"I believe in a 'Reach Back, Pull Forward' mindset—the idea of taking the knowledge, skills and influential moments from your personal and professional life and helping others at the beginning of their careers."

After spending 32 years of her career in public companies and 18 of those as a C-suite executive, Kim Feil was looking for a new learning opportunity. She found it with the entrepreneur team at Aspire Healthy Energy Drinks. As the company’s current CMO and CSO, she continues to apply and expand upon three key leadership themes that have emerged throughout her career.

Leadership is taught through letting teams learn to take charge.

Growing up, Feil’s father, Gary Feil, never told her what to do. He would ask, “What’s the challenge or what’s the problem you’re trying to figure out?” He challenged her to find her own solutions by giving examples. In fact, her father often said to her, “Find your north star,” which essentially meant she should find her source of inspiration and passion in life.

Applying the wisdom learned from her father, Feil became adept at solving problems by breaking them down into parts and dealing with each component one at a time. She found herself drawn to leadership positions where she could solve problems and also empower others to take charge of the situation and arrive at their own solutions.

Flexibility in a leader is key.

Feil recognizes flexibility as a common trait seen in strong leaders today. At Aspire Healthy Energy Drinks, which consists of 13 employees, she establishes the importance of flexibility in meeting day-to-day goals. Her employees are located across the globe in many different time zones, making it difficult at times to manage various tasks and project deadlines. Being flexible, however, enables Feil to remain calm in stressful situations and to handle problems arm-in-arm with her employees.

Feil didn’t take much time for her personal life early in her career—to the point where she went a stretch of eight years without going on a vacation. Reflecting on that experience, she now knows the importance of embracing a strong work-life balance as well as modeling this flexibility to her team. As a C-suite executive, finding balance has become a core value she tries to pass along to her employees.

Transparency with your team is a necessity.

A key aspect of leadership is transparency. For example, during the merger of Office Depot and OfficeMax, many employees struggled with morale. Feil assured her team that she’d remain entirely transparent with them, saying “I will tell you what I am permitted to tell you, and I won’t wait.” Feil immediately held a town hall meeting with the group and devoted time to talk about the situation at hand and the future.

The team spoke openly about personal life, work concerns, and fear of job loss. Feil encouraged them to see it “as an amazing opportunity to think about what’s next. Maybe this is where I go and get another degree, or go on a trip, or switch career paths, or open a restaurant.” She let the team know that her doors were open if anyone wanted to talk and was amazed by the responses and the amount of people who took her up on her offer.

Feil is a strong leader who adamantly believes that creating opportunities for individuals to shine is just as important as the overall success of her team. She’s passionate about creating ventures and inspiring transparency in her business. As a leader, she believes that individuals in her life—such as her father—have not only influenced her, but ultimately shaped the leader and businesswoman she is today. That has led her into a “Reach Back, Pull Forward” mindset—the idea of taking the knowledge, skills and influential moments from your personal and professional life and helping others at the beginning of their careers. Feil follows this motto on a daily basis and uses it to inspire creativity within young professionals and to help those she reaches in her current role.

Fast Facts

Location Chicago, IL
Time in Current Role 2 years and 11 months
Number of Employees 13
Previous Experience PowerReviews - Member Board of Directors RetailNext - Advisory Board Member 12 Digit Marketing - Advisory Board Member Argonne Capital Group - Member of Board of Directors bizHive.com - CEO Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. - Member of Board of Directors OfficeMax - EVP Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer KLF Strategy Consulting - CEO Walgreens - CMO Sara Lee - SVP, CMO of Sara Lee North America Kimberly Clark - Senior Marketing Officer Mosaic InfoForce - CEO Information Resources Inc. - President of Worldwide Innovation, President of Marketing Cadbury Schweppes & Dr Pepper / 7Up - SVP Marketing & SVP Strategy
Most Admired Leader Bill Gates
Things She Can’t Live Without Her golden retriever, South American Night Blooming Cereus (tropical plant she's had since she was 8), family photos and her phone (portal to her life)

Interviewed by Justin Richardson and Elizabeth Romano.