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| 13 minutes read

CMO Series EP54 - Kelly Harbour of Goulston & Storrs on taking the leap to legal CBDO

In the twists and turns of a career in legal marketing & BD, making the jump to CMO or CBDO stands out as possibly the most daunting.

Our guest on this episode of the CMO Series is here to discuss that step up, its challenges and lessons. Ed Lovatt is excited to welcome Kelly Harbour, Chief Business Development Officer at Goulston & Storrs to the series to share her career journey to CBDO and advice for others looking to make the leap.  

Ed and Kelly discuss:

  • Kelly’s current role at Goulston & Storrs and her journey to where she is now
  • What it was like making the move to the role of CBDO
  • How the experience of an internal promotion compares to someone coming into the role from outside the firm
  • What it’s like to step into the shoes of your former CBDO
  • Kelly’s experience in being a parent and managing a promotion during the pandemic and her advice for working parents taking on demanding jobs
  • Advice for aspiring CMOs and CBDOs


Intro: Welcome to the Passle podcast CMO series

Ed: Taking the leap to Chief Business Development Officer in the twists and turns of careers within legal, marketing and BD, making the jump to CMO or CBDO sets out as possibly the most daunting of tasks. Today we have Kelly Harbour, Chief Business Development Officer at Goulston and Storrs, to discuss the journey, its challenges and lessons. Welcome to the CMO Podcast series, Kelly.

Kelly: Pleasure.

Ed: We always like to start the podcast by giving our audience a little bit of context. And so, Kelly, please let's dive straight into your current role at Goulston Storrs and what was your journey to where you are now?

Kelly: Sure. So I'm the Chief Business Development Officer at the firm, and I oversee marketing and communications, business development, client service and growth and practice group management. I've been at the firm for a little over seven years and have been fortunate to move up the chain during that time. Prior to that, I was at an AMLAW 100 firm in both It and business development or client service and growth roles. And it's the same kind of story a little bit further back than that. My career has at times been more of a jungle gym than a straight ladder at different points, and I would encourage people to think of their careers that way.

Ed:  I like the use of jungle gyms. I wasn't expecting that to come into this. If we could dive  into a little bit about what it was like making that move from your previous role even though it's within the same company, but now into the new role of CBDO.

Kelly: Yeah, in some ways it was easy because of my history and relationships at the firm, and in other ways, I didn't realise how much I didn't know. And after being at the firm for seven years and working really closely with the woman who had my role before me, I thought I had quite a bit of visibility into what the job was. And there were still surprises, as it turns out, both in terms of the kinds of things I would be doing and how I would be spending my time. And also I connected with a fellow chief in this wonderful legal industry after I was elevated, and she remarked that the job can be lonely. And I have come to realise over the last few months that that's true. I work at a really wonderful firm. I've been there for seven years, very happy, but everyone has those days and days when I would have said to my former boss, you're not going to believe what just happened, and you can't have that conversation with people that report to you no matter how close you are. It just has a different meaning when you're in the top spot in the department, and I'm very aware of that. It's not something that I wouldn't waste the time of fellow chiefs or certainly the co managing partners, and it's not even that big of a deal. It's just having that outlet is something that I did not expect that I would really miss as much as I do.

Ed:  That's a perfect answer because it's an amazing segue into once I heard you saying that, I thought and we mentioned, I think before this podcast, you mentioned your strong relationship before with your previous CBDO. So how did it feel or what was it like stepping into the shoes when you relied on her previously?

Kelly: It was really intimidating. The woman who held the chief spot before is Beth Cuzzone and she is a legend in this industry for good reason. She was at the firm for more than 20 years. She had an immense impact on it during that period of time and commanded such respect rightfully from the attorneys. And so it was really daunting to step into her shoes. And I remember just thinking about how can I possibly make this role, you know, my own. I wasn't fixing something that was broken so I needed to sort of figure out how to make my mark and to be excited about the future, which I am, without being intimidated or feeling like I needed to be here. It was something I needed to do quickly was figure out what type of achieve I was going to be and the way that I was going to get things done to both sort of honour what had been working in the past and was sort of the school that I was brought up in as well as thinking about what comes next.

Ed: Fairly daunting prospect, I can imagine, although I haven't had to do it myself yet. So I'm going to learn from you if I need to. You already mentioned having already been in the firm for seven years, I think, before this new role. How do you think that promotion from within compares to somebody that would be coming from outside?

Kelly: Well, in many ways you have a running start when you have a history with the firm. So there were people that there are people that trust me. I really understand the brand, I understand the culture and so you have sort of a nice shorthand in that way. When you're joining from a different place, you have to prove yourself, you have to build relationships both within the department that you've been brought in to oversee and among the partners and you have to figure out how to get things done and what makes the firm pick. So in that way, being at the firm for a long time was a bit of a leg up. At the same time, having that history can be challenging when you want to introduce new changes because again, I wasn't fixing something and not fixing something that was broken. So trying to convince people to do things differently when things have been working really well and trying to take things and make them my own is a little bit harder when people have that history and that sort of preconceived notion of who you are and what you do and how you operate. All things considered, I would say it's definitely a leg up. But there is a little bit of a challenge to being incumbent too.

Ed: I'm sure there is, especially as you just said those words, a preconceived notion of maybe what you might be doing or about to do, maybe getting away from that stereotype that they already have of you might be a little bit more difficult. Exactly. Maybe this is a too in depth question, but do you think this role has changed you? And if so, how do you think it is? I suppose there's also a follow up to that, maybe. Is there anything that you wish you knew before you took that step up into that role?

Kelly:  Good question. I don't think I would say that the role has changed me, at least not yet. But it certainly changed some of my relationships within the firm. I mentioned earlier that it is a little bit lonely at the top and the dynamics of both the people that report to you and reporting to the co managing partners is just a very different dynamic and there's a significant weight of having the buck stop with you. And even though, again, I had been working side by side with Beth for a long time and we had a very strong and trusting relationship and talked about a lot of things at the same time, I felt like I was sort of close to the top in that way. But when you are actually at the top, there is just a different weight to being there. And I remember very clearly that we had a situation where one of our core firm systems that the department uses went down and the It contract reached out to me and said, the system is down. And my first thought was, oh my gosh, I got to tell you that. And then I realised, no, actually it's me. I'm the one that needs to know. I need to figure out what we're going to do and how to communicate to the team and workarounds and all of that stuff. It was definitely a transition of realising that now the buck stops with me and just sort of managing that. But in terms of things that I wish I knew, I think that's probably the one thing that has sort of surprised me. Even though it's one rung on the ladder, if you will, it's a pretty big step and it can be intimidating, it can be lonely. It's also wonderful and exciting, but there is just more weight to it than even I anticipated.

Ed: Do you think you have got used to being the backstop or is it still sometimes catches as a bit of a surprise?

Kelly: I think I'm used to it now. So I took on the role about six months ago and I feel like now, over the last couple of months, our fiscal year runs April through March. And so I feel like in some ways, wrapping up the last fiscal year, I felt like I was sort of still frantically trying to figure out things and where I was going and turning over a new leaf of a new fiscal year. I feel like this year I'm really in the driver's seat and I'm controlling what we're prioritising, what we're going to be spending money on in terms of the budget. It really feels like the start of this new sort of tenure.

Ed:  I love the confidence. Sounds like you've got it covered. Now, when we spoke previously, we had a really good conversation, and I realised you managed to take on this big step up into a new, challenging role and also be a mum to a young daughter, which you've done throughout the pandemic. What was that like? How on earth did you do it? Do you have any advice for those working parents that are taking on or considering taking on new roles?

Kelly: The last few years have been a real roller coaster in so many ways. My daughter was just turning three in March. Well, she turned three in May 2020, so she was on the cusp in March 2020 when everybody was sent home and the schools were closed. And it was incredibly difficult for me physically and emotionally, because I had two turning three year olds running amok in the house while I was trying to do my work. And there was so much uncertainty at the firm. It was very much an all hands on deck figuring out what do our clients need? Almost moment to moment and again at the same time, I have this little child who was capable of doing very little on her own. And I had always been someone who led by example. I wanted to be first in and last out of the office. It wasn't so much a badge of honour, but because I didn't want people to think that I was asking them to work hours that I wasn't willing to work or to do things that I wasn't willing to do. And it's a bit of an immature mindset that I now having some distance from it, I can see. But a lot of people who make it into management get there by working really hard and working long hours. And it's hard to undo that sort of muscle memory and that way of thinking that that's one way you demonstrate your commitment and your value. So I felt like I wasn't helping during a crisis at the firm with people who were very concerned personally about their health. And it really bothered me, and I felt like I was failing at everything. When I was with my daughter, I was thinking about the work that wasn't getting done. When I was on a zoom, I was thinking about the fact that my daughter was in front of an iPad or a TV yet again and I felt really stuck. My boss, Beth, had sent everybody on the team, the book, who moved my cheese, and I took it out of the box and I was angry because I had always been if you know, the story is the story about mice and where they get their cheese, which is sort of where they make their living or what have you. And one of the characters is named Sniff and Sniff sort of tries to figure out what is the next big thing, where should I be thinking like, what's around the corner? That's always the way that I've operated. And there are these other mice who basically hunker down in place and wait for the cheese to come to the place where they've been getting it for so long. And I found myself thinking I would give anything to go back to the way things were and I just couldn't see how it would get out of being stuck and how to create a new way of working. It was really sort of a watershed moment for me. I was vulnerable with the team and I shared my reaction and it was very cathartic and it was really entirely self imposed as well. I was putting much more pressure on myself than anybody else was putting on me and it was a major catalyst for growth for me personally, where I was able to say, okay, I've owned how I'm feeling about this and now what do I do? So I decided to really closely examine when I'm online during the business day, what is the highest and best use of my time. And I can make up the difference, send emails or work on documents after my daughter went to bed. So I'm glad to be on the other side of that situation and having found a comfortable new normal. And I carried with me still this notion of what is the highest and best use of my time. Because as you move up the chain, your responsibilities expand and you really have to be thinking about, does this have to be done by me? And what are the alternatives? And just being really choosy about what you bring to your plate just becomes a skill that is increasingly important as you step into further leadership roles.

Ed: I'm glad you've turned that corner and can see maybe the brighter light at the end of the tunnel. It sounds, as I say, a bit of a daunting task taking on that during the pandemic with a young daughter as well, but fantastic that you've got the drive to actually carry on and push through it. We like to give the listener a bit of a good takeaway at the end of every podcast and that is usually what would be your one piece of advice for those aspiring to be a CMO or Chief Business Development Officer and taking on the challenges that you are already taking on.

Kelly: I thought about this a lot, and I had so many ideas of different pieces of advice. And the one that I came back to is that people should think carefully about the place where you do your job just as much as what the job is and what the opportunity is in front of you. We spend a lot of time at work, whether that is physically at home or in the office. And I encourage people to be really selective about the kind of culture at the firm or whatever organisation they happen to be in that they're looking for, because there will be times when you're firing on all cylinders, and it will be wonderful. And there will be times when it happened to me a few years ago with the Pandemic, you're faced with circumstances that will be hard, and maybe it's a work related challenge, maybe it's a personal challenge, but being in a place where you feel both supported and empowered is an incredibly important part of the recipe for success. So I would say make sure that you're at a place where the culture really aligns with your values and the way that you want to be treated, the way that you think that other people in the firm should be treated, because it's hard to achieve and sustain success indefinitely. And so you want to be at a place where you're still happy to be there, even when times are tough.

Ed: Good advice, I think. Kelly, thank you so much for appearing on the podcast with us. I wish you all the best in the new role, although not so new anymore, I suppose, but good luck. I hope everything goes very smoothly, and we'll keep in touch.

Kelly: Thanks so much.


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