Kelsey Dodson-Smith is one of those people who stands out. Why? For starters, she was a VP before her 30th birthday–she has natural leadership abilities. She has a definite sense of style–just take a quick peek at her Insta page for proof! And, she seems well-loved among colleagues and friends. Sounds like a rock star to me! Let’s hear more from this all-around dynamo.
What’s been the one thing you’ve done at Cambria in your almost-two-years you’ve been there you’re the most proud of?
Such a good question. One thing I love about Cambria is the ability to be quick, nimble, and adjust to changing times. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all had to adjust our lives in a lot of ways – both personally and professionally. Scaling to the professional side, at Cambria, we (and very quickly) created curated content that we could bring to both consumers and trade partners to offer them value and speak to them at a time when let’s face it, things are uncertain. Reinforcing a message of comfort and that we’re here for them to offer assistance to keep their projects moving. Not every company has that luxury or can move that quickly. There’s something very rewarding about having to react to a circumstance you can’t control and as a team coming together to reprioritize, strategize, and execute a plan to help propel your business and others’ forward.
You were a VP well before you were 30 years old (at Sun Country Airlines)–pretty incredible. Can you talk a little about how you got to such a senior-level role at such a young age?
I’m positively flattered – thank you! Hard work and a little luck (insert wink face). But in all seriousness, determination, perseverance, and the willingness to learn are key components to move forward in your career. You’re going to fail. Get used to it. Embrace it. If you don’t fail here and there, then you aren’t pushing yourself. So buckle up, and take in every opportunity that you can. Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end of leadership. It can be a wild ride but if you’re up for the challenge, it is ever so rewarding.
So many people aspire for leadership roles, especially at younger ages. I like to tell people “be careful what you wish for!” Can you share one challenge that you found in working as a VP that you didn’t quite expect?
It may sound harsh but it’s a reality, you will be underestimated. Rather than allowing that to discourage you, use it as a strength. Use it to fuel your success. Know that you have a lot of supporters. I absolutely cherish my time at Sun Country and fast track to leadership. I learned a lot along the way, like to think I left a positive mark on the organization, and I wouldn’t trade my experience there for anything in the world.
You were at Sun Country for seven years, during some fairly impactful moments for the airline. What was it like to work for an airline going through arguably its most turbulent time?
We always joked that even Hollywood couldn’t write Sun Country’s history. The airline was founded with an entrepreneurial spirit – a group of former Braniff flight attendants and pilots lost their jobs, went to happy hour to blow off steam and thought “You know what? We can do this. Let’s start an airline.” And boom, Sun Country was born nearly 40 years ago. All to say, the entire history was a bit turbulent. The airline withstood several bankruptcies and always managed to survive. In fact, when I first joined the team, we were still in a bankruptcy. To see it grow from when I started there to when I left was extremely rewarding and will continue to be a highlight of my career.
Caribou, Sun Country. Cambria. You’ve worked for some iconic Minnesota brands. What is it that draws you to these types of Minnesota-bred brands vs. others?
I have been so fortunate to work for some amazing Minnesota brands. Being a homegrown Minnesotan, I grew up in this community and essentially have tater hotdish running through my veins. That being said, being a local has helped me connect in a different way with these brands. Us midwesterners – we have grit. We have determination. We have vigor. We have a down-to-earth humble nature, ease and friendliness. And through my experience, those values translate to the core of our hometown companies.
You’re a former winner of the famed AdFed 32 Under 32 Awards. Given the ever-expanding nature of awards like these, what role do you believe these types of awards have in our industry in 2020?
I mean, no one hates recognition right? Not only do the awards offer value to the recipient, but also provide credibility to the organization that awards them. It’s extremely important to recognize those who are making strides in our industry as they’ll be the ones that will help pass on knowledge that continues to shape the brands of our future.
You seem to have a definite sense of style. Where did that come from? And, I’m sure other women (and maybe men) would like to know: how do you hone that sense of style?
Awww shucks, you have me blushing. Thank you! I must give credit where credit is due, to my stylish momma. She always taught me the importance of dressing with confidence and being mindful that your clothing is one way you convey to people who you are.
Travel has also played a big part of honing in my personal style. That mixed with supporting local artists – local to this community or the community I’m visiting. It’s always fun to meet the person you’re supporting. Personally, I try to buy the age old classics and intermix with fun pieces I find along the way.
All to say, style doesn’t have any rules – own your look and dress for you.
Judging from your Insta feed, you seem to have the travel bug! Two travel-related questions: 1) Most underrated destination you’ve explored? 2) Favorite travel tip for those who may not travel as much?
Your senses are spot on. I LOVE to travel and that bug bit well before I worked for an airline. Although that certainly helped boost the craze. Hmmmm most underrated – probably Costa Rica. There are beaches, there are jungles, there are mountains. Oh and there are chiliguaros (if you’re a bloody mary fan, you’ll thank me). Pura Vida baby.
Best travel tip? That’s a tall order. I’d like to say pack light but I have an inability to do so. I tend to scour Instagram in advance of a trip for fun areas, restaurants, shopping, etc. Follow the city’s travel accounts or local magazines in the area and you can get a lot of great ideas. Also come into the vacay with a few must-dos but leave a lot of room for winging it. That’s when you uncover some of the best things. I often like to find “hidden gem” spots to get a more authentic experience – be sure to ask the locals where they like to eat. Overall, be adventurous.