Denise Kaigler — Head of Global Corporate Communications and Corporate Citizenship, Reebok and Corporate Communications U.S., adi- das Group Denise Kaigler is the head of global corporate communications and corporate citizenship for Reebok International Ltd. and corporate communications in the United States for the adidas Group, the parent company of Reebok. Ms. Kaigler also serves as the chief company spokesperson and the communica- tions strategist for the president and CEO of Reebok. In April 2007, she assumed the additional responsibility of heading the company's first-ever global corporate citizenship function, expanding upon the brand's long-standing com- mitment to human rights. In addition to her Reebok brand responsibilities, Ms. Kaigler also supports the corporate communications programs and initiatives in the U.S. for the adidas Group. Prior to her current role, Ms. Kaigler was Reebok's senior vice president of corporate relations and chief communications officer.
Before coming to Reebok in 1991, Ms. Kaigler served as director of communi- cations for Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. Before entering the public relations field in 1989, she was a journalist, reporting for WLTZ-TV (NBC affiliate) in Columbus, Ga. and WHDH-TV (NBC affiliate) in Boston, Mass.
Ms. Kaigler is an active participant in several professional organizations, including the Arthur W. Page Society, PR Seminar, the Public Relations Society of America and the Boston Association of Black Communicators. She has received several honors for her professional accomplishments and dedication to community service. In March 2004, she was honored as one of the 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business by The Network Journal mag- azine. In January 2005, she was selected as one of the six Women to Watch in 2005 by Boston Women's Business magazine. Also in 2005, Denise received the Exceptional Women in Business award from Boston radio station Magic 106.7, the Academy of Women Achievers award from the YWCA, the Mary Eliza Mahoney award from the Dimock Community Health Center, and the Alumni Achievement award from Emerson College. In 2006, Denise was named to Profiles in Diversity Journal's list of Women Worth Watching in 2006. She also delivered the 2006 commencement address at Western New England College, where she received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Ms. Kaigler graduated from Emerson College in Boston in 1985, where she majored in journalism. She currently resides in Massachusetts with her husband, a Boston attorney, and their two children.
Q&A with Denise Kaigler
What is your role within your company? I oversee global brand public relations for the Reebok brand, so that entails overseeing the PR programs and initiatives that impact our product and marketing programs, so working with a team to market our new products and marketing programs in the media. I manage the global communications on the Reebok corporate level and support Paul Harrington, the president and CEO of Reebok, on his communications initiatives. I travel with Paul around the world doing press interviews and launch events when we sign new athletes and new entertainers; we do the initial announcement, then Paul and I travel to wherever in the world that event is. On the Reebok corporate level, I oversee internal communications and any press outreach that con- nects with any of our administrative functions like human resources, real estate and facilities, human rights, those types of
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things that are non-brand related. And then the third part of my role is corporate communications U.S. for the adidas Group, so I support all the communications efforts on behalf of the group that happen in the U.S.
What are some steps that you took to get to the position that you are in now? Remaining consistent, steady, and most of all, just being very definitive about what I wanted to do. I was focused on one thing, and that was simply to be the best communications practitioner I could be. Reebok isn’t so much my career; communications is my career, and I have always stayed focused in some shape or form on communications, and that’s pretty much what’s helped to define my success.
When you came into the position, were you given all of these responsibili- ties at once, or was it more gradual? Prior to the acquisition, I had been responsible for all internal communications and the Reebok corporate area. Also, the team worked with all the administrative-type functions—HR, finance, human rights. After the acquisition, what was added to that role was the brand PR piece which I had been responsible for a few years ago, and strengthening the corporate communica- tions function. So they centralized all communications and PR under one function, which was me. Rather than have the peo- ple in Germany start to fly over to the U.S. more—because with the Reebok acquisition it meant that they wanted and needed to be in the U.S. more—they felt that the management of the U.S. for corporate communications for the group was best han- dled by someone already in the U.S., and because I had a great deal of experience doing it, they added that to the area of my responsibility as well.
How did you choose the field of communications? I majored in broadcast journalism in college, and I started off as a television news reporter in Georgia. I had dreams of being the White House correspondent flying on Air Force One and standing on the lawn of the White House, but when I was at Channel 7 and currently the NBC affiliate here in Boston, I realized that I was not going to achieve these lofty goals I had in my head as a student, and I don’t think I had what it took to achieve some of those goals. I also did not feel like having a career as a reporter because they call the reporter the “rolling stone” and there’s a reason for that—being a reporter isn’t very con- ducive to having a very stable family life, because you’re moving from market to market to market, wherever the next big opportunity is, and I’m very much a family-oriented person. I like having a career and a family, and having a career in jour- nalism I did not think was going to do that for me, so I decided to take those skills that I had acquired and some of those rela- tionships that I had established, and it was a natural transition to move from the reporting side over to the PR side. Quite a few people have actually made that kind of jump, so it’s actually worked well. I do believe I was meant to do this.
What are some things that you learned on the job and not in the classroom? Mostly everything, with the exception of the three “R’s”—reading, writing and arithmetic. I think the biggest thing I learned in school was how to take care of myself, how to let things roll off my back—I was an independent student; I financed my own college education, which was really hard, and I worked multiple jobs while I was in school, and that really thickened my skin. It really prepared me for some of the challenges I’ve encountered in the real world.
What kind of jobs did you have while you were in college? I worked at Filene’s in the coat department that turns into the swimsuit department in the spring. I worked as the front desk receptionist at the Boston Phoenix. I worked for a company called InCom, International Compensation, and I was a recep- tionist there. I also had part-time on-campus jobs at Emerson—I worked in the dean’s office and did some clerical support work there. It was all hard, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. In fact, I’m so focused about making sure that my husband and I adequately prepare for the college expenses for my kids so they don’t have to do that.
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I was fortunate that I got through it and had some success in my career, but it would have been a lot nicer to not have to go through some of that. Although, I wonder if I had everything handed to me on a silver platter if I would be where I am. I did not sleep a lot; I would come home from my classes or a job late, like 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and still had two or three hours of homework or studying or a project to do and then had to get up at six, 7 o’clock the next morning. I also interned through- out all of this because I had learned early on the importance of internships, so even while I was working part-time and going to school, I interned at WRKO Radio, WILD Radio and a local television station.
I think my mother is the one who helped me realize it could be done. She raised three kids alone and she worked multiple jobs. I don’t think I appreciated what she did for us until I was in the situation of putting myself through school and working sever- al jobs. I certainly appreciate it now, having kids. But I really think it was my mother and seeing that she never lost the strength to continue moving forward, even though I’m sure she was exhausted every time she got home, but she never let us see that, and it was always this sort of unspoken advice, or strength that she was influencing us with.
Do you think there is a glass ceiling in your industry? If so, how can minori- ties avoid hitting that glass ceiling? I think everyone faces the risk of not climbing up the corporate ladder and breaking through what’s called this glass ceiling. I don’t think that challenge is unique to this industry or to certain groups of people. Certainly when you compare the number of whites and people of color in senior management positions, the gap is unsettling, but what someone needs to do to either avoid hitting that glass ceiling or break through it really isn’t rocket science; it’s basic stuff, like don’t settle on being mediocre, but be great at what you do, be persistent because rejection is certainly a part of corporate life. If you’re rejected once, twice, three times, just keep trying and stay focused on it. Know what it is that you want; don’t float around and continually take jobs that come your way. If they don’t fit together and help you move closer to your goal, in my opinion it just shows a lack of commitment and passion and really lessens your chance of mastering whatever area of responsibility you have.
Also, take advantage of opportunities that allow you to show others what you’re capable of. One of the things I’ve done con- sistently throughout my career is to take advantage of those opportunities. We, people of color, need to do a better job of being our own advocates. Most people are afraid of being criticized or put down, and I think sometimes we tend to not step out of the comfort zone and not raise our hands to say, “Hey, I know the answer to that question,” or, “Hey, I have an idea.” It’s a risk when you do that, because you’re worried that someone’s going to say, “That idea’s awful,” or, “It’s already been done before,” or, “It won’t work,” and you know what? That’s OK. But you’re never going to have someone say to you, “That’s a great idea—let’s implement it” unless you offer it up.
I am very much an advocate of taking advantage of opportunities that put you in certain circles of influence; it’s networking. I think people of color should do more networking, and I preach that here all the time at Reebok. That’s how I got to Reebok; at a fundraiser, I went to introduce myself to a woman who was a Reebok human resources executive, and I chatted with her for about five minutes. About a month later, I got home from work and there was a message on my answering machine from her, telling me that we’d met at this reception and telling me there was an opening at Reebok in the PR communications department and asking if I was interested in the job.
Do you think minorities do not network enough, and if so, why do think that is? It could be a lack of understanding the process and how to go about it. It requires coming out of your comfort zone. If you network with someone because you want to join a certain company or you want to move up to a higher position within your company, chances are you’re being forced to or asked to or required to step out of your comfort zone in order to move forward, otherwise you stay in your job and you don’t need to network. We’re all afraid to step out of our comfort zones, but what’s necessary is that you just get over it.
I’m the co-founder of two internal organizations that specifically work with minorities in the company. I co-founded a group called BLEND, made up of employees of color, and then also EWLT which stands for Executive Women’s Leadership Team. One of the things that we talk about the most in our regular meetings is the importance of networking, and I say to the group
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when we have our meetings, “Come to me.” We’re doing these social functions at Reebok, and I work with the people on the senior leadership team and I’m one of them, so if there’s an executive that a person of color or a woman in the company wants to meet, they can come find me at one of these social functions and say, “Denise, there’s XYZ over there, can you introduce me?” and I say, “Of course I can.” So I can break down some of these barriers and make these introductions, but you have to tell me that you want that to happen. Inside the company I have 10 mentees that I work with on a regular basis, just sit down to lunch, breakfast, and chat. There’s just so much benefit that comes from picking someone’s brain.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your career? Being able to help women and people of color, both within Reebok, but also just in general. Being part of a brand-building team in an incredibly exciting and fun industry. There are very few industries that I think can offer the excitement and fun that this industry offers, and it’s just unbelievable. I travel a lot internationally, so the opportunity to meet different people and experience different cultures has to rank up there with being one of the most rewarding. I also teach my kids about different parts of the world, and we do travel as a family; my kids are very experienced at traveling and flying all over, so they enjoy that. I think my experience at Reebok has helped me appreciate the importance of making sure that my own kids are exposed to some of the cultures that I’ve been exposed to.
Specific to the global PR communications team: team-building, working with other professionals on a team, building the team and bonding all the teams. Twice a year we do outings and holiday dinners. I love getting the team out of the building and the craziness of Reebok and going off-site and just bonding as a team. It also helps rejuvenate our brains and creativity.
One of the other rewarding aspects of my job and working with the team is just being able to actually conceptualize something, plan it, execute it, and then seeing how people—especially our target audience—enjoy the results. It’s a very entrepreneurial culture here at Reebok, so ideas are welcomed and earlier in my career and even more so now, I’ve been able to raise my hand and then put that idea on the table. I’m at a point now where we as a team do some pretty big brand-building programs. So having an idea start in a conference room with the whole team with the door closed for four hours, putting those ideas on paper, presenting that plan to my boss, and then having the stamp of approval, then actually doing it and seeing the result is absolute- ly fabulous.
What would you most like to change? I’m pretty happy. I don’t know if there’s anything I would change that I can’t change.
What impact has your career had on your personal and family life? Do you have any special techniques, methods and philosophies that help you main- tain a work/life balance and be a successful professional? I make sure that we go on family trips; we travel to different locations, because when I go on my trips for Reebok I’m just so inspired and enlightened by what I see that I want my kids to go through the same thing. I think the impact that my career has had on my family life has come in stages, depending on the level of my positions and the ages of my kids. There are three basic techniques, or life choices. Absolutely number one is that I married an incredibly supportive man who is 100 percent supportive of my career and my desire to be a working woman and working mother. That’s probably the number one way that I’ve been able to balance work/family life.
My kids make it possible for me to do this; they’re very grounded, very polite, well-rounded kids who are also very support- ive of my career, and they make it easy for me to go out on a trip and not worry about what they’re going to be doing. I trav- el with the president of the company or with the chairman of the group or with other senior executives or with media or con- sumers at a big launch event, so if I’m wearing the stress of what’s happening back at home, I’m not going to be the best I can be on the road and doing my job. I have a live-in au pair. I could not do my job without live-in help, and my husband cer- tainly would have a difficult time because he works full time as well. I could be on the road anywhere from one to 14 days, so I certainly need some help. It’s a very personal choice; to each his own. In my case, it works.
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Who is/was the most inspiring person to you in your career path? Certainly, my mother by giving me the foundation to have a successful career, and Leslie Mayes for putting me on the initial path of this incredible career. But throughout my career there have been two others. Paul Fireman, the former chairman and CEO of Reebok, was my mentor for about six years up until he sold the company and left, and he was the one who, many years ago, took me under his wing. This guy is just an icon—not only in this industry, but in corporate America. He took this unknown brand with origins in Britain and brought it here to the United States, and very quickly made Reebok into this glob- al brand.
In addition, there’s a guy named Jack Agnew; he was the founder and partner of a Boston-based PR agency—Agnew, Carter, and McCarthy—and my mentor for close to 20 years. In fact, to this day we have a dinner date every three months and we sit and talk about my career and some of the things that I might be dealing with here at Reebok. Jack is still very involved in pro- fessional PR circles and in nonprofit communities. He’s probably been the [most] consistent professional mentor I’ve had ever, and he’s wonderful.
How did you meet Jack Agnew? When I was hired at Boys & Girls Club as director of communications back in ‘89, Jack and maybe three or four other pro- fessionals who were on the board of Boys & Girls Club had formed a communications subcommittee and Jack was one of the subcommittee members. I don’t remember how it exactly happened, but the two of us started having one-on-one meetings together, and then I just developed an incredible affection for him and an unbelievable respect for him. Agnew, Carter, McCarthy at the time was the PR agency in Boston, so I was incredibly proud and just privileged to have this guy who was like a god in the PR circles here in Boston be this attentive to me and my development.
How can someone find a mentor within their company/industry? I think in general, it works both ways; if a young, up and coming professional finds someone that they believe represents an area that they want to move into, or the person himself represents something that they aspire to be, go up and introduce your- self. I don’t know how much I want this to get out, but I think I will probably take on anyone who actually found the courage and the confidence to come up and ask me to be their mentor, because I would have such respect for that person to actually do it, because we don’t do enough of that. If you can step out of your comfort zone and get over whatever kind of fear or rejec- tion you might have and actually ask me to do it, I would do it.
It definitely takes time. You need to take the initiative, so once someone gets a commitment from a professional that they will be their mentor, then it’s up to that mentee—not completely up to the mentee, because the mentor obviously has a responsi- bility—but I’ll tell a mentee, “I’ll take you on, but do me a favor. If you don’t hear from me within a certain period of time, e-mail me back.” I wouldn’t mind being called. I make mistakes, I’m human, but when people call me out on it, I’m going to keep up my commitment.
If you were not in your current position, what would your dream career be? I would love to be a professional singer. I would like to have Mariah Carey’s voice, Janet Jackson’s rhythm and dance moves, and someone like Alicia Keys’ musical instrument talent skills, and Anita Baker’s grace and commitment to family.
Is there anything else you would like to add? Every professional, and especially people of color, who has achieved success in their career has an absolute responsibility to carve out part of their busy schedules and share some of their life experiences with young men and women, either people of color or not—whatever their passion is that they really want to support and inspire. We have to do that. I know as a kid grow- ing up in D.C., I would have loved to have been able to seek out or have somebody that I could go to in either a group setting or one-on-one to just talk to and learn from, because we can show these future executives that no matter how hard it might be right now that there is light at the end of the tunnel if they stay focused and remain committed to whatever their craft is.
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And it can be done. I think there are kids who might be so discouraged either because of their economic situation at home, or maybe their grades aren’t as good as they would like them to be. There’s a way to break through all of that; you just have to hear it from other people who have done it. So I think it’s incumbent upon people of color who’ve achieved success to tell these kids that so that they don’t feel discouraged and so they have confidence that it can be done. We have that responsibili- ty. I take it seriously.
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