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People of Stanford Research Park: Laura Kenney

by SRP on October 5, 2023
Get to Know: Laura Kenney: Connecting the Dots from Customer Service to Value Creation

Customer Success Lead, StartX

When Laura Kenney was a high school student in Atlanta, the self-described introvert had a job at JoAnn Fabrics, where she cut fabric for customers. She developed a kind of trick to help her push past her shyness—she would throw in a “y’all” here and there, a word she didn’t otherwise often use. She discovered it helped her settle into the sense of friendliness and hospitality she found so commonplace across Atlanta. In time, she found she’d gained the confidence to welcome customers, engage with ease, listen closely, and provide them with a positive experience.

After that high school job, Laura volunteered as a dog walker and at a bike repair shop in college, and then she worked as a flight attendant, farm apprentice, and a store manager since college. Today, she works at StartX, a mission-based accelerator located in Stanford Research Park. Laura loves to explore and try new things, and she has honored this desire throughout her career. As Steve Jobs famously said right here at Stanford, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” A unifying theme of Laura’s career has become clear to her—a love of customer service, born of the warmth she saw in Georgia as a kid.

Another clear thread in Laura’s career is her motivation to create value in the world. She enjoyed being a flight attendant, a role that allowed her to showcase the best of her customer service skills. Yet she hungered to marry service with her value orientation. In February 2020 (seriously fortuitous timing!), she left the airline industry to work as a farm apprentice in rural Georgia. Against the backdrop of the nature she so loves, she was able to help feed the local population as she simultaneously promoted sustainability.

When her partner accepted a post-doctoral opportunity in California, the two moved West. Laura sought a role that would also be at the gratifying intersection of service and value-creation—but this time, she hoped, at a greater scale. StartX, a non-profit accelerator that takes no equity stake in its partner companies, shaped up to be a perfect fit. As point-of-contact for corporate partners, Laura is able to put her stellar customer service skills to work daily as she simultaneously supports partners’ success. The icing on the cake? StartX only accepts companies seeking to make a meaningful difference in an area that matters—an ethos that aligns with Laura’s personal values.

We’re excited for you to get to know Laura Kenney, yet another person who makes Stanford Research Park a unique and special place.

Laura stopping to take in the view while hiking Mount St. John in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.
What is a risk you took that paid off?

Quitting my job as a flight attendant after two years to work at the farm in rural Georgia was a big risk. At the time, the job presented no clear path forward for me. In college and after, I had been learning about sustainable agriculture, and I just knew it was something I was passionate about.

It turns out, the job paid me back in many ways. I learned so much about food systems, soil biology, and agriculture in general. I also learned so much about my own values and how I want to live my life; the experience reaffirmed how important it is to me that any jobs I have align with my values. It also got me out of the airline industry right before the pandemic shut everything down and into a job out in the fresh air, connected to nature.

My mentor helped me remember that what matters is how we treat people. And while we can’t control how others treat us, we can grow curious as to why they behave the way they do and show patience and grace.

Luara Kenney, Customer Success Lead, StartX

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Some of the best advice I've received was from one of my mentors at a previous job. My boss was challenging, and I wasn’t always sure how to handle it. My mentor helped me remember that what matters is how we treat people. And while we can’t control how others treat us, we can grow curious as to why they behave the way they do and show patience and grace.

This helped me take ownership of my own actions and reactions, which I could control. I had been feeling really powerless, but I discovered that I could regain a sense of power by always striving to set a good example for others, even those a station or more above me. I could exercise my power by making better decisions and trying to be considerate, no matter what.

What is your favorite day-off activity?

I love hiking. The hiking options in the Bay Area are one of my favorite aspects of living here. There are so many beautiful mountains within an hour or less from where I live. I'm the type who loves to start in one place and follow whichever trails look the most interesting, without a concern for time. I’m just so happy to get out in nature. You never know what you're going to find, except you know you’ll get to soak up some peace and quiet in gorgeous California.

What are you absolutely determined to do?

There are two things that I know I want to do in my life, in due time. One is to start my own business. Being around all these amazing founders at StartX has highlighted for me the benefits of turning your passion into a company. I don’t yet know exactly what business I will start, but I know I will work toward it eventually.

The second is homesteading, which is trying to be as self-sufficient as possible from the land you own. I would love to be able to grow my own food and just be a little bit more connected to the land. Improving climate resiliency through good stewardship of land is also really important to me. I would love to do both of these things, if even on the small scale of my own home and land.

What city do you consider your hometown?

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and my parents are still there. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, I didn’t appreciate where I was. After leaving my airline job and moving back to Georgia to work on the farm, I felt like I got to know the state and its people and culture really for the first time.

It's such a cliche, but when I moved back to Georgia, experiencing the friendliness and warmth of people was so amazing. The people in the South are ambitious, of course, but they also value community and family and make a bit more time for both. I don’t know that I will move back to Georgia, but I can take its warmth with me wherever I go.


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