Living Your Values as Verbs
With Jen Kem
Jen Kem is an ultra-quotable entrepreneur. She is full of incredible wisdom based on her rich experiences in business – learning how to live her values, maintain her confidence, and empower others.
Jennifer “Jen” Kem is a San Francisco Bay area-based brand building and leadership expert who gets entrepreneurs seen, heard, and paid for being themselves.
She’s the creator of the Master Brand Method: a framework to develop powerful brands that win customers’ hearts, which she uses in strategic consulting for emerging entrepreneurs, celebrity brands like the Oprah Winfrey Network and Steve Harvey, and other major corporations including Verizon, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Bank of Hawaii.
She is a successful owner of three multimillion-dollar businesses and the proud mother of three children.
The seeds of entrepreneurship were planted early
Jen Kem had no intention of building a business, much less multiple successful businesses. But a long and winding path led her here.
At a young age, Jen was in search of one thing: Knowledge. Growing up in Hawaii, she went to her local library in search of information and a world outside her small island community. After devouring the entire children’s section, she worked her way through the adult books – and wished for more.
Sitting on her Grandmother’s shaggy 1970’s carpet, she was handed the business section of the newspaper and her eyes lit up. She began to realize that the world was impacted by business decisions.
Even in school, when asked what she wanted to become, she answered precociously that she wanted to become the General Counsel of Coca-Cola International. The adults in her life were stunned.
Jen never became a lawyer, but what she became is incredibly powerful – a high-level Business Strategist and creator of The Master Brand Method.
Passed up for a promotion inspired her
Jen was working in the corporate world before she became an entrepreneur. She was happy there – until a white male coworker got a promotion over her.
Regardless of her respect for him, she realized that her qualifications would never be enough in her industry. It was time for her to pave her own path and create the kind of world she wanted to live in.
She left behind her corner office and charted a new path – a path of trying new things, rediscovering herself again and again, and using her values as a path to the life she wanted.
Doing what works, quitting what doesn’t
Jen has owned multiple businesses, and they didn’t all work out. In fact, she uses her story as a teachable moment to us entrepreneurs – to show us that sometimes, a failure is actually an important lesson.
Before there was Doordash, there was Webvan, and Jen Kem was on the launch team. It was a great idea back in the late 1990’s! But the market wasn’t ready – and the idea flopped.
Jen watched the Founder of Webvan recover and go on to do great things. When Doordash became popular, she laughed at the timing: Sometimes an idea is great, but the market just isn’t ready.
Before she founded The Master Brand Institute, Jen launched an underwear store in Hawaii. It was a great idea, since there weren’t any others like it at the time! Women on the Hawaiian islands were traveling back to the mainland and shopping at Victoria’s Secret for their options in underwear, because they didn’t have any local options. But when the recession hit, her store went under – and she subsequently lost her house, her marriage, and her confidence. Jen fell into a deep depression.
It would have been easy for Jen to tell herself negative stories about her “failures.” She could have decided that she was bad at business, and that she shouldn’t try again. Instead, her ten-year-old daughter gave her a big pep talk. Jen began seeing a therapist and gaining back her mental and emotional health. It inspired one of her best pieces of advice for us: Focus on what you’re great at.
When Jen asked herself the hard questions, she realized that she didn’t actually love retail! Was it really a failure if she wasn’t passionate about it long-term? Retail was limiting, and one of Jen’s key principles is autonomy – and her business wasn’t in alignment with that value. This realization made Jen realize that it was time to create a company that was, and she bounced back.
Values are a verb
Jen’s core values are autonomy, justice, generosity, leadership of self, and legacy. Now, her business clearly reflects those values.
While businesses frequently feature their values as words on a wall, Jen reminds us that values are how we live, not what we preach.
Your values can help you make important business decisions. For example, Jen’s biggest goal is to be autonomous; To be in charge of herself and in control of her life. Now, when presented with a choice, she filters it through her values before coming to a conclusion. Does this option give her more autonomy, or take it away? Does it require so much of her time that she loses too much freedom in order to participate? Does this serve the legacy she is trying to create?
Jen’s work to live her values inspires us to do the same. What are your personal values, and how do you actively use them in your business?
“I am obsessed with learning. Reading is my favorite thing to do. Every morning my grandmother would drink her Lipton tea and I would sit on her shaggy 70’s carpet. She would give me the business section of the newspaper, so I started reading about business. I started to understand that that was what made the world move.”
“As a visionary, we do see the future. Sometimes the ideas aren’t ready. Sometimes the market is not ready, but that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t good.”
“The system wasn’t set up to support people like me – women of color, women ingenral. The system was set up to support people who played golf with our boss.”
“I made the big scary decision to leave my corporate job. I took 9 months to create an exit plan. I had to, because I had two young kids. I spent the entire 9 months putting away half my paycheck. I had no reason to leave, I was making $400,000 a year in a corner office with a disco ball in it. I had the trophies and triumphs.”
“Entrepreneurs are the reason we solve problems in the world.”
“I wanted to help others like me get rich, respected and recognized for the fact they could see the future.”
“I’m committed, not attached. Not every business I build is my dream home. We get so attached to our dream home. But a real estate investor never gets attached! So I look at my business like a real estate investor. I put all the elements inside it to make it work, but if it’s not working and I’ve tried everything, I can elegantly shut it down.”
“Courage is a muscle. It’s something you have to keep training. People ask me if I lose confidence. I am still scared to do things! But what I can trust is what I know. I would rather fail fast than fail slow. It doesn’t mean I’m not scared.”
“Values aren’t what you wish for. They are who you are and how you’re behaving right now.”
“Legacy isn’t about the future – legacy is what you’re doing right now to create the world you want to live in. Every decision I make runs through that filter.”
“Maybe is a place we use as an excuse. It slows us down. I only say a clean yes or a clean no. When I filter things through ym values, I don’t have regrets. You start to feel like yourself.”
Links mentioned in this episode:
Visit Jen Kem’s website at www.JenniferKem.com
Connect with Jen Kem on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferkem
Follow Jen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JenniferKemComm
Follow Jen on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/jennifer.kem/?hl=en
Follow Jen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/_JenniferKem_
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