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7 Questions with Kara Brown
7 Questions with Kara Brown
Name: Kara Brown
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: LeadCoverage
Kara Brown is the Chief Executive Officer at LeadCoverage, a B2B demand gen, sales, and PR consultancy specializing in the supply chain, heavy industrial and technology industries. Brown was one of the first employees at Echo Global Logistics which grew quickly in three years and her name is on the company’s 2009 IPO press release [NYSE: ECHO]. In 2017 after a successful corporate career she partnered with Will Haraway, another industry veteran, to start LeadCoverage. The company focuses on all the pieces of the B2B conversion cycle: mar-tech stack building (CRM/Automation), sales/marketing operations and enablement, inbound/outbound content, SEO/SEM, social conversion, PR, and measurement. Brown is also an active force in empowering women leaders. She is on the board of the Entrepreneur's Organization Atlanta chapter, LaunchPad2x, and co-founded CloseHer, a community for women in sales.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
The biggest challenge I've found as a leader of a small fast-growing business is, "it's lonely at the top." Building a community of like-minded leaders has been the most important part of my journey. Risk-takers and entrepreneurs are a rare breed (especially in the female variety) so finding a tribe has been a way to check my decision making or get an experience share from people who are on a similar rocketship to mine.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I have always been goal-oriented. When I was in my early 20's someone dared me to do an Ironman. So I did it.
In 2016 someone told me, "Less than 2% of female founders break $1M in revenue." I heard it as a challenge. We achieved that goal in less than 2 years with an all-female team.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I live by my google calendar. If it isn't in the calendar, it doesn't happen. Before March 2020 every day was different. I might be at an all-day planning meeting or have back to back lunches and coffees with potential clients and partners.
Since March 2020 I'm basically on zoom calls 7am - 7pm. I'm most productive in the mornings, so from 6:30am - 8:45am I am usually taking care of the highest priority to-dos. Most days I try to take a break mid-day for a workout or dog walk. The worst part of Covid has been the lack of transition from boss to Mom at the end of the day. When I walk down the stairs at 6:30 or 7pm it's *right* into Mom mode. I have two girls, 7 and 8, who can't wait to tell me all about their day while I get dinner on the table.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The most significant leadership lesson I've ever learned comes from a mentor of mine who challenged me in the earliest days of my business: "The CEO's job is to set strategy and keep cash in the bank."
That statement was never more true than in March and April of 2020. Like most small business owners I was anxious every time the phone rang - that we were going to lose all our clients and I would have to lay everyone off. I started making necessary "worst-case scenario" plans that crushed my spirit.
I had to step away from the day to day management of client delivery work and even the daily running of the business to keep cash in the bank and find new ways to generate revenue. I followed my mentor's advice and became a "real" CEO in the crisis. I set strategy for my team, spent months making our practices more sophisticated, and found ways to build value for clients. A true visionary never lets a good crisis pass them by - and we grew 60% in the pandemic.
The ability to step back, set strategy and focus on cashflow/working capital freed my leadership team up to grow and we are better for it leading into 2021.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin has left a lasting impact on my own leadership style and my entire organization.
We have internalized Willink and Babin's message and have developed a culture of extreme ownership, which for us means that we don't throw others "under the bus" no matter the circumstances. This impacts my personal leadership style because I trust my team implicitly to do their job, we rarely have operational or client surprises and the team is empowered to ask questions without fear of judgment.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Building leadership capacity in an SME has to be an intentional process. My leadership team meets monthly to review our KPIs as an organization as well as their individual business unit KPIs. I am a member of a few leadership development groups and my team joins me regularly in learning activities.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
Being a leader means something different in every setting - one of the most meaningful moments has to do with my children.
Less than 2% of female founders will break $1M in revenue. I have two elementary-aged girls and having a Mom who is a leader is just part of their lives. I'm not the room-mom or active on the PTO, but I'm the Mom who comes in to be a mystery reader with a book about Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
I'm also the Mom that walks the equality walk - Dad is super-involved and he is just as capable of meeting their needs as Mom is. My girls see a strong woman leader every day and it's just their normal.