Leary, Kathryn D. 1952—
Kathryn D. Leary 1952—
“Kathryn Leary is building bridges linking black entrepreneurs to overseas markets,” declared Leon E. Wynter in the Wall Street Journal. Dedicated to America’s excellence in international trade and marketing, market strategist Leary is also a certified trade consultant for the State of New York. As president and CEO of The Leary Group Inc., Leary focuses primarily on the Japanese and South African markets in her commitment to increasing America’s readiness for global success. U.S. businesses must understand other cultures so that they will know how to modify their products to gain acceptance by foreign markets. Leary has made a business of providing the type of information American companies need to make these modifications.
Being a market strategist gives Leary the opportunity to do something she loves: engage in the challenge of studying another culture and understand what is going on in that culture’s market. According to Leary, the increasing competitiveness in the marketplace along with changes in other countries’ interest in and allegiance to markets outside of the United States makes intercultural understanding a crucial component of doing business now and into the twenty-first century.
In sharing her understanding with others, Leary is particularly sensitive to women and blacks who may feel at a disadvantage doing business in the United States. In the Wall Street Journal she explains how these disadvantages can be turned to advantages overseas: “One of the biggest challenges Americans face in Japan is the sense of being excluded. For people of color here, that’s the everyday experience, so we have built-in coping mechanisms. For many white male Americans in Japan … it can be an almost paralyzing experience.”
Although Leary has a passion for marketing and advertising today, her initial interest in the business developed through a somewhat serendipitous turn of events. Corporate America’s social awareness was raised by the civil rights movement and the race riots that were hallmarks of the turbulent sixties. “Two people at General Foods Corp. decided they should take a summer position and make it a real marketing job,” explained Leary in Black Enterprise. “They wanted to give it to a female who would otherwise have been conditioned to become a nurse or a teacher.” At the
Born May 31, 1952, in Brooklyn, New York; daughter of Charles J. (deceased) and Mildred (Swiggett) Leary; divorced; children: Diana. Education: Antioch College, B.A., Administration, and B.A., Communication, 1975; Stanford University, M.B.A., 1977.
General Foods, Work Study Program, Marketing, 1970-75; Young & Rubicam Inc., account executive, 1977–79; Batten, Barton, Durstein, Osborne, vice president, 1979–81; Backer Speilvogel Bates Inc., vice president; 1983–84; Ted Bates Advertising Agency, vice president, 1984–87; Jamison & Leary Advertising, CEO, 1987–91; Leary Group Inc., president and CEO, 1991—. National Minority Business Council, managing director, International Trade Program, 1993—. Publisher of Japan Watch and editor of South Africa Watch, monthly newsletters. Board member of Antioch Alumni Association and Stanford Alumni Association.
Awards: Communication Excellence in Black Advertising.
time, Leary was an 18-year-old high school senior in White Plains, New York. Her future plans included a college education that would qualify her to become a teacher.
General Foods chose Leary for the job and gave her the project of analyzing the black consumer market. Her final report compared the buying preferences of blacks and whites. Impressed with her work, General Foods continued a working relationship with Leary throughout her years at Antioch College. While earning her M.B.A. at Stanford University, Leary accepted a job offer from General Foods to do market research. After Stanford, Leary moved into the fast-paced world of advertising with Young & Rubicam Inc. and later with Batten, Barton, Durstein, Osborne (BBDO) and the Ted Bates Advertising Agency. Leary eventually became the second African American vice president at the Bates agency.
In 1987 Leary and partner Charles Jamison Jr. formed Jamison & Leary Advertising as an arm of the Ted Bates Advertising Agency, their employer at the time. Jamison & Leary Advertising was to provide psychosocial data on African Americans which would help the Bates agency determine how cultural differences among blacks were affecting their buying habits. This enterprise seemed to be a natural since the Bates agency already had an Hispanic ad agency functioning in a similar capacity. Jamison & Leary Advertising provided video, television, radio, and print advertising focused on the black market for large clients such as Bacardi, General Foods, PepsiCo, Dow Jones & Co. Inc., and M & M/Mars.
During its peak, Jamison & Leary Advertising was producing approximately $5 million worth of billings and employing 12 full- and part-time people. In their second year, Jamison & Leary Advertising won a Communication Excellence in Black Advertising award. When the Bates agency was purchased by Saatchi and Saatchi, different business priorities were established and the agency made the decision to dissolve the relationship with Jamison and Leary. This along with an economic recession made doing business increasingly difficult. Five years after they began, Jamison & Leary Advertising was dissolved.
Leary then fulfilled a long time dream of being the sole proprietor of her own business by creating The Leary Group Inc., a consulting company. In 1991, Leary flew to Japan on her first business trip to that country. She was apprehensive and certain that she, as a black woman, would encounter trouble in a nation known for its racism. Since the mid-1980s, some Japanese officials had made racially charged comments that had deeply offended many African Americans. One Japanese government official blamed the decline of test scores in American schools on black children; another said that blacks often chose bankruptcy as a way out of their responsibilities. Still another official compared the effects of the increase of prostitution in Japan to that of blacks bringing down the property values of the neighborhoods into which they moved.
These comments revealed that the Japanese image of blacks was one of drug dealers, criminals, or entertainers—images that were extremely distorted. Leary realized that while in Japan she would be facing a high level of unawareness of the black culture. “Their experience is seeing us on CNN with jackets over [our] heads,” she stated in the Oakland Press, referring to the Japanese seeing news clips of blacks arrested by police.
The flight from New York City to Tokyo was crowded and Leary and her then nine-year-old daughter Diana found themselves on a plane occupied predominately by Japanese people. The in-flight movie was Ghost featuring Whoopi Goldberg playing the part of spiritual advisor/scam artist. The image of blacks that Goldberg’s character projected in the movie was exactly the stereotype Leary knew she would have to shatter.
In Essence magazine, Leary noted that as she watched Goldberg’s “crude, loud, conniving and uncouth character [which was] the film’s source of humor” she realized that Hollywood’s portrayal of blacks along with the “images of crime, corruption, welfare dependency and hopelessness regularly presented in American media” were the primary source of knowledge that the global community had of African Americans. Something more than these stereotypical images was needed to portray the true nature of the African American culture. Providing this knowledge became one of Leary’s missions.
Walking through Tokyo Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo, Leary and her daughter were the only black faces in the crowd, and they felt conspicuous but not threatened. Commented Leary in Essence: “I felt the stare[s] held none of the condemnation that usually accompanies racism. It felt like genuine curiosity, and in some cases pure disbelief.” The next day, while walking through an open-air marketplace, several Japanese women wanted to know if daughter Diana’s hair, which was styled in cornrows, hurt. They had never seen such hair before—it looked like weaving to them—and wanted to touch it. “They wanted to know and understand,” explained Leary in Essence. “This, I found, was the heart of the Japanese people, stoicism aside. They were as curious and amazed at the cultural diversity as we were.”
While in Tokyo, Leary attended a meeting of the Japan Afro-American Friendship Association (JAFA). African American members of this organization assured Leary that the Japanese were aware of their lack of knowledge of the black experience in the United States and that they were eager to learn. Leary gave a presentation to the Keidanren, a federation of economic organizations headed by the CEOs of every major Japanese corporation.
The presentation gave Leary the opportunity to educate approximately 150 Japanese executives on the image-shaping power of the media. The talk was well received by the Japanese whose remarks to Leary indicated intelligence, insight, and curiosity about the United States. Leary noted in Essence that the experience was a good one: “I was treated as a scholar and a professional, with great dignity and respect.” Since 1991 Leary has helped over 30 minority-owned companies in the United States make trade connections in Japan.
Early in 1994 Leary became a trade consultant to the South African market, providing services to that country that are similar to the ones she provides to Japan. She has led trade missions to South Africa and has become involved in trilateral trading, which involves assisting a client in the United States who imports goods from South Africa and then markets those goods to Japan.
In 1995 Leary developed a two-day symposium entitled “Women in the Global Business Environment” for the AT&T School of Business in Somerset, New Jersey. The object of the symposium was to teach managers to use all of their human resources, especially women, to their fullest potential. Leary believes that this type of managerial education is essential because the lack of knowledge on the part of managers is holding women back. According to Leary, the real eye-opener for most managers is the fact that women already possess the skills needed for international marketing. Leary has found that all of the characteristics women were criticized for in the 1980s—being soft spoken, being less aggressive, having gentler handshakes—are exactly the skills needed for success in international marketing and trading.
Leary’s commitment to women and minorities goes beyond formal settings such as symposiums and presentations and reaches into the informal network of black business women. In Black Enterprise Donna Brooks Lucas described her experience of being referred to Leary before taking the leap into entrepreneurship: “Although I hadn’t met [Leary] before placing the call, she was extremely candid and helpful…. She sat down with me for about four hours, sharing the intricate details of how she had launched her business—her mistakes, as well as her successes. What she gave me was invaluable. Vicariously, I learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship.”
Leary also spends her time with the National Minority Business Council in the role of managing director of the international trade program. The National Minority Business Council is a non-profit corporation dedicated to enhancing the success and profitability of the small business community by providing high-quality services, programs, advocacy, and networking support. Leary focuses her attention on three types of businesses: small, women-owned, and minority-owned. She believes that not a lot of information about international marketing is getting to these businesses even though these types of businesses have the adaptability needed for international marketing. Since these types of businesses also account for 85 percent of the jobs in the United States, it is crucial that they become involved in international marketing on some level.
As part of her commitment to getting this information to the businesses that need it, Leary publishes Japan Watch, a monthly newsletter that tracks opportunities in Japan and the Pacific Rim. The newsletter reaches approximately 1,000 executives and educators, most of whom are African American. For the National Minority Business Council, she edits South Africa Watch, a similar newsletter. She also writes a column for OCS News, a Japanese language newspaper that is published in New York. In this column, Leary helps to bridge the Asian/African American information gap by explaining black relationships, family structures, and values.
The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) sponsors seminars and trips for business people worldwide as a way of increasing trade with Japan. In conjunction with this organization, Leary has helped persons such as Clarence O. Smith, president of Essence Communications, which publishes Essence magazine, understand that Japan is not the racist and inhospitable society that many African American believe it is. When Smith visited Japan on a JETRO-sponsored business trip, he had the opportunity to visit some of Essence’s Japanese advertisers. While in Japan, he formed relationships that had the potential to lead to an increase in business.
In the Oakland Press Smith noted: “[Leary is] something of a visionary. The attitude of the African American community was clearly hostile considering recent history. She has been ahead of the curve on this.” In the same source, a spokesperson for JETRO’s New York office commended Leary for her efforts “to try to build a bridge between the two communities” through direct communication and an understanding of Japanese business and business people: “African Americans must move beyond anger to the business reality,” Leary stated in Black Enterprise. “If they succeed in the Japanese marketplace, it is the gateway to globalization.”
Black Enterprise, May 1988, p. 78; June 1994, pp. 212, p. 236; October 1994, p. 126.
Essence, January 1990, p. 36; October 1991, p. 76.
Oakland Press (Michigan), May 16, 1993, p. E2.
Wall Street Journal, July 5, 1995, Bl.
—Debra G. Harroun
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