Judy Kelly was the first woman in her community to study a profession in college other than nursing or teaching — she decided to study business. She began her career at International Business Machines, a global technology company, stuffing envelopes. Kelly received seven promotions over 10 years, and after 32 years of working for IBM, Kelly is now the vice president of sales for IBM government and education clients, responsible for profit and client satisfaction regarding IBM software and services sold to government and education institutions across the U.S.

Kelly spoke at the second annual “Women Who Win” event hosted by Michigan Business Women — BBA on Thursday at Tauber Colloquium. Kelly, as well as Sage Klapper, a 26-year-old U-M alum who is currently one of the youngest brand managers at Tiffany and Co., spoke to an audience of more than 200 women, who were mostly students, about their experiences as women in the world of business, their journey to success and the lessons they have learned along the way.

Kelly said when her journey began with stuffing envelopes, she met influential people, including her first mentor. Her first piece of advice for the audience was to acknowledge every starting job is a good one.

“Every job is important,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter what your co-op does. If you’re stuffing envelopes, if you’re a greeter, the fact that you have the experience to meet other professionals and see what they do makes the work interesting. I used that mentor and that experience to launch my career with IBM. I got a job offer.”

Klapper graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 as a psychology major and art history minor. Klapper worked four unpaid summer internships before getting an internship on the North America brand management team at Tiffany in 2014.

Klapper remained on Tiffany’s payroll during her senior year of college by working on an internal marketing project from Ann Arbor but was not offered a job because the department she was working for didn’t have space. Klapper was later offered a job in the global brand managing department and currently works on campaign strategy asset development and performance analysis while also being an MBA candidate at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Klapper’s advice included taking advantage of every opportunity, accepting the grunt work throughout any job, and encouraged being true to yourself at work.

“I’m a big believer of being your authentic self in the workplace,” Klapper said. “I think that having an element of humanity at work is so important and will ultimately keep you sane in your career.”

Klapper emphasized the importance of voicing your perspectives, even when working in a beginner’s job.

“I think early on when, you’re more on an entry level, it’s easy to just kind of agree with everyone around you,” Klapper said. “You may assume that you’re less experienced, you haven’t been here as long, you don’t know the whole story, you haven’t been on the project for the entire duration, and you end up kind of nodding your head a lot in meetings, even if you may have seen that sales report or seen the insights, or seen the industry trends and might know something that may add a different perspective. So my ask to all of you is if you think that you can add something to a conversation or you may not entirely agree with someone who is in the same meeting as you, speak up.”

While Klapper mentioned being confident in one’s opinions and business perspectives, Kelly spoke to being confident in one’s finances. Kelly advised the audience to start saving money early, consider 401(k)s, and understand interest rates and credit card rules.

“Be fearless financially,” Kelly said. “Know your FICO score. You know how tall you are, you know how much you weigh, you should know how good you are financially.”

Kelly emphasized finding strength in one’s job and having the ability to be focused and competitive.

“People are going to say mean things and you just need to be tough back,” Kelly said. “It’s okay to be tough as a girl. You’re in a new market. Time to be tough.”

Kelly said people should be goal oriented throughout their entire career, constantly network, and to always be looking for ways to grow.

“Mental toughness,” Kelly said. “Believe in yourself. You have to thrive on the pressure. Set your goals, keep growing … I achieved a certain level of performance and I thought I was done. Don’t be done. When you get to the goal, that’s great. Ask, ‘What’s my next job?’”

While Kelly emphasized constant growth in one’s career, she acknowledges the importance of balancing life and work, taking time for health and hobbies.

“Do take time to be yourself,” Kelly said. “So whether you get married or choose to have a family or don’t have a family, have an extensive hobby. There has to be some life balance. So take time in your career to find something that you enjoy that’s outside of work and make that work-life balance choice.”

Kelly warned that with success comes stress one that must persevere through.

“I will warn you that there gets to be a time where you’re just exhausted,” Kelly said. “So you feel like you’re on this treadmill and you’re just spinning and spinning. But you have to continuously reinvent yourself and be resilient.”

Business freshman Caley Halloran said listening to the women’s stories of balancing school, stresses and success were inspiring.

“It was really inspiring to hear about how much they have going on in their lives because our lives are constantly stressful and there’s always that, ‘Can I do one thing more?’ and just seeing women who have been able to do so much, are very busy but still able to find balance, is just really inspiring.”

Kelly continued to encourage being resilient throughout one’s career and pushing through times of failure.  

“Surround yourself with good people,” Kelly said. “Recover from your setbacks — and there are going to be setbacks. You might get sick, you might get divorced, you might get fired. Who knows? You may have to move to another city. But you have to pull yourself up; don’t feel sorry for yourself, be resilient.”


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