In the News

NAWBO Member Q&A: Mary Anne Kennedy

Mary Anne Kennedy is the owner of Primary Source, which is a promotional products, awards and corporate apparel company. The company sells a variety of promotional materials, like watches, bags, drinkware and even outdoor products.

Kennedy was named the 2016 Woman Business Owner of the Year and is a member of the NAWBO Iowa board. She’s the former president of the West Des Moines Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association and an ambassador for the Clive and West Des Moines Chambers of Commerce.

Can you take me through your personal background?

I was born in Alabama to a military father and German mother. Since my father was a career Army man, we moved quite a bit and lived in many states from Alaska to Virginia, settling in southern Indiana where I finished school. I moved to Illinois to take a job in accounting. I met my husband at the office (yes, an office romance) and was married a year later. We recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, and have one daughter, Nicole, who is 24.

What is your profession/business?

I own Primary Source, a promotional products, awards and corporate apparel company. It’s all about the “Swag!”  We assist and guide all businesses of any size, need or industry as well as schools and organizations with their marketing and the promotion of the services and products they sell. Our promotional products and business gifts products help them THANK their clients, increase tradeshow traffic, gain brand exposure and promote website business. We help them provide all-around good public relations. Our showroom and office are at 104th Street and Hickman Road in Urbandale.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

Meeting so many people in so many varieties of businesses and groups, and seeing them excited about great results from the products we create for them.

Who do you consider your mentor(s)?

Barbara Kinney, who taught me the world of promotional products and business gifts. I purchased Primary Source from her in 1997. She continued to work with the company while I learned the business. With her guidance, I quickly gained knowledge and momentum, as I found that this industry was perfect for me. Later in my career, Lori Day was a big influence. I met Lori in NAWBO Iowa and watched her lead our group to new heights. She taught me about servant leadership and becoming a very active participant in the business community.

What’s your favorite kind of cake and why?

My favorite cake is Red Velvet Cake. My older sister used to make red velvet cake from scratch for special occasions when we visited “home” in Indiana. So red velvet cake always conjures up good memories, in addition to being very tasty — not too sweet, just sweet enough! When my sister passed away, I got her recipe, so now I make her cake on special occasions. It always reminds me of her and our family celebrations!

3 ways you can become a better leader and mentor

Part of owning a business is providing crucial leadership and mentorship for your team. Mentorship is essential for the development of your employees and, in turn, the growth of your business. It also contributes to employee retention and attraction, a key benefit in today’s climate of record low unemployment. 

Mentorship comes naturally for some people, but that’s not the case for everyone. It’s a learned skill that can make you stand out as a leader and business owner. A mentor-mentee relationship is also one that develops organically. It’s not one you can force.

If you do find yourself in a position to be a mentor, here are three tips to keep in mind.

Always be listening

As a mentor, it’s not your job to solve problems for your mentee. Your role is to guide them toward a solution while letting them solve it on their own. It’s a tricky task, but it starts with being a good listener. Listening to your mentee’s problem will help you determine next steps.

While your mentee vents or talks their way through a problem, just lending your ear and advice can make a world of difference. The power of listening is an important tool. Some of the best and most highly regarded mentors spend much more time listening than they do speaking.

Honest feedback

Your mentee will never improve if they don’t know what they’re doing right or wrong. Your feedback is invaluable to their development, and you don’t want to sugarcoat it. Give them an honest assessment of their work, good or bad. Celebrate the good, and help your mentee learn from the bad.

There’s a point where criticism can go too far. So always treat every situation with a constructive mindset — “How can we improve from here?”

Leaders in some of the biggest companies said their mentors were people who shared some of the harshest feedback. But it was provided in a constructive way, and it ultimately helped them improve and set expectations high.

Drive inspiration

Inspiration can come from sources big and small, but it’s a crucial piece of what motivates your mentee to be their best self. Send a note when they accomplish something notable. Forward along an article you’ve read that’s relevant for your mentee. Help push them out of their comfort zone so they can achieve more than they thought.

If you did things right, you’ll see your mentee grow before your eyes and perhaps become a mentor themselves. They’ll become stronger, more motivated, more confident and more thoughtful — the ultimate goal for any mentor.