Women in Business: Q&A with Kim Reed Perell, CEO of Adconion Direct

Kim Reed Perell is a dynamic and highly successful Internet entrepreneur with more than a decade of experience serving as a CEO within the digital media and technology industry.
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Kim Reed Perell is a dynamic and highly successful Internet entrepreneur with more than a decade of experience serving as a CEO within the digital media and technology industry. She currently serves as CEO of Adconion Direct, a global leader in cross channel digital display, video, mobile, email and social advertising. In September 2013, Kim was named President of Adconion Direct's parent company, Adconion Media Group and is responsible for overseeing the company's global operations and 550 employees, while retaining her CEO title at Adconion Direct. Adconion's clients include 77 of the Ad Age Top 100 brands and 49 of the Fortune 100. In total, Adconion provides digital advertising for more than 2,000 advertisers and agencies across the globe.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, my dad is a real estate owner and developer, and my mother is an organizational communication consultant for CEOs and senior executives. Growing up at dinner each night, we talked about business problems and new business opportunities rather than what I did at school that day. I saw firsthand how much they both loved what they did and how passionate they both were. I also saw how hard they both worked. I can remember my father telling me that an 8 hour work day was a half day. I also learned about taking risks and seizing opportunity, the importance of people and values, and most importantly, perseverance.

In my first job out of college, I was lured by the excitement of an internet start-up which had recently received $1 million in funding. It was a time of high growth companies with little focus on cash flow or profitability. At the age of 23, the company went bankrupt and I was unemployed along with many of my friends that I had hired. It was one of the hardest times of my life and I learned much from this failure, specifically the importance of maintaining a relentless focus on the bottom line and learning how to bounce back from defeat.

In 2003, I started my first company, Frontline Direct, an internet marketing company, which I self-funded and grew to over $100 million in annual revenue. Based on the lessons I had learned, I was relentlessly focused on the company's profitability. Frontline Direct was acquired in February 2008 by Adconion Media Group. In 2011, Frontline Direct and the Adconion Audience Network merged to become Adconion Direct and I became CEO. Today we have 26 offices in 20 countries around the world and work with over 2,000 advertisers. Looking back over the last 10 years, from starting my company from my kitchen to running a global corporation, the most important lesson I have learned is that people are ultimately the most important asset of a business.

How did your previous employment experience aid your role at Adconion Direct?

Like many entrepreneurs, I owe much of my success to the lessons I learned from my failures. The first company I worked for went bankrupt when the tech bubble burst - growth was the objective, with little focus on financial health.

The lessons I learned were many: that the financial health is the foundation of any long term sustainable business; that failures (small or large) are inevitable in growing a business and with each failure you learn and grow; and that people - your employees - are ultimately the most important asset. I also realized you truly need to be passionate about what you do. Passion will fuel you and push you to keep going long after others give up.

I very much believe great people make great companies, and I'm passionate about the importance of cultivating an engaging corporate culture. You have to live your values. Passion is what drives engagement, innovation, and performance. I wake up every day optimistic about the future and confident in our continued success. That is the spirit and passion we strive to instill in every employee. We want to motivate and inspire people, and we've created a culture that values, engages and celebrates our people first and foremost.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It's not as much about a work/life balance as it is work/life integration. My success, as well as the company's, is based on the idea of doing what you love with people you care about every day. Success is best when shared - with employees, partners, clients, friends, family, and the community.

Building life-long relationships is our noble cause. My office is right next to my best friend from college's office. I love what I do, and I love that I get to work with some of the most talented individuals in internet advertising today. I've worked with some of the same people for nearly 20 years, and I am proud that many of our employees and partners are also our friends.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Adconion Direct?

Some of our biggest challenges have come from the competitive nature and constant change of the internet. The speed at which digital media is evolving is exciting and a challenge because the industry is so dynamic. To succeed you must embrace change and constantly innovate. You cannot be afraid of failure, and to keep up with the rapid rate of change in this industry, you have to be passionate and resilient. External factors will continue to change, but you have to embrace the change and view every obstacle as an opportunity.

What advice can you offer women looking for a career in the typically male-dominated tech industry?

The same advice applies to any gender, really. To be successful, you have to be willing to work and do things others are not. You have to be confident in yourself and your unique skills and not deterred by insecurity or fear. Most importantly, do something you're truly passionate about. Success takes time. It is also important to surround yourself with people who challenge you every day.

That being said, I couldn't be more proud of Adconion Direct's large female presence - 44% of our managers are female. Alongside my female colleagues, I strive to be a role model for young professional women looking for a fulfilling career path.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I think women who want to advance and achieve need to consider their careers as important as men do. Women need to be able to prioritize and be supported in the same way men are and be active in seeking advancement and seizing opportunity. This requires long hours, hard work, and going above and beyond every day.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

As a female entrepreneur, I am an advocate for Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In Book and movement. The book contains great advice on careers, regardless of gender. I specifically love Chapter 4 detailing career advancement. The concept that careers are "not ladders, but jungle gyms" is truly what employees today are facing. In a highly competitive and rapidly changing environment, such as media or technology, your future success requires you to have a myriad of skills and experiences, extend beyond your comfort zone, and embrace every challenge and opportunity.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentorship has been an integral part of my career and success. I was fortunate to have parents who were entrepreneurs and continue to both be mentors to me. I am also fortune to have met many great mentors throughout my career that have been key to my success. They have been my unofficial board of advisors for big decisions both personal and professional. I am also a part of Young Presidents' Organization. Through my involvement, I have been able to learn and share experiences and life lessons with other business leaders.

We've integrated mentorship and knowledge sharing into Adconion Direct's culture. We have a "Buddy Program" which pairs senior employees with new hires. The program ensures each team member is engaged and learning from the onset of their hire date, and teaches them about the people, the company, and the culture. In 2013, we launched the Adconion Ambassador program, designed to enhance, spread, and cultivate company culture and future leaders by providing additional opportunities for learning, growth, and knowledge. It's wonderful to witness our employees teach and inspire each other to take themselves and their careers to the next level.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I'm in an industry that has some outstanding female leaders. I admire Marissa Mayer, as she has not only invested in the growth and strategy of the Yahoo! brand, but the people and culture. I also admire Sheryl Sandberg who has created an entire movement around empowering women to lead and advance in their careers.

What are your hopes for the future of Adconion Direct?

Adconion Direct will continue to be a leader in cross channel digital advertising globally, powered by the best technology and people. We've invested over $60 million in building our technology and infrastructure to provide advertisers with a single, unified platform to reach their audiences at scale with accuracy and efficiency across display, video, mobile, email and social media. We are passionate about changing and enhancing the way advertisers are reaching consumers, and the ability to execute a true cross channel strategy in this complex, fragmented digital landscape. I'm thrilled that Adconion Direct now has an office in every major market across North America, including our newest additions in Boston and Detroit. We've continued to invest in hiring the best and brightest from leading companies including Target, WPP, and Yahoo. We have big goals for 2014 and beyond, and I'm confident we have the people and technology to achieve them. Our focus is on continuing to deliver great results for our advertisers, as this is what will ultimately allow us to continue to win.

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