On October 30, we sat down with Kelly Sarber, President & CEO of Strategic Management, a nationally renowned environmental development company specializing in renewable energy, waste disposal and recycling, sustainability and water technologies.
Kelly has a successful and varied path. We found out how she navigated her career and her tips for success.
- Find Out What You Are Both Good At And Enjoy – Kelly initially started her career in comedy but then got a job working for the Olympic committee. This position required her to manage lots of logistics, run campaigns, and get along with different types of people, including police, mayors, and other city officials. She realized she was great at both logistics and relationships and really enjoys meeting people and understanding their needs. Having realized this early, these skills have been consistent through her career.
- Leverage A Unique Set of Skills To Stand Out·- Subsequently Kelly got an MBA in finance and then collectedly leveraged her skills in relationship building, logistics and finance to enter the garbage business in NYC. She was often one of the only women in the room but the combination of her experience and relationship skills allowed her to standout and create a strong reputation for herself.
- Humiliation Can Be Powerful Driver – One day, she found out two of her male colleagues made $150,000 more each. When she asked why, she was told it was because they had families to support. She was so humiliated that she’d been in that position that she knew she couldn’t stay any longer. She quit that day and called one of her clients to tell them why. They were furious, and she negotiated a deal with them to become her first client, along with securing a pay increase.
- Taking a Break Can Lead to More Success – She and her team later took a company public and had a great exit but she realized she was burned out and couldn’t continue in that manner. So, when a friend called her and said she’s going to massage school in a tropical location, Kelly followed. She said it was the best thing she ever did, as it allowed her to take a step back and focus on what she really wanted. She then moved back to California and again leveraged her skills for a new industry, creating a life that was more true to her values.
- Conferences Are A Great Way To Establish Yourself In A New Industry – When Kelly moved back to California, she wanted to pivot again and chose the renewables space. She started attending conferences to understand the industry and make connections in the space. She then started speaking on panels to gain credibility, and transferred her knowledge in trash and wastewater to be helpful in the renewables space. She reiterated that each of us should keep in mind our transferable skill sets that we can leverage to change your circumstance. With a transferable skill set, there’s no need to feel stuck or like you have to start over.
Other Insights include:
- Unique Skills Can Provide The Type of Life You Want – Picking a career in a traditionally unsexy business, as well as acquiring multiple transferable skills throughout her career (relationship building, finance, logistics, and campaign management) has been the basis to her success. She was the first person to take political campaign tactics to develop solid waste facilities and she continues to use these political/regulatory/media strategies in her business today. This combination of skills has allowed her to win huge contracts such as a $5 billion renewable energy project she’s currently working on. This has given her flexibility in when and where she works which has been important in helping her raise her daughter and give her the time and attention she wants to. She is also able to pick and choose her clients and refuses to work with anyone she doesn’t like.
- When Building A Team, Find People With Different Skills – Kelly encouraged us to find people to work with that have complementary skills. She knows she’s a high level strategic thinker, so she looks for people that are really strong with details. She is also a fan of maintaining the same team for multiple endeavors. She and her team were able to recreate similar successes over multiple companies as they understood how to work together. This team continuity is also something she looks for when angel investing.
- Learn The Art Of Saying No – Kelly said it is vital to make time for yourself, and to learn how to no nicely. She now weighs every potential commitment against time with her daughter, working out, or her existing commitments. This creates a high bar for what she agrees to. She is also adamant about scheduling workouts and treats her calendar invites for workouts as any other meeting.
- Initiation Can Be Vital For Decisions – Kelly says intuition and spirituality has been a strong part of her success. She started doing tarot cards a long time ago, and does it for herself, on her competitors, and for friends. She finds this a vital part of her decision making. She also is a huge believer in the power of visualization and recommends the book Creative Visualization By Shakti Gawain.
- When Picking An Opportunity, Try It Out – When asked about how she decides on opportunities, Kelly suggested micro steps. Before making a huge decision, Kelly tries to take smaller steps, and immerses herself in whatever arena it is in. She meets people, goes to conferences, and tries it out to see if it feels right and she likes it. She suggests that to the extent possible, try out each path and see what you think.
We thank Kelly for her time and her wise insights!