Michelle Kydd Lee, Chief Innovation Officer, CAA
From helping refugees on the frontlines in Bosnia to turning the Golden Globes into a show of solidarity for women affected by sexual harassment, Creative Artists Agency partner Michelle Kydd Lee is on a mission to change the world. Kydd Lee is the first woman to be named partner at CAA and she is one of the forces behind the Time’s Up campaign.
Michelle Kydd Lee
Chief Innovation Officer, CAA
Michelle Kydd Lee is one of the women who first declared Time’s Up and helped start the movement.
Michelle Kydd Lee, Chief Innovation Officer, CAA
Why She’s a MAKER: How do you introduce philanthropy into the Hollywood scene? Insert Michelle Kydd Lee. Not only is she the first female partner at the talent powerhouse Creative Artists Agency. Kydd Lee is also one of the founders behind the Time’s Up campaign, which strives to address systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that has kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential. “If someone just gives you the chance, you can show them what you’re capable of, and then you can go change the world.”
Hollywood’s New Act: After spending time on the frontlines of the Bosnia-Croatia conflict providing aid to refugees, Kydd Lee returned to California and created the CAA Foundation, the first philanthropic initiative within a talent agency, in 1995. “At the time, there weren’t companies that were doing this. There was no corporate social responsibility, there was no cause-related marketing, pro-social branding.”
Amplifying the Truth: When former Vice President Al Gore visited the CAA office to give a slideshow on climate change, Kydd Lee made sure there was a filmmaker, producer and financers in the audience. That’s where An Inconvenient Truth began. “We just added rocket fuel to the movement,” she says. Not to mention an Academy Award.
Make Room for the Next Generation: In the face of all the #MeToo stories emerging, Kydd Lee continues to see promise in our future. “This is an amazing time to be a young woman in our country. To be a part of a moment in time where they’re seeing ceilings shatter all around. Our job as the adults right now is to not mess things up. And optimism and hope are actually going to be the things that win the day.”
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: If you just get the chance, if someone just gives you the chance, you can show them what you're capable of. And then you can go change the world.
I was born in rural Maine, a teeny tiny little town in the middle of nowhere Maine. My parents were both teachers. And so my brother and I grew up in a household where service and community were absolutely a part of everything that you did. If something happened to a neighbor, then everybody pitched in, and you were there for each other.
It was a pretty idyllic childhood, but I dreamed of something that was very cosmopolitan and very fast moving. So I got a Volkswagen Jetta, and filled it with my stuff. And I drove across the country.
There's a certain kind of person who does great in the field. And what I realized is that's where I'm not going to do a great job. What I should do is go back home, and get people to care about this issue. As I'm trying to explain to people what is happening on the other side of the planet, I met a guy in a diner. And he said, you really should come work with us at CAA. And I didn't think anything of it.
And then I start getting these phone calls from CAA. Come to find out, he was now the brand new president of CAA, and he was calling to offer me a job to start something new. If the leaders of the company were dedicated to doing something meaningful, then this could actually be one of the great opportunities of my life. And so I jumped, and said, let's just build it.
I literally started on the very first day that the partners took over this new leadership role. The vision that they had was, how do you take somebody with a nonprofit sensibility, put them in the middle of showbiz? And it was sort of like a chemistry experiment. And at the time, there weren't companies that were doing this. There was no corporate social responsibility. There was no cause-related marketing or pro-social branding.
So a lot of it was to have a keen understanding of what was happening in the zeitgeist. For example, climate change was something that we could actually help with. Former Vice President Gore came into our office, and gave a slideshow. And we made sure that there was a filmmaker, and a producer, and potentially some money people in the room. From there becomes "An Inconvenient Truth." We just added rocket fuel to the movement.
When I started, there were 300 people that worked at our company. And now we have over 2,000 people all over the world. What matters here is, how good are your ideas and how much work are you going to put behind it? This is an economic imperative. This is a business directive. We want to be the leader in the business of diversity inclusion. That's a really good market to be in.
I think this is an amazing time to be a young woman in our country, to be a part of a moment in time where they are seeing ceilings shatter all around. And our job as the adults right now is to not mess things up. And that optimism and hope are actually going to be the thing that win the day.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: The woman's movement, when I was growing up, was every single woman I knew. Everybody mowed lawns. Everybody washed cars. Everybody went and cooked, and everybody went and cleaned. And everybody was a part of solutions.
So it's not that women could only be teachers or nurses, although there were plenty of women being teachers and nurses. But you didn't see the difference as being limiting. Your gender did not limit your opportunity. Gender was just another part of who you were.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: My father wanted to make sure that I was a leader and not a follower. I cannot tell you how many times we heard that phrase, be a leader, not a follower. And now as a parent myself, I understand what that's all about, which is, don't follow those bozos. Do your own thing and be your own person. But ultimately it was a great mantra, because it actually defined things really quickly for me, which is, there's two positions. Choose the front. Go. So, I tried to do that.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: You need to be financially independent, because with that independence you actually have your own strength. You have your own voice. People cannot tell you what to do if you pay your own bills and you pay your own way. I knew this as being the truth. And so, the only way that I was going to be financially independent was to work.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: What I was always very clear about my whole life was I knew that I wanted to be a parent. That was something that I wasn't going to live my life and not do. One way or the other, I knew that something that was really important. It's part of, sort of, my fiber of being. And I also knew that I was always going to work. So those two things just had to find room for each other. And it meant that there was going to be a very full life, and I have a really full life.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: Here's what I love about the community that I work in. It's really about, do you have great ideas, and do you have a great work ethic? That's really what matters. It doesn't matter where you went to school. It doesn't matter who your parents are. What matters here is, how good are your ideas, and how much work are you going to put behind it?
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: The best advice I ever got was to be myself and not try to pretend to be anybody else. Because, in the long run, people are going to find out anyway, so just start with who you really are. That was good advice.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: Men have the great privilege of being a part of making history. And making history means seeing women through the light of complete equals. I am surrounded by great friends, and great coworkers, and colleagues who feel the same way. And my great hope is that other women get the same opportunity that I have.
MICHELLE KYDD LEE: I think it's a bit of a trap when we start putting in these ideas about balance. This is a word that never really makes sense to me, because I just picture those gymnasts on that beam and thinking, you're going to fall on one side or the other. I mean, I don't think that's what it is. I think your life is full, and then it gets fuller.