When it comes to influential women in business, Mari-Anne Kehler leverages her experience to cultivate teams and transform an organisations culture through coaching, innovation and an inclusion and diversity driven approach. Her role at Los-Angeles-based accounting firm GHJ as Partner and Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer enables her to be a powerful mix of nurturer, innovator and perfectly positioned for a seat at our table. Not that Mari-Anne is the kind of woman who needs to be invited to take a seat, she's far more likely to bring her own table.
I am both extremely honoured and excited to bring her work to you, they don't come much more inspirational than this.
YOU CAN SIT WITH US
I sat down with Mari-Anne to discuss her rise in career, what it means to be in her current role as Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, her innovative ideas for changing the face of business culture, our joint passion for all things communication led and her number one motivators.
Before her role with GHJ, Mari-Anne was no stranger to big business. Having graduated from university she worked as one of the very few women on the trading floor of Morgan Stanley, Wall Street and went on to hold sales, marketing and business development leadership roles at some top organisations, such as Netlé and Deloitte Services LLP, covering various industries including finance, entertainment, media and consumer products as well as developing her passion for working with Not For Profit organisations.
Fascinated by her background, we went on to talk about her passions and what lead her to her current role as Partner and Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at GHJ. I wanted to know just what makes this amazing lady tick?
As a mother to an autistic son Mari-Anne knows first hand the absolute importance of excellent learned communication skills, focusing on such an incredible opportunity to think differently and to learn and develop new and innovative ways to communicate. She also knows first hand the issues surrounding exclusion based upon fear. In business terms, how can we embrace diversity and inclusion if we aren't having conversations for fear of causing offence?
The willingness to be uncomfortable and to acknowledge what we don't know. To be courageous and willing to have the conversation and keep having the conversation until we get over the fear. Simply put, we keep talking.
This message seems so prominent in today's society and as such Mari-Anne now feels that she is doing the most important work she's ever done. One of the reasons for this is working for a company who respects her as a thought leader regardless of her gender, thus eliminating the need for energy to be expended on 'proving herself as a woman in business' and being free to direct that energy into her work. She believes that working in a company who not only embraces workplace diversity of all kinds but looks upon it as an asset of the organisation means that everyone is freed up to do the best work of their careers. Representation of diversity at the top level is key to attracting and retaining your workforce. It's no secret that companies are strengthened by diversity because of the ability to innovate and bring diverse perspectives to the table.
Is it any wonder GHJ is thriving amongst its competitors and earning rave reviews from its clients?
I don't think so.
SHE’S GOT SKILLS
Mari-Anne’s personal experience and passion for communication and inclusion have lead her, over the years, to develop her skills within the organisations she has worked in. There is an emphasis on changing mindsets and highlighting the importance of developing listening skills and embracing trust, vulnerability and authenticity at the top level. In her own words, creating a 'cascading effect' to team members and in doing so, making them feel safe to do the same and to foster the company's clear core values. Mari-Anne also rightly points out that we are not taught these things in any business school, they aren't the 'norm' and we have to remember to teach as we mean to operate. Not everyone naturally leans into vulnerability and authenticity in the workplace, but when they see it from the top it becomes much easier to incorporate and can only lead to great things for those companies willing to work differently.
Mari-Anne points out though that this isn't something you can implement and walk away from. The key to greatness for any organisation is to get and stay, intentional. GHJ has a 60% female workforce. It would be easy to look at that and think, great! That's sorted, we're all good on gender diversity! But to be truly successful, Mari-Anne says you have to pay real attention to what you do well. Keep at it and don't get complacent, it doesn't take much for those figures to go out of balance if you're not checking in routinely.
Hearing Mari-Anne talk about her work is like watching an actor engrossed in the biggest role of their lives, you can't help but be completely drawn into the story and the passion of it all. Her obvious love for people and developing ideas is nothing short of awe-inspiring and it's easy to see why she is so well respected both in her work and her community projects, active in the areas of disability awareness, fundraising and for two decades in mentoring families and professionals.
Meeting Mari-Anne I am reminded of the truly amazing capabilities of people when they are allowed to flourish and express themselves fully in their work and of course, when you put that person into a position of leadership, the capabilities of the workforce then naturally become quite limitless.
If only more companies would subscribe to this proven way of working with an emphasis on coaching without telling and allowing people to come to their own learning, we would find more and more passion led businesses filled with inspired people with more compassion, kindness, productivity and profits across the board.
Mari-Anne Kehler, CDP, is a member of GHJ’s Executive Committee and leads firm growth strategy, especially in relation to business development and marketing. She is also Strategist for GHJ Foundation, GHJ’s vehicle for purposeful and proactive giving to the community, and Global Leader, Client…Learn More
GHJ is an independent member of HLB, a worldwide network of accounting firms and business advisors. Learn More