriculum is really designed to do is to help elevate the way businesses operate not just here in our backyard, but around the world: building businesses beyond what’s traditionally thought of the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profitability, but really looking at the eternal impact that that business can have on the marketplace, on that business owner as the steward, on their community, on their family, on their competitors and on their vendors. It totally changes the way that businesses are operating, because they are led by faith as opposed to by sight.
What’s next for the company?
The next step for Taylor-Leonard Corporation is to just continue to grow, continue to serve, and to continue to do the work that we truly enjoy doing. In terms of the work that we’re doing on LinkedIn platform, we are looking to digitize a lot more of our content, because what Ive found is even over the last four years, I’ve been very fortunate to train over 4500 business professionals throughout Metro D.C. A lot more people need help and I want to be in a position to really help more people, and the only way that I can do that—since I haven’t figured out the secret sauce to clone myself yet—is to leverage the technology that we’ve been fortunate to leverage so far to now digitize our products to make them available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not just here locally, but around the world.