Kathleen Kenehan Henson of Wheaton knows first hand that things happen for a reason. Looking back, she realizes that if she didn't leave her post as a senior executive of a global firm about 20 years ago, she would not have two important aspects of her life -- her five children and her thriving marketing agency.
Balancing these two is a priority, but not difficult to see what comes first for Henson, a single mom raising five children between the ages of 9 and 18.
"I always want to be a room mom and never feel bad about it," said Henson, who created a culture that mirrors her beliefs at her Chicago firm, Agency H5.
The big decision came around the time she had her first child when she was working as a senior vice president at a global public relations firm in Chicago.
Henson knew she had to make a change. She dreamt of creating a place that let her continue doing award-winning work without ever apologizing for keeping her kids a top priority in her uber-busy life. She started her own public relations firm 17 years ago in Wheaton in her basement, working next to the sump pump, she says with a laugh.
"I did it on a wink and a prayer with no (financial) backing," she said. Her determination, drive and a culture that others believed in have brought her a long way. She is now CEO of Agency H5, a marketing agency with nearly 50 people. She rebranded the firm last month and changed the name from Henson Consulting Inc.
While slowly building her business from her suburban basement, Sept. 11 happened and many large companies cut their public relations departments. She was developing a reputation as a "senior-level thinker without the price of the big firms," she said. "Huge brands came to me, including Allstate and Kraft."
She grew the business to a small office in Wheaton and then to Chicago. She surrounded herself with workers who enjoy flexibility, excitement of the job and most of all, being happy.
She then expanded to a larger 11,000-square-foot office in the Loop at the intersection of Wacker Drive and Wells Street. The agency has experienced significant revenue and personnel growth over the past five years with strategic hires in specialty practices such as digital and earned media, client and user experience as well as branding and design, she said.
"I decided if you do good work and are kind to people -- good things will happen."
Over the past few years, she looked to mentor Rich Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You. He suggested defining five company values and hiring people with those principles. Kindness topped the list, followed by creativity, passion, integrity and hustle.
While recently renaming the company, these core values represent the 5 in Agency H5.
The 5 has a double meaning and also refers to her children.
"The H, while a nod to our original name, actually represents my commitment to honoring humanity in the workplace," she said. It's all about creating a happy culture to attract and retain the best talent, she said. Her clients also appreciate the culture of her company, she added.
Major brands on the client roster include Dairy Farmers of America, Chicago Fire Soccer Club and Magellan Development. She said she works with industries and sectors such as consumer packaged goods, hotel and hospitality, culinary and restaurant, technology and professional sports.
Prior to rebranding the company, Henson suffered through tough emotional times over the past couple of years. First, a painful divorce and then the loss of her father just over a month ago. "My dad's mark was kindness," she said. When she gave his eulogy, friends told her they understand where her kindness comes from.
"You can be profitable and be kind," Henson said, adding that she hopes her dad is proud.
"I started this business and did not have a dollar to my name." And she continues to be there for her children. "I never miss important days. I picked my son up from school to take him to lunch to celebrate his 9th birthday last month. I would never miss that."
Ice Miller, with offices in Lisle, announced an extension to its parental leave policy. Effective Jan. 1, firm attorneys are provided with 16 weeks of paid parental leave. In the past, the package offered 12 weeks of paid leave.
The policy provides a birth parent, adoptive parent or foster care parent with paid time off to care for and bond with a newborn, newly adopted child or newly placed foster child. Regardless of gender, marital status or primary versus non-primary caregiver status, paid parental leave is available to attorneys.
"We extended our parental leave policy as part of our ongoing efforts to support work-life balance for our attorneys," said Judy Okenfuss, an Ice Miller managing partner.
On the move
GRIL, a little place specializing in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, moved from Mundelein to Grayslake.
The owners closed the original store and now operate at 15 Commerce Drive in Center Street Square.
"We have been very busy," said co-owner Susan Patricelli, who operates the eatery with her husband, Paul. "We are proud to be in Grayslake, where we have been residents for 20 years," she said.
The couple launched GRIL a couple of years ago as a home-based catering company. The name is an acronym for Gratitude, Respect, Integrity and Local.
The eatery, open for lunch and dinner, was looking for a more visible location with more seating, prompting the move to Grayslake. "We make about 100 sandwiches a day," Susan Patricelli said, adding that they range in price from $8.95 to $10.95.
The couple's two sons assist in the family business. Son Andrew, 21, is at the establishment full time and Michael, a senior at Grayslake Central High School, works part time.
The company hopes to add additional stores in the future. "We're not doing this to have one cute little store," Paul Patricelli said.