How I Got Here: Hotwire’s Heather Kernahan on mastering underrated leadership skills

Heather Kernahan shares the standout moment in her career.

Heather Kernahan serves as the Global CEO of Hotwire, a leading global technology communications and marketing consultancy, collaborating closely with some of the most prominent tech companies globally. 

At Hotwire, she spearheads the Ignite Possibility Program, allocating up to $1 million USD in pro bono brand marketing and public relations services to tech and tech-enabled organizations supporting underserved communities. Additionally, Kernahan actively participates as an LP with Portfolia and How Women Invest, focusing on investments in women-driven tech companies.

With a background spanning over 25 years in the tech industry, Kernahan has leveraged her insights to craft the UNSTUCK model, a central framework in her book, “UNSTUCKABLE,” offering guidance for avoiding business stagnation. Kernahan is scheduled to speak about her book at SXSW on March 10. 

According to Kernahan, the opportune moment for thinking big, taking bold actions, and persevering is always now.

My first comms profession was:

Twenty-five years ago, I started in the tech industry by accident. I was working as an alumni coordinator at a university when I stumbled onto a job description for a marketing and communications coordinator at a web development company called Caught in the Web. There was a lot of excitement about the Internet, how it was developing and the possibilities, so I went for the job, moving thousands of miles away from home to take the role. After a year, I knew I would be in tech for life. Every day was different and there was so much energy and excitement because we were part of a community building the new and next tech innovations.

The moment I’m proudest of in my entire career is when I:

I feel proudest when I’m able to connect with others and motivate them to tap into their greatest potential whatever that may be.

My mother consistently instilled in me the belief that I could pursue any aspiration and I still hear her in my mind each day saying, “Heather, you can do anything you set your mind to, you’re a strong, capable woman!” Recognizing that not everyone receives such encouragement, one of my goals at Hotwire is for our team to feel that anything is possible for them. If they have a clear goal, we can help get them there.

The thing I’m most excited about for the future of my profession is:

One of the things I’m most excited about for the future of my profession is the opportunity to welcome more diverse voices and talent into the communications and marketing industry.

One way we’ve done that at Hotwire is by launching Into Tech, a free, on-demand skill-building course for marketing and communications professionals who may want to work in the tech sector.  Into Tech is about breaking down the perceived barriers to working in tech so we can broaden and diversify tech marketing and communications. We don’t just need more talent, we need a more diverse workforce that brings in a diversity of thinking, approaches and ideas. 

One thing that worries me about the future of my profession is:

The state of mental health in all generations is one thing that worries me. The Center for Workplace Mental Health studies mental health at work and since Covid, rates of anxiety and depression have increased substantially. There is increased involvement from governments around the world on the topic with Australia recently passing the Right to Disconnect bill and similar laws already in France, Spain and other countries in the EU.

The openness to talk about mental health is improving in our industry and benefit changes are providing more support for everyone to get the help they need. Leaders can continue to keep the topic on their agenda as we move through this time of change for how business and people work together.

A tool or a piece of software I cannot live without is:

Broadly, I cannot live without social media platforms, and I use many of them for different reasons. Discord, LinkedIn, Meta, Instagram, Threads and yes, X is still in use as a place for news.

The most underrated skill in my profession is:

The leadership practice of staying loose is not valued enough. This entails consciously managing stress and tension, allowing oneself to remain agile and open-minded even in the face of adversity. This skill is not just about remaining physically relaxed but also about cultivating mental resilience and emotional balance. Leaders who have this skill inspire confidence and trust in their teams, building a culture of resilience and adaptability. They demonstrate that maintaining composure and flexibility in challenging situations is not only possible but also essential for success.

Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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