Doug Fleener's

The Day Makes the Year


From Receptionist to Outstanding Leader

Jul 14, 2023

In 1982, Karen Kaplan beat out forty other candidates to be hired as a receptionist at the advertising agency Hill Holliday. Through the years, she rose through the company to become chair and CEO of the 350-person firm. The agency's best-known work is "America Runs on Dunkin." 

After four decades at the firm, Karen is retiring. I share her story for two reasons. 

First, her rise from receptionist to CEO shows the power of investing in people's development. Ms. Kaplan credits her success to the fact that the company's founder believed in her from the start. 

Too often, leaders focus their time and energy on the rising star. Karen's path shows that you never know who will be the brightest star. Regardless of position or age, every employee deserves as much development as the next person. 

My other reason for sharing this story is what the person who is taking over the CEO position said. 

"Karen has been a great mentor, boss, friend and confidant and, as we look ahead, I believe there's no better tribute to her than to live by her example. Being the kind of hungry, humble human that sees opportunity everywhere, works hard and smart with the kind of determination it took for Karen to start at the reception desk and earn her way to the corner office."

What incredible leadership attributes:



Sees opportunity everywhere

Works hard



It sounds like a great roadmap to be a leader in The Day.