Executive Spotlight Q&A: Kelly Bienn
Photography by Don Kadair
Position: Senior Vice President of Marketing
Company: Baton Rouge Area Chamber
Family: Husband, Harris, and two “fur children,” Wyatt and Stella
Hometown: Glenwood, Maryland
Education: LSU, bachelor’s degree in mass communication and MBA
What was your very first job and what was your takeaway from the experience?
I worked at the local public library in high school. While I discovered it isn’t as fun to stack books as it is to read them, I quickly realized that libraries are amazing resources for things far beyond books. Everyone should be friends with their local librarian—I promise you’ll learn something new.
You relocated to Baton Rouge from Maryland about 10 years ago to attend LSU. What has kept you in Baton Rouge since then?
I was introduced to Forum 35 about midway through my MBA, and it really opened my eyes to Baton Rouge beyond LSU’s campus. Finding a group of young professionals who were passionate about the city and who were genuinely making a difference was inspiring. I quickly learned that Baton Rouge truly is the home of big ideas and open doors. If you show up and speak up, the people in this community will champion your success. The opportunity to work at BRAC has taken my love for Baton Rouge to the next level. I have a front row seat to the amazing things happening here—and there is so much happening. From the Nobel Prize-winning research coming out of LSU, to the momentum around the arts, to the world-class Water Campus, it’s hard not to be excited about the future of the region.
What do you think Baton Rouge needs to do to attract more young talent like you to our city?
More than anything, I think that we need to engage the young talent we already have in the region. We have the state’s flagship university, a prominent HBCU, and a vibrant community college and technical training system. I’ve observed that there is a core group of people actively engaged in moving the city forward; if we could tap into the abundant talent in our own backyard and encourage more people to move from the sidelines and get involved, we would naturally advance initiatives that would attract young professionals from other areas.
What are your best productivity hacks?
Hiring passionate and talented people is a great step one. On a personal level, I like to plan ahead and communicate priorities. I take time on Friday afternoons to forecast the upcoming week, identifying major deadlines and aligning workflow around them. On days when I know I have something especially complex to tackle, I like to work from home to limit distraction.
You’re taking me out to a business lunch in the Capital Region. Where are we going and what do you recommend I order?
Cocha is one of my favorite spots for a working lunch. They have a locally sourced, seasonal menu, and a very convenient business lunch special of soup, salad and half a sandwich for $12. Hard to beat it!
What’s your usual morning routine to get your day off to a good start?
My morning routine rotates between hitting snooze until 7:30 a.m. or waking up at 5:30 a.m. to work out before heading to the office. While I am not at all an early riser, I feel much more energized and focused when I convince myself to get up and exercise.
What’s something about your job that might surprise people?
Economic development is far more comprehensive than most people think. At its core it’s about creating jobs, but our work at BRAC focuses on all the environmental factors that allow for job growth—from advocating for quality of place initiatives and transportations solutions to embracing diversity as a business imperative.
What are your hobbies, or your favorite things to do in your free time?
My husband and I got scuba certified a few years ago, and we dive as often as we can. I spend a lot of my free time researching our next adventure. I also enjoy reading, hiking, trying new foods and snuggling with my dogs.
What’s something you’ve learned the hard way?
Giving negative feedback is a kindness. Having found myself in leadership positions at a young age, I’ve struggled with vocalizing performance issues. I have learned that giving consistent feedback and course correcting regularly is much less painful than letting things slide and waiting for something to go seriously wrong.
What is one of the best vacations you’ve ever taken and what is a vacation you hope to take in the future?
Grand Cayman has probably been my favorite vacation so far. The island itself is beautiful and clean, the food is great and the diving was like swimming in an aquarium. My vacation bucket list is very long, but a backpacking trip in Patagonia has been on it for a while.
BRAC recently announced a major renovation of its downtown headquarters. How will that project help BRAC further it’s mission?
I’m a big believer in the impact a physical space can have on organizations and communities. BRAC is a dynamic, forward-thinking organization, and the renovation will allow the physical space to reflect that personality and mission. We’re also excited to have the opportunity to participate in the transformation of downtown, and to welcome prospects to a space that celebrates the renaissance and energy of the city’s core.
Can you name someone who has had a great impact on you as a leader, or someone who has been a mentor to you in your life or career? How have they changed your outlook?
Robin Kistler. Many of my professional and personal milestones have been influenced by her mentorship and friendship. She hired me as a student worker in the LSU Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute/LSU Executive Education, gave me a graduate assistantship to pursue my MBA, and then gave me my first full-time job. She taught me to lead with authenticity and humor, to “take risks but make good choices” and to trust my gut.
If you hadn’t gone into public relations and marketing, what is another career you might have pursued?
I think I would have made a good scientist—oceanography or marine biology were fields I gave a fair amount of consideration. Growing up I loved reading National Geographic fact files and learning about how ecosystems and their inhabitants exist in balance with one another. I’m attracted to work that is impactful and purposeful, and a career studying the world’s oceans would have undoubtedly been rewarding.
What is one of the luckiest things that has ever happened to you?
I’m not sure that I believe in luck as much as timing and action. That said, reflecting on my 10 years in Baton Rouge does seem to point to a series of fortunate events. Aside from the dominoes that had to fall for me to be in my current professional position, meeting my husband during the short time we were both at LSU prior to him joining the Marine Corps is up there as one of my luckiest life events.
What is one thing you are absolutely determined to do in life?
Swim with a whale shark. We missed one in Bonaire by about fifteen minutes and have been fixated on diving with them ever since.