Photo by Kristin Kasperek
Can you tell us a bit about your personal background?
I’m the youngest of four kids (my siblings are 10, 16, and 17 years older than me) and I’m incredibly close still with my wonderful parents (in their 80’s) who live close to us in Wheaton. They took me on my dad’s business trips when I was little, so I’ve essentially been networking since the age of seven. I’m a lifelong Chicago-area resident (I grew up in the Western suburbs) and am incredibly proud and passionate to call myself a Chicagoan. No matter where I travel or whom I talk to, people always respond that Chicagoans are kinder, nice, and genuinely more helpful that other people from other cities. I know there have been some tough challenges in our city lately, but there are so many good people here, too. I was incredibly fortunate to be raised in this area and love that my agency is part of the fabric of Chicago.
What is the story behind how you started your own firm, Henson Consulting?
After the birth of my first child, Emily, I came back from my maternity leave to my senior position at the best PR firm in the world (Edelman). With a little three-month old at home, I stood in my corner office and took stock of my national accounts and great team and still realized that my priorities had suddenly drastically shifted. While I knew I was on a phenomenal career path at that great firm, I also intimately knew that I couldn’t put Emily first and I decided it was time to make a change. It was at that time I realized that there wasn’t a “playbook” for working mothers. Shortly after joining a smaller boutique PR firm, I learned I was expecting another baby (with a 6-month old at home already!) and I was working just as many hours and not happy. It was then that I knew that I needed to go out on my own. I had no plan, no savings, no clients—just a strong desire to create a work environment that focused on what brought me joy: my family. The rest I hoped I would figure out along the way. That was January 2001. Luckily, 15 years and 40 employees later, I am still working in a field I love, with colleagues and clients I respect and greatly appreciate. I no longer work in my basement next to my sump pump, but instead have 11,000 square feet of beautiful new office space overlooking the Chicago River. I am very thankful every single day that I started Henson Consulting—it gave me the freedom to make choices that were right for my family. Today, my husband and I have five incredible kids, and I know my life has purpose as a mom and a mentor to other women (and one brave man!) seeking balance and fulfillment both at work and in their personal lives.
What has been your biggest challenge professionally? Has there been a moment in your professional life when your confidence was shaken?
Despite creating my company to offer me more balance, I think I still struggle with that area in my life. It’s hard to build and grow a national company without any loans or guarantees that you’ll be successful. I have to rely a lot on my faith in God that there is a bigger plan for me and my life. While many would say I’m a confident woman, I sometimes do have some moments where my confidence is shaken. When I fall down or things don’t go my way, I have learned it’s better to just dust yourself off and keep on going. Honestly, I have learned a lot more from my failures than I have from my successes.
You have an almost 100 percent female staff. Was that by design? How would you describe your company culture?
I always wanted to provide an environment for people that worked for me to find their joy OUTSIDE of work first. I believe that if you are joyful outside of your profession—in your personal life—you will bring that joy to the office and to the clients you serve. Early on in my career, I didn’t have too many role models that were moms to show me the way, so I also was determined to be that example to my team. I wanted anyone that worked alongside me to know that it’s both okay and important to go to your child’s recital or doctor appointment and that the world won’t end if you need to focus on your family. In the end, while work is certainly important, it should not be what defines who you are.
What is in store for you in 2016? Is there anything professionally or personally that you hope to accomplish in the New Year?
We have some big announcements coming in 2016 for HC. We just signed the lease on 4,000 square feet of space to take over the 11th floor at 205 W. Wacker. I’ve been making big investments in both top talent and additional work space, as I’m continuing to grow our firm and offerings. I am proud of where we are to date and excited about where we’re headed. My goals for 2016 are to “level the airplane” after so much change and growth in 2015 and focus on signing on new clients that match our culture and mission. It’s a privilege to tell great stories about national and Chicago-based companies doing innovative things in their industries. I also have the joy of serving on several boards, including Breakthrough Urban Ministries and the Joffrey Women’s Board, and I serve as the co-chair of the United Way Women’s Leadership Council.
What is one thing that people may not know about you?
I think people know that I love God, my family and colleagues, and obviously my job. But they might not know that had I not become a PR executive, I probably would have enjoyed being a doctor. I love serving and helping others, and I am usually the first person in my family that will be able to diagnose an illness. I’m knowledgeable enough to be dangerous with medical terminology. Just don’t ask me to operate.
Look for the debut of Kathleen Henson’s column, “The Mentor”, in the Career and Money section of the January 2016 issue of FW: Chicago.