“Even as a preschool kid, I remember wanting to watch the evening news instead of the cartoons. I wanted to be just like those news anchors. I loved the fact that these people were fantastic communicators and that they also helped society,” she said.
This long-held understanding of the importance of communication has driven her to perfect her speaking, writing, and performance skills throughout her life. After entering her first speaking contest as a sixth grader, she went on to win the national competition on her very first entry. She continued to participate in speaking contests throughout her years in junior high and high school, ultimately financing her college education through the prizes she amassed as a champion speaker.
Kunkel chose to attend the University of Wisconsin, where she participated heavily in anything that involved on-campus or commercial local radio stations. Her many roles included anchor for the campus evening newscast, host of an Easter Seals Telethon, and disc jockey for the local station in the evening and on weekends. All of this experience led Kunkel to realize that her “purpose in life wasn’t to deliver the news, per se, but to identify the type of ‘news’ I was meant to deliver so that I could serve people.”
Eventually, Kunkel became a professional speaker and writer and created her own television show for entrepreneurs.
“I can use my communications skills-and my 14 years of experience as an entrepreneur myself-to help budding entrepreneurs achieve high levels of success,” she said.
But along the way she had many jobs, including her first job out of college as a television news anchor in Columbia, Missouri. She continued to rise up the “news” ladder and found work as an anchor, reporter, and producer in ever larger markets.
The news life, however, can be unforgiving, and realizing that she no longer felt fulfilled by her career and was tired of moving every year or two, Kunkel set out to create a new course for herself. Her first post-news job was as the marketing director for a national healthcare chain. She left after two years in this post because of the stifling corporate environment.
“I also longed to do something that more directly helped people and to use my speaking skills on a much more regular basis,” she confessed.
|Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Bike 15 miles per day, four days per week (weather permitting). Being out in the fresh air and getting some good exercise energizes me. I also enjoy "game night" with friends about once per month.
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. My musical tastes run all over the board, from Beethoven to Bon Jovi. Right now on my iPod I have albums from the rock group Chicago, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, [and] Bon Jovi and the soundtracks from Jekyll and Hyde and Bklyn the Musical.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. Social Anthropology. The best way to keep up on the most effect means of persuasion is to understand cultural and social anthropology.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. Donny Deutsch's The Big Idea.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. Mark Burnett. I love that he came from nothing, had no experience and no advanced education, and built a mega-million-dollar television production empire doing televised social and cultural experiments that demonstrate self-actualization through challenge. While I'm not a fan of some of his shows (like Survivor and The Contender), I respect and admire his business acumen, creativity, and the spotlight he shines on self-actualization in many of his programs. And some of his other shows I think are simply amazing: The Apprentice, The Restaurant, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, and his upcoming 2008 show, Independent, where no-name candidates compete for $1 million to finance a presidential bid.
Q. What makes you laugh?
A. It doesn't take much to make me laugh, but physical comedy does it the most. It tickles my funny bone much more than a funny story, a punch line, or a good joke. Even as a little kid, I thought funny actions were much funnier than funny stories or funny lines. I also laugh at the humor in everyday situations.
She applied for a job as an outplacement counselor with the nation’s best-known outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, and spent the following year traveling across the country to assist the unemployed and laid off with one-on-one coaching and training. She showed them the “right” way to interview and the best way to present themselves when job searching.
At this point, Kunkel realized that what she really wanted to do was start her own seminar and consulting business. She quit her job and became a freelance professional speaker, contracting with many public seminar companies that conduct training seminars all around the world.
“I did about 10 of those sessions a month, so that left a lot of time open for me to begin to market and develop my own consulting services,” she said. “Eventually I got enough clients that I was able to stop contracting for the seminar companies.”
In spite of all her past experience and successes, Kunkel said that her most notable career accomplishment thus far is what she is doing right now-and she is doing a lot: she recently landed a New York City publisher (AMACOM) for her upcoming 2008 book, The Velcro Effect: How to Master Mass Appeal, she is rolling out a new line of compact discs and teleseminars for entrepreneurs that aim to give them the tools to double their business in six months as well as new techniques to be applied in sales presentations and speeches, and she has landed major sponsorship for a TV business reality show of which she will be both producer and host! She has also been asked to be a judge on an existing business reality show. Needless to say, the momentum and excitement in Kunkel’s career are unstoppable right now.
Among the important lessons she has learned over the years, Kunkel said, the most important is “Don’t chase the money!” Her initial financial success in her seminar business, where she spoke about “hot topics” that brought high profit potential, left her with a “boatload of money” and a boatload of something else: misery.
“I hated the topic [call center customer service training], I hated the types of companies I worked for (often ‘in-the-box’ thinkers), and I hated having to train people who didn’t want to be in the training (they were there only because their boss told them they had to be), who (most call center agents but not all) had very negative attitudes about life in general, and who had no aspirations and no ambitions beyond collecting their weekly paycheck,” she said. “It literally sucked the life out of me!”
Eventually the stress of working a job she didn’t like and for an industry she didn’t believe in mounted to the point that she chose to take a year off from working in order to reevaluate her priorities and options. In that critical time, she discovered that there were two types of people with whom she really enjoyed collaborating: top-level CEOs and budding entrepreneurs.
“I love the enthusiasm, energy, spirit, and dedication of the entrepreneur. Those folks are my kind of people!” she enthusiastically proclaimed.
Kunkel began offering one-on-one consulting sessions and seminars for CEOs and entrepreneurs. To her delight, she found that her business was pretty much taking care of itself.
“I had more than enough customers coming in, and I didn’t have to do so much ‘push’ marketing as I had with the call center training,” she said. “Finally I felt as if all of the things I loved-speaking, writing, working with entrepreneurs, and making a difference-had come together.”
Mentors for Kunkel were, regrettably, few in her formative years as a businesswoman.
“As a woman trying to start her own business over a decade ago, I didn’t find a whole lot of people willing to support me. It’s unfortunate, but I think that because there is so much competition out there, many folks feel threatened by anyone whom they perceive as possible competition,” she lamented.
Still, she found inspiration in books, with the best piece of advice coming from the late John Johnson’s autobiography, Don’t Get Angry, Get Smart. Johnson was the founder of both Ebony and Jet magazines. From Johnson’s book she learned that when faced with a challenge-be it discrimination, rejection, or any other unfairness-the best thing to do is to go immediately into problem-solving mode rather than slipping into anger and desperation.
Kunkel offered the following anecdote:
“I used this piece of advice 14 years ago when I first started out. Most of the people I was trying to sell to were powerful and prominent men running companies in the Midwest. I couldn’t even get an appointment with them because they didn’t take a woman seriously. Now, I could have gotten angry and upset and stomped my foot about how unfair that was. But where would that have gotten me? It probably would have made me a candidate for Prozac! So instead, I thought, ‘Don’t get angry; get smart.’ ‘Getting smart’ in that instance meant having a sales representative whom my potential middle-aged, conservative, male clients could identify with.”
“After interviewing many sales candidates, I hired the most experienced and qualified candidate who applied: a 54-year-old, gray-haired man who had 20 years’ experience as a manufacturer’s rep. He instantly got through the ‘good old boys’ door and made the sales. It was pretty ironic that these companies would accept a woman as a ‘trainer’ (equivalent to ‘teacher,’ which was an ‘acceptable’ role for a woman at that time) but not as a business owner. Boy, did their jaws drop when I showed up for the training day and gave them my card-complete with my title as ‘CEO’! Some even stammered, ‘I thought George was the owner of the company.’ When I asked why, they said they had ‘just assumed it.’ Fortunately, the attitude toward women business owners has improved dramatically over the past 15 years. But I still rely daily on the advice ‘Don’t get angry; get smart.’ That advice has helped me overcome many barriers over the years.”
As someone who has overcome tremendous odds to achieve astonishing success, Kunkel believes firmly in the power of failure as a teacher.
“Focus more on your failures than on your successes,” she said. “Anyone who has achieved any level of success has also had some pretty massive failures. I’ve learned far more from my failures than from my successes. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and above all, figure out what it is that you love to do…and then do it.”