In Part 1 of this special Special Interview Series, we learned about the importance of role models for women’s success, the value of case studies and how both of these have come to life together through The Hot Mommas® Project. In Part 2, we chat with the remarkable woman behind this initiative – founder Kathy Korman Frey, who is also Adjunct Professor at George Washington University.
In addition to being a savvy entrepreneur and educator, Kathy is mother to two beautiful children – Maxwell and Delilah – and is married to her entrepreneurial husband Josh who, as she puts it, is her “third child, entertainer, partner and best friend”. Her big issues are the aged (she used to work in the field) and civil rights, which has recently expanded to human rights for girls and women after reading “Half the Sky.”
Kathy is very proud of how The Hot Mommas® Project has grown – having put it together working part-time and in a mere seven months. It made her redefine success and what is possible. She has a theory now on maximizing time and thinking big, “I see many women who have less time, and therefore shoot lower. My message is ‘shoot higher’, because you only have a few hours – so make it good.”
If you are looking for an example of keen self-awareness and how it relates to professional success, look no further. Kathy has built her success, in large part, by paying close attention to life experiences right from childhood. From selling Amway and Girl Guide cookies as a kid to observing and connecting with family and “power women”, Kathy has learned that key activities and people along the way – even the seemingly insignificant – have had a huge impact and have helped her become who she is today.
More with Kathy…
We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be. ~ Jane Austen
Kathy, who has been your role model?
I have a bunch. I gravitate toward people who are incredibly accomplished and smart – and therefore could easily have an excuse to have screwed up values; But they don’t, and they know what really matters. I also tend to gravitate toward highly intuitive people who are authentic. I actually have a theory about a sort of business intuitives movement going on, but that is another story.
My mom – She could and can literally do anything professionally. She reminds me of this guy in an old TV series called ‘The Pretender’ where a genius can do any profession flawlessly. So, looking at my mom growing up, it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do something. But, she also taught me about the challenges associated with this type of competence. Yes, she can do anything, but what does she CHOOSE to do? What makes her happy? I think the multi-tasking, massively capable women of today are kind of drowning in this question. I had an early intro to this topic.
Another point about my mom: You know when someone is a really good gift-giver? They just know what people will like and you open up the present and say, “Oh I LOVE it?” My mom is like that. She has this freakishly accurate intuition. When she would say to me growing up “You can do it!” it wasn’t your average pep talk. It was literally, like “You can do this. You will be good at this.” She was always right.
My dad and my aunt have also been big influencers. They are both well known experts in their fields. Random people always come up to me and tell me what a big deal my dad and aunt are to them. They both help people at their most vulnerable. (My dad is a well-known family lawyer, and my aunt is one of the nation’s leading child behavior experts). They are just so humble, and so cool, and so smart and funny, yet so well respected in their field. I like that. Making a difference, and not being a jerk about it. And, they both really love what they do which has been one of the most important lessons for me: Love what you do and be great at it.
The “when I grow up” people…I want to be like:
My grandfather – To me he was just “Grampy.” We had the same birthday. He was a BIG. He gave me bear hugs. But, almost 30 years after his death there are STILL people who talk about my grandfather and the influence he had on their lives. Some still call him “the judge” (he was a judge). I just love him and miss him still. We all have those people in our lives who just don’t seem totally gone.
Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter – There is just no other way to say this: Rosabeth Moss Kanter is one of the most brilliant, authentic, and truly generous people I’ve ever met. She’s been named as one of the 50 most powerful women in the world, and one of the world’s top 50 business thinkers. But, when you meet her and talk to her, she bears no diva-gene whatsoever. You know when you feel drawn to someone and just always learn so much from them? It’s like that with Rosabeth.
When did you realize that entrepreneurship was for you? Was it a childhood experience?
Looking back, I realize many experiences gave me the confidence to start my own consulting firm, Vision Forward with the original “Hot Mommas” (dynamic women who worked for my firm part-time). However, I’ll never forget “the email-of-death” day. This is when – one day during 2001 – I sent an email telling everyone in my Outlook contacts list that I was starting my own business. Now, as an entrepreneur, this one act does not seem like a big deal because I put my butt on the line constantly. But, I had historically worked in various companies which made me feel protected. I was “yada yada” title for “yada yada” company. But, to be out there on my own and live or die by my own hand was a BIG STEP. I doubt I would have gotten there without being forced. I was pushed out of the nest into entrepreneurship when a venture I worked for went by the way of the dot-com. I thought about my options practically with a spreadsheet. I said, “Okay, I could make ‘X’ much money working 60 hours per week, or, I could make ‘X times 3’ working 20 hours per week and pay my consultants when the company is paid so I don’t have to get a loan.” So, that made things pretty clear for me: Work less, make more. I make a lot of my decision in this way. First, there is the intuition or idea. Then, I try to quantify that I’m not high.
For the curious, here is what I see as the journey to entrepreneurship which started WAY before “the email-of-death” day. Before that, everything was a series of experiments leading up to the confidence I needed to send that email. These are the EXACT kinds of things you’ll be thinking about as a case writer:
- Selling Amway at age 8 – Lesson: This was forced on me by my parents, but, it was good to have the exposure. If cash is king, sales is queen I teach my students.
- Office depreciation – Also at age 8, I overheard my parents’ conversation about office equipment depreciation and told them I had an idea. They laughed. Then realized I totally understood what they were talking about. Lesson: I understood business. My mom mainly internalized this and guided me later in life. I had no idea what was going on.
- Girl Scout cookies – You heard me. I LOVE THAT THE GIRL SCOUTS TEACH SALES!!! Also sort of forced on my by my parents, and, there is a distinct possibility I was kicked out of girl scouts for mouthing off. Anywhoo – onto the lessons. Lesson #1: Success. I liked seeing that list of cookie orders fill up. Lesson #2: Competition – I could care less what the other girl scouts were doing, I was just focused on my own list. I didn’t feel competitive with others, just myself.
- Mediocrity – There were periods of my schooling where I felt mediocre…just trying to keep up, fit in, drifting, but faking like all was fine. Lesson: I remember to be patient with myself when I am feeling mediocre or in a waiting period. There are dry periods and down periods amidst the chaos of entrepreneurship.
- Joining a dance company – I auditioned for a start-up dance troupe formed by some really fabulous young dancers. I wondered if I was good enough, and then I got in. That was a great feeling. Also, because it was a true passion, it was just SO FUN! I miss it to this day and am always looking for artistic outlets.
- Being a senate page – I was a Virginia State Senate page in high school. Again, this was essentially an idea of my parents’ which they got from our family friends the Greenes. I rode down and back to the Capitol each week with Senator Clive DuVall. He was the real deal. And he asked my opinions on things. I was like, “huh? I’m 15!” I became an informal leader of the page group. Maybe it was formal leadership and I got voted into something. I really can’t remember. But, what I remember was the feeling, “Hey, people seem to kind of like and trust me.” Lesson: I felt like I mattered. And, I began to feel a little bit of leadership quality bubbling.
- Being high school president – I had lost an election for class secretary my freshman year. After being a page, I thought: “Screw it!” Why not?” and I ran for President. My dad is a great artist and we came up with really funny signs. Like, one showed the scary dude with the hockey mask from Halloween with blood dripping from an axe and it said, “Vote Kathy Korman for President…..Please.” You have to see it. Lesson: “Why not?” can turn into A LOT!!
- Founding a service group in college – I had an idea about connecting senior citizens with college students when I was at the University of Virginia. I got very into a research topic, “The Greying of Charlottesville,” assigned to me by my news writing professor. It turned out that the two largest populations in the town were the student and senior populations. I started a group to connect them, we won a hoity toity award, and I ditched my interest in news production for an internship at a local Area Agency on Aging. Lesson: Implementing an idea that you come up with is fun!
- Excelling professionally – I was just built for the working world. I knew that my last year in college when I was just ready to go out and work. I hit the ground running working for Markowitz & McNaughton after school after graduating. I went on to do lots of other impressive-sounding things in my career, however I will never, never, never forget my time at Markowitz & McNaughton. They let me do things someone my age really had no business doing. It was AWESOME and I learned a ton. It was like a match made in heaven. Lesson #1: Implementing an idea – even in someone else’s company – is fun! Lesson #2: Who are the decision-makers in your company/organization and do you connect with them? If so, and you deliver, your career will soar. If not, even if you deliver, your career might not. If you connect with someone, and do not deliver, you’ll fool them for a while but will ultimately be found out.
- Teaching at GW – I started teaching at GW when I was 30. I wore glasses and was hoping the students wouldn’t find out how old I was. Soon I gained confidence as the classroom became an entrepreneurial experience for me. I made up new exercises and could guess – pretty accurately – how they would go over in class. I shared them with other professors and taught them in other professor’s classes. I once used an exercise I developed on 400 high school kids! This led to my creating an entrepreneurship curriculum for Visa as well as an ongoing relationship with the Young Entrepreneur Foundation at the NFIB (world’s largest small business association), the SBA, and Prentice Hall. This interest in education has opened up countless doors for me. I was, and still am, part-time faculty. I like having one foot in the real world, and one foot in academia, so I can help play telephone back and forth. Lesson: Implementing an idea – even in a classroom – is fun!
- The Hot Mommas® Project– This has been a fun, constantly moving, series of experiments that just keep working out. When I hear the “click” in my mind and am ready to pursue an idea for the project, I try to focus and really shoot for the moon, and be patient with myself when I find that instead of shooting for the moon I am actually checking emails and on Twitter and looking up activities for my kids and getting more coffee. Then, I re-focus, and shoot for the moon again! I am always surprised when some idea I have is successful. First the academic awards, now the case study competition. All the press coverage REALLY sent me for a loop. I am really, really interested as to what’s next and have been thinking about that all summer and fall and driving myself nuts over it.
As you can see, entrepreneurship has been a pretty long process of discovery for me. I don’t think it ever ends. I am always learning. Sometimes it is really tiring mentally. Earlier this year, I sat around a conference table with a team of executives who needed some help designing a market research project (This is what I used to do at Markowitz & McNaughton). It was so easy, like falling off a log. I miss that sometimes. But, there is no going back. Every entrepreneur knows that. Even if you go back to work for someone, being an entrepreneur changes you.
Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series…