Inspiring the Next Generation: Diana Kelly
Story By: Raymond J. Arroyo
Diana Kelly is a successful Latina executive at Home Depot. She’s a regional vice president there, with oversight for 82 stores, a staff of 16,000, and responsibility for a multibillion regional business that includes Southern California, Hawaii, and Guam. But Diana -- a native of Colombia who came to the U.S. when she was only 12-years-old not speaking English and was repeatedly bullied in high school -- is so much more than that: She’s a deeply respected and recognized leader in the community. She volunteers for the FBI Los Angeles Citizens Academy, serves as a Board Member for the Downtown San Diego Partnership and was recently awarded the Company Best Customer Service Award 2017. She’s an active member of San Diego Chamber of Commerce and was just recognized by the Asian-American community with the Advancing Justice Corporate Impact award 2017.
Diana is a role model for innumerable Latinos, and an extraordinarily dedicated daughter (her mother has lived with her for 21 years and Diana just sent her 72-year-old mother 52 roses for no particular reason). She’s a devoted mother to her son Dylan, and a loving wife, who is still committed to teaching her husband, Paul, how to dance salsa and cumbia. She seems to have it all. On top of that, she possesses an infectious optimism that exudes confidence and trust, somehow mixed with a touch of humility. She is an authentic, inspiring leader.
For this issue, we’re dedicating this column – a new one for Latino Leaders magazine -- to Diana Kelly for her remarkable life, her achievements, her leadership, her enthusiasm, and for the lofty goals that she has yet to achieve. She has much more to contribute – to Home Depot, to our community, to her family, and to herself.
I had the pleasure of communicating with Diana several times this month for the interview. I’m sure many will find her story fascinating, and hopefully, much more will gain inspiration from her journey. I certainly did. In addition to all that she does, she provides dancing lessons for her work colleagues. I suspect her husband, Paul, will be next. After that, anything is possible – and becoming a country president at Home Depot won’t be far behind.
Raymond Arroyo: During my research for this interview I learned that you graduated from Marymount Manhattan College, in the upper side of the city that never sleeps. What was that experience for you? How do you feel earning a degree in Counseling Psychology prepared you for your career?
Diana Kelly: Wow. You took me back quite a few years. I graduated from high school when I was only 16, and received a full scholarship for college. I used to take the train from Massapequa, Long Island into New York City by myself at 16. The scholarship included $90 to pay for my travel, which was very helpful. But it wasn’t easy. Taking the train by myself at that early age was overwhelming, at least in the beginning. Through the commute I learned confidence, perseverance, and to be strong. I learned not to be intimidated on the train, which helped me later in my career.
Everything was going well for me until my mom became very ill. My mother has been my best friend for the last 21 years and there was only one choice for me: I left school and picked up 3 jobs to pay for her medical bills. Soon, though, Diana returned to school and graduated in 1991.
RA: Tell me about your current role; what motivates you about it?
DK: During my second week on the job one of the managers said to me: “you’ll never make it here.” I enjoyed proving that manager wrong although I enjoy being able to pave the road for 1000s of my associates so much more. That’s rewarding. As an example, I flew to Mexico to speak with 230 Mexican women about the power of being a female at Home Depot. They were inspired and inspiring. We now do quarterly calls and are making a big difference with more than 30 women getting ready to lead.
RA: Your profile says that you inspire people to reach full potential. How do you do that? What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
DK: I believe I’m a very influential leader and extremely inspiring. I ask a lot of questions. Based on feedback they tell me that I connect in a meaningful way. Here’s a secret: Based on the book Discover Your Strengths, I wrote 5 strengths on an index card. Every single day I look at the card and ask myself if I did the 5 things. Did I inspire people? If I didn’t I find a way to make up for the gaps.
RA: Who is your role model, and why?
DK: Two role models: My grandmother Isabel, who taught me to be positive all the time; my second one Ann-Marie Campbell – president of Home Depot and the #18 most powerful woman in the country.
RA: For people aspiring to follow in your footsteps, what advice do you have for them?
DK: Believe in yourself; challenge yourself that you’ll be able to do more than you’ll be able to. Pave the way for others. Bring people with you. But take care of yourself first. As they say on every airline flight: Put on the mask first, then assist others.
RA: What things do you dislike or dislike doing? Why?
DK: I dislike cold weather. I dislike the fact the fact that as leaders we rely on an annual process. We should be focused on providing feedback consistently and regularly.
RA: We’ve talked about the lack of representation and large-scale visibility of Latina leaders in the U.S. – The Most Powerful Latinas was launched to address this issue. Why do YOU think giving exposure to Latinas is important?
DK: It tells a story and helps women. These stories need to be told to understand capabilities and potential. I was invited to a local high school to difficult students. 40 young people were there, who’ve struggled their whole life. I had 3 people who reached back, all women, and are now working at Home Depot. One of them said: “I was sleeping overtime.” She had no motivation and no direction. Since then, she woke up, joined Home Depot and was recently recognized as the employee of the month. There’s power and potential in all of us.
RA: When have you been most satisfied in your life?
DK: Today. Now. Personally, I have a wonderful husband; healthy mother, and a beautiful son, who was just recently driving for two hours and call me because he simply wanted to talk. Love that. Professionally, the Executive Vice President of the Home Depot stores, visited recently and complimented the performance of the region. She recognized the region and me personally during our communication broadcast called “The Same Page” I couldn’t be happier.
RA: What advice do you have not so much for the entry-level professionals, but for the mid-level ones, who’ve fought hard to make it to where you are but thus far have been unsuccessful?
DK: Don’t give up. When you give up you’ll stop getting opportunities. Be very strategic about where you want to go. You must plan. Understand the difference among a mentor, coach, sponsor Relationships matter. Book: Career Warfare book. Don’t worry about your job title: Understand your purpose. Mine purpose is to inspire others to achieve more and create wealth.
RA: To close, tell me a nugget or two about the core of who you are; the one or two things that only the closest people to you know.
DK: I’m involved with the FBI. I’d love to get involved with the CIA. I love to dance Salsa and Cumbia; I’ve been trying to get my husband to learn how to dance. I’m also working on restoring a home for women; Give them interview and communication classes to get them back on their feet, because we all deserve a chance to do better and to be better.