In celebration of International Women’s Day, Scheller College of Business hosted “The Journey to the Top,” a breakfast discussion highlighting the trailblazing talents of two women who have made a remarkable impact in both their careers and their communities. The event was moderated by Dean Maryam Alavi, and featured Senior Vice President of Home Services (retired) at The Home Depot Inc., Kelly Barrett, and President and Co-founder of Kabbage Inc., Kathryn Petralia.
Alavi welcomed attendees to the event and shared details of Barrett and Petralia’s impressive careers including sixteen years at The Home Depot and working with seven start-ups, respectively, as well as noting the larger, more established corporation versus a smaller-start-up perspective that would be shared.
The discussion centered around sharing leadership journeys including what defines leadership; what do you find most rewarding; how do you re-energize; the importance of mentors and mentorship; and more.
L-R: Jaclyn Nichols, Christi King, Dean Maryam Alavi, Michelle Frenssen, Elizabeth Noe, and Becca Berge pose after Scheller College's 2019 International Women's Day discussion.
Barrett, a Scheller College alumnus, noted that “as you rise, it’s all about growing people below you and leaving a strong legacy behind you.” Her father was a football coach and from him she learned the importance of having strong team leadership and having the right players in the right positions. She continued, “Find great, smart people and set the tone; lead by example and do the right thing at all times.” She finds the most rewarding part of her career to be the people – watching them grow and helping them to develop and progress in their own careers. Barrett also said she is proud to be a Georgia Tech graduate. “I do believe it had a lot to do with my success.”
Petralia and her partner grew Kabbage from three to 535 people and she noted that her leadership has changed based on the size and stage of her company. However, making a connection to people and driving the culture has remained consistent. She encourages her team to “own mistakes and celebrate victories.”
On how they re-energize, Barrett noted that self-care is critical but that women often don’t, placing others first. She gave an example of an airplane in-flight safety announcement as her reminder to “place the mask over yourself first, then place on any one else traveling with you who needs assistance.” I believe in self-care. Take 30 minutes to take care of yourself first,” she stressed.
Petralia explained that she spends her time talking to others which helps educate her on opportunities to improve her growing organization. “I’m always walking around talking to people and that really energizes me,” she said. “We built a fitness center and yoga studio; it’s nice to offer these to our people.”
On mentorship, Barrett stated that mentors come in all forms – coaches, peers, and the people who work for you. She also noted the importance of finding the right fit – finding someone you are comfortable speaking with and someone you really connect with and to also be okay with moving on if the mentorship is not working out.
Petralia stressed the importance of simply asking for mentorship. “People who are good at mentoring get asked to do it a lot so don’t get your feelings hurt if they don’t respond,” she said.
When asked about the opportunities that currently exist for women both Barrett and Petralia exclaimed that it is a great time to be a woman. Petralia followed with the advice of, “Don’t be scared of applying for jobs just because you think they are above your skill level,” while Barrett stressed that women should not be afraid of technology to succeed today.
International Women’s Day is the day to honor and celebrate the achievements of women around the world. Since 1908, the occasion is an official holiday in more than two dozen countries to recognize the contributions women have made in all fields of study, industry, and society.