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: 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.