ABOUT TODAY’S EPISODE | KENNY COLEMAN
Kenny Coleman is one of the finest “connectors” you might ever have a chance to meet. His path in life started as one of the only African-American kids in a predominantly white enclave in Silicon Valley, where he had to learn to navigate certain challenges to connect with others. In high school and college, he became a football star and vocal leader on teams from Gunn High School to Utah State University. As a Cutco/Vector Marketing sales rep after college, Kenny set one of the most legendary sales records in the history of Cutco by selling over $36,000 in his “Fast Start” — his first 10 days with the company. Now, he’s the DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) Program Lead at Splunk, a leading tech company in Silicon Valley. Throughout his entire life, Kenny Coleman has understood how to bring people together. His ideas can help you establish more diverse connections throughout your workplace and your personal life.
Q&A WITH KENNY COLEMAN
Q: I think it would be great for people to hear a little about your background and your path in life before you got started working with Vector/ Cutco.
- I grew up in Los Altos Hills as the only black family in a pretty wealthy area.
- Growing up I was always surrounded by a very diverse group of people and I really learned to navigate conversations with vastly different groups of people.
- As a kid, I was a basketball player, baseball player and played tennis up until 8th grade when I finally got to play football.
- I started to get pretty good at football in my sophomore year, and then in college I had the opportunity to go play for the University of Hawaii, and playing college ball was always my dream.
- After realizing that Hawaii had too many distractions, I went to Foothill College for 2 years and excelled at football there, and then went to Utah State where I finished college.
Q: And you were the star Wide Receiver at Utah State and had some aspirations to play professional football at some level, right?
- Yeah, I bounced around training camps from the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.
- One thing I didn’t mention is that when I was 17 I had a daughter, and after I had some opportunities for professional ball, I decided I’d hang up the cleats and focus on a career.
Q: Were there some particular skills you learned from your experiences in football that you feel are translatable to other parts of life?
- I learned about competition. In life, you’re always competing. But not only learning how to compete, but how to prepare for competition and the competitive mindset.
- Teamwork and learning how to work with others, even if you don’t exactly get along with someone.
- Also, learning to Trust.
- Leadership as well.
- Dealing with adversity. You don’t always win, so learning how to deal with loss is important too.
Q: How did you hear about Cutco/ Vector?
- The funny thing is that I interviewed at Vector 3 different times and it was ultimately my friend Diana who gave me a nudge because she had worked there before.
Q: You came in a got trained and you came out of the gates and did one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever seen. This was December of 2010 and you sold $36,317 in your first 10 days working with the company and that broke the all-time “Fast Start” record and remained the record for the next 7 or 8 years. What were some of the keys to your record-setting start with the company?
- Once I actually decided to do the job, I figured I would give it everything I had for the first 10 days.
- What I would recommend to anyone just getting started with Cutco is to just put all your fears aside and just go for it and whatever happens happens.
Q: What other lessons did you learn from your time with Vector that you’ve been able to take with you to your career today?
- What I love about Vector is the people and what you learn about yourself — good and bad. You really learn a lot about YOURSELF.
Q: You’re known as being an expert networker. What do you think are some of the keys to making connections with people and building a relationship with them?
- Being authentic and being really curious and interested in the other person.
- I’m also not trying to get to know someone in order to get something from that person.
- I’m always asking what I can do for the other person.
- The last thing is to follow up with people. Strong relationships don’t get built in one meeting.
Q: Let’s talk about your parents for a few minutes. They have both been successful business executives in Silicon Valley and are beloved by the Silicon Valley community. What are some of your observations you can share with your audience to lend an insight into what has made your mom and dad so successful?
- My dad has always taught me about networking and all my lessons about networking were from him.
- Being selfless and always giving back.
- There’s no substitute for hard work.
- My dad’s always been very humble and forgiving.
Q: Tell us a little about what you’re doing with Jopwell.
- Jopwell is the leading career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals.
- Studies have shown that building diverse organizations is not just the right thing to do but it’s actually profitable and good for businesses because you get to take advantage of more perspectives when it comes to solving problems and making decisions.
Q: What do you think are a couple of key habits that the best leaders or the best organizations have that foster diversity and inclusion?
- It has to start at the top or else others won’t buy in.
- You also need to realize that recruiting a diverse group of people will require different ways to recruit different people, because by definition, diverse people will all be attracted in diverse ways. Step out of your usual box and find new ways to attract different people from different backgrounds to your organization.
Q: As you look into the future, how do you aspire to change people’s lives through your work or through your influence?
- I don’t know; let’s start there. But I know that’s what I want to do. That’s something working at Vector showed me about myself is that I care about other people and I care about impacting other people and that’s what I care about most.
- I’ve thought about public speaking. I’ve thought about starting a non-profit.
- But I love the hands-on part of helping people.
- I really loved the lesson he shared about his Vector experience, “you learn about yourself.”
- Sometimes the things you learn about yourself can be painful.
- Wherever you go, you’re still there.
- Under the ideas of being a great networker the concept of having authentic curiosity toward others.
- The idea of building diverse organizations, it’s not just the right thing to do but it’s actually profitable and good for our businesses.
Show Notes for this episode were provided by Carlo Cipollina.
To learn more and get access to all episodes, visit our podcast page!
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