Sometimes opportunity flashes at the most unexpected times. Like earlier this year, when I happened to look over my husband’s shoulder and noticed an advertisement that has already changed the course of my life.
My husband, an assistant manager at the Walmart supercenter in Palakta, FL, was searching for advancement opportunities on WalmartOne.com – the company intranet. What jumped out at me was the fact that eligible family members of Walmart associates could earn their high school equivalency free of charge via GEDWorks or the Career Online High School program. A bad situation as a teenager kept me from finishing high school – and bills and the decision to start a family made it difficult to ever hop back in and get it done.
But with this, someone was willing to pay my way. I was a little nervous about being lost or overwhelmed at first, but a counselor was always available to answer my questions from the second I enrolled in the program. A short while later, I’d passed my tests and had my high school equivalency. The feeling of pride is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’m already focused on going to school to become an obstetrics nurse.
I’ve seen the doors Walmart has opened for my husband in his career. The fact that the company is willing to invest in the education of eligible family members like myself, through its Lifelong Learning program, is a blessing.
“Hello, my name is….” It’s a phrase made up of only four words.
It takes very little time to say – it’s an easy way to begin a conversation. Yet, when people say these words, they can have such a big impact.
My late wife, Kate, started the #HelloMyNameIs campaign in 2013 while living with terminal cancer. As a medic herself, she had become frustrated with nurses and doctors who never introduced themselves to her before providing medical care.
Kate had already been speaking to hospitals and conferences about her experience as both a medical provider and a patient, but through the campaign she hoped to share some key values that resonate beyond people working in healthcare: communication, small acts of kindness, putting the patient at the center of every decision and seeing each person as an individual.
Kate was one of the most determined, resilient people I have ever known. I firmly believe that through adversity, comes legacy. July 23 is International “Hello My Name Is” Day – both the anniversary of Kate’s passing and what would have been our 12th wedding anniversary. We invite everyone – from people to corporations – to join us in celebrating Kate’s legacy by introducing yourself and using #HelloMyNameIs.
Sometimes it’s not enough to follow your dreams. You also need someone else to see your potential.
My career at Walmart was a dream – so unanticipated! And that set me up to follow yet another dream. After nearly 20 years, I retired Feb. 17 as manager of supercenter #2914 in Massillon, Ohio, to start my own business as a fashion stylist – something I’ve been passionate about for years – and to spend more time with my precious family.
I have long had an interest in fashion, starting back when my mother was a seamstress and would create her own designs as I was growing up. Most of my wardrobe was handmade by her! I always loved how wearing something special made me feel. Working at Walmart, particularly with women, rekindled a passion in me to witness the impact of dressing well. Increased confidence, better communication, direct eye contact – we all know how that feels. Feeling positive about ourselves can be transformational.
My retail career had simple beginnings in 1997, when I was a stay-at-home mom with five small children in a single-income family. That August I was looking to get a little extra money for Christmas and applied for the first clock-in-and-out job of my life. Walmart hired me as a temporary associate despite my having dropped out of college to start a family and having zero experience in retail. I never would have dreamed I’d take a job stocking store shelves overnight and end up managing 500 people.
This company backed me every step of the way, seeing and believing in a potential I didn't recognize. One of my first store managers took a significant interest in challenging and pushing me to see opportunities that existed. It taught me how important the human touch can be.
I remember one young man who was doing a really good job as an hourly supervisor at my store. Not long after we talked about his potential, he put his job in jeopardy by clocking in late on multiple days. Instead of giving up on him, his direct supervisor asked him what was going on. He shared that his car had broken down, and with no other transportation he’d had to walk the four miles to and from the store. After hearing this, I bought him a bicycle to help put him back on the right track. He ended up going into a management program and is doing really well today.
As for me, my story has come full circle. Walmart not only gave me the acumen and process to run my own business, it also gave my husband and me the financial security to start this second phase of our lives. My baby was in kindergarten when I started my career, and now all my children are grown and college-educated. Freedom in my schedule allows me to be a stay-at-home grandma to five grandchildren.
Having been at the Massillon supercenter for the last four years, it was bittersweet to turn over my keys and the responsibility. But, I’m excited to continue being a cheerleader from the outside. The people I hired are going to go even further than I did with the belief they can have limitless careers.
There are two secrets to C. Ray Kennedy’s business success: an entrepreneurial spirit … and office paper.
In 1992, the bank Ray worked for in Charlotte, North Carolina, was in need of a copy paper supplier, but there were no local businesses offering that service. Ray took a chance and decided to quit his job and create a company that could meet the bank’s needs. Since then, what he started, American Product Distributors, has evolved into a nationwide provider of paper – and so much more – to large government organizations and corporations like Walmart.
APD now creates custom electronic catalogs for a variety of products needed to run a business – office and cleaning supplies, industrial items, branded corporate products like apparel, bags and awards – and houses many of the items within its network of 31 warehouses located across the U.S. The company believes in buying American-made whenever possible and sources the majority of its products from the U.S.
Office supplies may sound commonplace, but streamlining the buying process and offering advice make a huge difference for businesses in two key areas: cost savings and speed, according to Cy Kennedy, son of Ray. Cy has served as president of APD since 2011.
APD started small with three employees and a limited catalog. Twenty-five years later, the organization now employs around 50 people and includes a new software division that uses an updated, redesigned ordering system to save customers money. Walmart, a longtime customer, has found value in the company’s convenience, specialized service and quick turnaround, which is important to a business operating on such a large scale.
While growth is always something to be grateful for, Cy says that APD prides itself instead on its employees’ continued success inside and outside the company. While some have moved up to senior management positions within the family business, Cy said some former employees have gone on to become executives at other companies, and a few who started their careers with APD are now successful politicians or entrepreneurs.
Cy credited the culture his father established – a meritocracy built on kindness and respect for employees, suppliers and customers alike – with contributing to personal success.
That culture extends beyond the walls of the business. Ray’s family established the Kennedy Foundation to reach out to children in need. The foundation has helped feed hundreds of thousands of free meals to kids who don’t have access to healthy food outside of school.
The family also started three daycare centers that focus on serving low-income families. “We’ve prepared a lot of children for school who otherwise wouldn’t hit the ground running,” Cy said. “Some started with us as infants and are now college degree holders.”
Whether it’s in business or in the community, the Kennedys are focused on one thing: finding ways people can help each other.
It’s often the small details that make the difference between the mundane and the magical.
I believe that a lot of things can be better and more beautiful. There’s always a way to make something more natural, more delicious and more functional. This kind of thoughtfulness is often overlooked when it comes to things we use every day, and a good example is something like toothpaste. Good design is all about being hyper thoughtful, and an intense level of thoughtfulness is exactly what I wanted to put into everything when I founded Hello Products. It’s something that I call “elevating the everyday.”
Our mission in creating Hello Products in Montclair, New Jersey, is to make effective and naturally friendly toothpastes that are vegan, never tested on animals, and free from artificial flavors and synthetic dyes … all in a gorgeous package that makes people smile. Our commitment to manufacturing all our products in the U.S. is an even bigger, overall commitment to the people who work with us at every level of the supply chain.
What appeals to me the most as a design-obsessed entrepreneur isn’t just form, fit and function; it’s thoughtfulness. We want people to feel something magical and personal when they interact with hello — our products, our brand, and our company. That’s human connection. That’s real engagement. And along with making a healthy and effective product, that’s what I love the most.
I’m glad to see consumers’ growing interest in more natural and American-made products. It’s a passionate segment that’s expanding rapidly, especially because parents are becoming more interested in the ingredients going into products that their kids use every day. And that makes sense. I’m proud to have our children’s toothpaste sold at Walmart. Being on the shelves of the biggest retailer in the world means our naturally friendly products are available to more people; and elevating the everyday should be an option for everyone.