“I worked for the CIA. I wasn’t undercover so that’s why I can tell you that.”
The first thing I notice about Kenlyn Klamper as we speak over Zoom, is that she doesn’t strike me as someone who would have worked for the CIA. She’s high-energy, vibrant and dynamic. Not serious, furtive and well, Jason Bourne-ish. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who worked for the CIA (maybe because they couldn’t tell me), so I better check my prejudices at the door.
We are talking because Kenlyn is now the Vice President for People and Culture for Apkudo, a smart-device assurance company headquartered Baltimore, Maryland.
As with many of us, Kenlyn’s career path has not been a straight trajectory. But unlike many of us, hers included a stop at the CIA.
“Go on,” I urge. “Well, I’d grown up in a small town, California. I was a teacher right out of college, but I soon realised it wasn’t the career for me.
"I was in a high school and almost the same age as the students. I thought, ‘I’m not the adult these kids need in their lives, I just turned all my underwear pink in the wash.’
“So, I decided to get into editing. I worked for magazines and soon pivoted into marketing. When I decided I wanted to try and move to a big city, I applied to the CIA online, on a whim. I didn’t think I’d hear anything, but I got a call back. They ran a security clearance on me and flew me out.
“When you’re from a small town and fly into Reagan [National Airport based in Washington, DC], and see the Capitol Building and the Potomac [River], it’s an incredible feeling. I knew I absolutely must take this job,” Kenlyn remembers.
“Since you can tell me you worked there, what did you do?” I ask.
“I was a publications officer, I edited technical information for more general stakeholders. It was good that I didn’t have a background in crime or narcotics, because I was an advocate for those readers. If I couldn’t understand it, it needed to be changed.
“I worked for the CIA three years and I really enjoyed it, but I wanted to be more people-facing, so I took a job with Booz Allen [a big management and tech consulting company headquartered in Virginia],” says Kenlyn.
“So, we’re done with the CIA already?” I ask, confessing I wished there was more to that chapter.
“Yes. My new role was a bit similar in that I was now editing their cyber-security program information for corporates. After a couple of years, a former colleague encouraged me to move from Washington to New York where I went to work for First Data [an Atlanta headquartered fintech company] and together we were tasked with setting up an innovations centre in Ireland.”
“Wait a minute, you went from the CIA to Ireland?” I interrupt. Now, this is getting very interesting.
“I’d had two other jobs by then, but kind of,” Kenlyn laughs.
“Where exactly were you?”
“We were located in Nenagh in County Tipperary. It was a much smaller town than where I grew up. Suddenly, I went from crossing the subway to cows crossing the road. It was kind of isolating in a way and recruiting was completely different.
"I was used to very hands off when it came to receiving CVs, but here candidates would stop by our office and personally drop off their resumé.
"We looked for people who were creative and different. We created our own company culture. We started meditation and yoga — even Bollywood dancing groups. We eventually hired around 130 people from 17 different countries. Once it was up and running, we left. But it was an incredible experience.
“When I came back to the US, I decided to get a master’s in HR with a focus on data and analytics. It’s so good for companies to understand that there is a real business case for helping people be better so they can do their jobs better.
"Since I’ve been with Apkudo, I was first called ‘Vice President of HR,’ but I changed it to ‘People and Culture’ because it helps us think more about how people operate.”
Kenlyn runs her department with a mixture of the lessons she learned from her master’s degree and those she picked up through her medley of occupations. I am now delighted to share a few of them with you.
1) Work is not like a family.
“I think it’s an important message to hear that work is not like a family,” Kenlyn says. “I know that when I moved to Ireland, I wanted it to be like a family, but at the end of the day, we’re not. In a family, you don’t choose each other and you really cannot leave each other.
"But in work, you have a choice to join that organisation and to leave that organisation. So it’s the company culture, it’s people’s job to make sure the employees are taken care of which will help them want to stay.”
2) You don’t bring your whole self to work
“We hear this a lot, but it’s not helpful. You will have some disagreements during which you should not get everything you want and you don’t always wear anything you want to work. Be wise.”
3) How you connect is everything
“In addition to diversity training, people should commit to connecting with each other as real people There are science-based techniques to making people happier. Wire your brain to tune in to others.”
Provocative ideas. Perfect from someone who’s been to both Nenagh and the CIA.
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With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor.