Kelly Gay is the chair of OnBoard and immediate past chair of Venture Atlanta. She also serves on the boards of 1105 Media, the Atlanta CEO Council, ATDC, and Acivilate.
Kelly has led companies ranging from billion dollar organizations to startups. As CEO, she has led both private and public companies, all of which resulted in successful exit transactions for shareholders and employees.
Kelly is the former head of Vertical Markets for Sierra Wireless (NASDAQ: SWIR), as well as co-CEO and COO of Numerex Corp (NASDAQ: NMRX), which was acquired by Sierra Wireless in 2017. She joined Numerex with the acquisition of Omnilink Systems, where she was president and CEO.
Prior to leading Omnilink, Kelly was chair, CEO, and president of KnowledgeStorm, and led the company from startup to acquisition by TechTarget (NASDAQ: TTGT). She also led IBM in the media, entertainment, advertising, sports, music, publishing, broadcast, and cable markets as vice president of IBM’s North American Media and Entertainment division. Under her leadership, this division grew to $1.2 billion in annual sales, with 18% annual growth over a three-year period.
Kelly’s management and accomplishments have been recognized by industry-leading publications and organizations, including The Indus Entrepreneurs’ inaugural Atlanta Top Entrepreneur, IoT Now’s first Top Women of IoT, Connected World’s inaugural Top Women of M2M, and Pathbuilders’ first Inspiria Award. The companies Kelly led were recognized with Inc.’s Inc. 500, the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, BtoB’s Media Power 50, and Software Magazine’s Software 500.
Kelly serves on the boards of directors of OnBoard, where she is the chair; Venture Atlanta, where she is the past chair; 1105 Media, where she is the lead digital marketing director; Acivilate, and the Atlanta CEO Council. She also serves on the governing board of the Advanced Technology Development Center, named by Forbes as one of the Incubators Changing the World.
Kelly is a magna cum laude graduate of Tulane University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She was the first Newcomb College recipient in the school’s history to receive the Murphy Prize in Political Economy, awarded by the Murphy Institute.
Connect with Kelly on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The transformation of Atlanta’s tech community
- Advice to up and coming female technology leaders
- Perspective on where the future of Atlanta’s tech ecosystem is headed
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio brought to you by on pay built in Atlanta. OnPay is the top rated payroll and HR software anywhere. Get one month free at Onpay. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one, but before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor on pay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories today on the Atlanta Business Radio. We have Kelly Gay, who is the first female that was awarded the John Imlay Leadership Award. Congratulations and welcome, Kelly.
Kelly Gay: [00:00:55] Thank you, Lee. Thank you so much.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:57] Now, before we get to 400 things, can you let our listeners know a little bit about your career? It spans a year or two and then the history of Atlanta, the technology scene. But you have such an interesting background. Can you share a little bit of the highlights?
Kelly Gay: [00:01:13] Yes, absolutely. So highlights I. Hi, my Atlanta and my non Atlanta, a portion of my career, my non Atlanta portion of my career, essentially this of IBM starting as a marketing rep or sales rep at IBM and partying after 19 years with IBM from Atlanta. Actually, by then, we’ve been moved back to Atlanta or to Atlanta, departing as the vice president of media and entertainment for IBM. And that meant serving the industries that made up media and made up entertainment, not not dealing with the media in in terms of marketing. So always using all these customer facing love that. And in Atlanta, I have run two venture backed companies and sold both of those two public companies. One was knowledge, storm one was Omni Lane, and then I was asked to sell the public company to another public company, which was Sierra Wireless out of Canada. And that has all occurred. While I’ve lived in Atlanta, I would say the most significant part of my Atlanta. Her tenure, though, has been the joy and the involvement I had had in this Atlanta technology community. Lee, as you know, I’ve been very involved in the Technology Association of Georgia over the years then to Atlanta, where, well, I was the chairman of the tag. I was chairman of Venture Atlanta involved in on board, which is an organization focused on women moving women forward in both their leadership opportunities as well as helping them get on board. And then Techbridge and early days with Sidetrack and Atlanta CEO Council and HTC, et cetera, et cetera. Just those are the kind of things that this technology community affords all of us and I have taken full advantage of it.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:15] Now, how have you seen the community evolve over the years? I know women in technology. We’ve been involved with that group for a long time and that was the, you know, born because of the lack of women in technology, and they needed a place to kind of hang out together and help each other. How have you seen kind of females fare in technology over the years?
Kelly Gay: [00:03:38] Great. If you don’t mind, I’ll start with technology overall in the Atlanta community and then add to it with the what I’ve seen for women because it all a continuum. When I first became involved in the Atlanta technology community with the 1999 2000 kind of time period, the fabulous entrepreneurs are fabulous companies. You know, that was the heyday of of DSL and internet security systems coming of age and certainly MSA and, you know, early successes, lots of fabulous entrepreneurs and executives. But it wasn’t all bundled up, shall we say, as a community that relied upon each other and built off of each other’s successes over time. It was a little more wild, Westy, just because that’s where we were at that time in terms of the development of the technology community in Atlanta. What I see now is a clear understanding by the leadership and the base technology base of people who work in this industry in Atlanta, a clear understanding. We are all pulling each other up every penny, the rest of the companies of every venture firm that has a great exit or invest in a unicorn or lead the unicorn. The rest of the venture community by virtue of the airtime that it creates for the city and and that investing community overall startup community, we are second only to New York. So I guess we’re third and San Francisco, but we’re in terms of raw volume of startups.
Kelly Gay: [00:05:33] It’s pretty funny that we’re in when you’re when you’re being mentioned and have that kind of success in the startup community and then we have a whole set of organizations and community, well, community organizations that support that community, the sort of community and those entrepreneurs. And what I see is it’s all we’re all working together to create this phenomenal technology community that Atlanta has, which then leads to women. We have got so many, just so many talented, capable women leaders, women executives, women CEOs, women engineers. You can go on and on in the city. And I think the technology community, the business community overall and our industry here in town have all rallied around. This needs to be a moment to start recognizing. And I don’t mean with awards, I mean, recognizing the talent and the contributions that not only women, but all underrepresented communities in this in Atlanta can contribute to our growth and our success and on the brand of Atlanta community technology community. And I’ve said a number of times if we can’t in Atlanta, take advantage of the fantastic, underrepresented, very diverse, very broad technology community that we have here in Atlanta. What city can? And I, you see it all coming together and and that does include women.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:10] Only now do you think that something that kind of leans in our favor here in Atlanta and I think Atlanta is unique compared to the other cities you mentioned that are kind of these startup communities in that Atlanta has such a diverse economy and there is there’s multiple industries that touch technology and it’s primarily be to be like there’s not a lot of B2C companies in technology that are the household names, but there’s a lot of B2B companies that are kind of running maybe those B2C companies or they’re or they’re the kind of the background of those B2C companies. But the fact that it’s B2B may be kind of a little more anonymous and not kind of front page news that allows leaders to kind of jump maybe from one company to another a little easier here in Atlanta than maybe in these other areas.
Kelly Gay: [00:08:04] Yeah, I think there’s there are both good and bad to what you just said in terms and you know, somebody who’s on the other side of the equation as you just outlined it, there’s good and bad on that side, too. I actually don’t think that this Atlantic technology community in general, I don’t think I don’t think we took jobs like in general, like you see happen in San Francisco. I do think there is a higher level of, you know, loyalty will use that word or commitment to what you’re doing. And part of it is we’re not as big as San Francisco or the New York communities because we’re not as big a city in terms of technology and the respect of community matters and your reputation matters and people are aware of that. Additionally, we have a pretty youthful community here, which is a great strength of ours, just a fabulous strength of ours. And many of them are joining smaller entrepreneurial companies where they can make a real difference. And then you’re very invested in the difference that you make and and you become a critical, critical part of the growth of a company. And people aren’t going to switch jobs when when that’s your situation.
Kelly Gay: [00:09:19] So those are the good things related to the B2B and the size and scope of what we have. You are right. We are more the things that make it all work. There’s nothing wrong with being the things that make it all work, like being so, so big in the city with us being the number one financial payment processing clearinghouse, Atlanta being the number one Georgia, really because there are some outside of Georgia. So outside of Atlanta, the number one payment processing, clearing technology stations, shall we call it, in the world? That’s not glamorous, that’s not A. But it generates billions and billions of dollars of revenue, some of which much of which gets infused back into the Atlanta community. So I do think there are some things. No, we don’t have the big big retail names or the big consumer names that do your brand. So that’s a little harder to come by when you don’t have it. But. But you know, to me, the B2B element with Atlanta, overall, we’re very functional city. We’re a very practical city. We are. Pragmatic in our approach, we’re not showing General as a city. It all comes together to me.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:37] Yeah, and I had a funny thing happen to me. I was doing broadcast from Fintech South a few years ago and that was a global conference and people were coming from all over the world to come to Atlanta. And I would ask some of these people who were when they were leaving their country and they were saying, Hey, I’m coming to America for this big global fintech conference. And and I said, when you told them you were going to Atlanta, did they know like what was their take on that? Because I’m sure their assumption was, Oh, this has to be in New York or in Silicon Valley or in Boston. But Atlanta, you know, for people who don’t know, like you said, this were the world where all the action is in that space. But it’s not just common knowledge and and it’s frustrating. I remember at the time when you were beginning, you know, Atlanta always had kind of a chip on the shoulder that, hey, why aren’t we getting any of this attention? There’s a lot of great things happening here. And it’s like you said, when we’re the people that are running kind of the companies that are making headlines, it’s frustrating that we’re not getting our due. But I think. But just by doing the, you know, grinding and doing the blocking and the tackling of the work that it is starting to come, you know, everything is kind of leaning our way nowadays. So many people are exiting and staying here and doing more to help the community grow. It’s really kind of a golden age, I think, for for the city when it comes to technology.
Kelly Gay: [00:12:04] I completely agree with you and on a point you said about people growing and being successful and staying with the city. We’re so fortunate that we have people willing to do that. That is how San Francisco became. San Francisco is in terms of technology, is this wealth of knowledge and capability and expertize that you need there and grew the next thing and next thing. So we’re very lucky on that. It is frustrating. At one level, we we have to beat the drum seven times more loudly. To do that, we are worth the city. That’s bad in terms of the contribution we’re making certain industries. Technology is one, but communications is another. Iot is another distribution, technology, transportation. I mean, there are a lot of great hub for that’s bad. Good of it, however, is that we don’t have a hyper. We don’t have a tulip bulb bubble occurring because everything is here in Atlanta. It’s more rational. It’s more pragmatic. If at a time, a company at a time, a person at a time. And so it just generates a better result in terms of our growth.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:21] Yeah. Like our foundation is strong and it’s diverse so that it can withstand, you know, a downturn in any one given market where we have enough infrastructure here that’s going to support us.
Kelly Gay: [00:13:37] Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And our infrastructure, you know, we’re a we’re a backbone to so many of the things that travel on the internet was quietly, just quietly in the background being this this, you know, infrastructure city that makes the internet work makes companies make payments work. You know, I don’t know that we mind being this quiet. You know, megatropolis in terms of technology and that contribution, because we wouldn’t attract the companies, we have been able to protect this city, all we were doing was yelling right here.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:20] Well, and you’re seeing the ripples go beyond Atlanta in terms of the southeast now in Nashville and Birmingham, Chattanooga. There’s other kind of areas sprouting in technology. And, you know, we might have been the catalyst to get it going or at least kind of have people looking in this area of the country, at least. But you’re seeing some of the ripples, you know, appear throughout the southeast.
Kelly Gay: [00:14:48] You’re right about that. And while not every city recognizes that Atlanta is a bit of a hub, not with not the we’re the only ones in the southeast. There’s one or two, shall we say, in Florida. And then burgeoning burgeoning success in Nashville and Charlotte and that kind of thing. But if you look at, for instance, just center Atlanta, we had over 400 applications from 16 states to come to Atlanta, and any venture conference in the southeast will tell you that venture. Atlanta has figured out the formula to to showcase. Hard southeastern companies, certainly Atlanta based companies, both early states and more world stage companies, over 60 percent of the presenting companies on stage at Venture Atlanta, of which there were almost 100 presenting companies ninety one overall. But of that, 91 over 60 percent were from 12 different southeastern states, with a little bit over to the West as well. And get this late fifty nine percent of the of the companies that ultimately presented were led by underrepresented founders back to where we started with both women and diverse populations. And we in Atlanta can can attract that and showcase it. Yeah, very unique among the southeast
Lee Kantor: [00:16:13] And not only unique, it’s important because there’s a lot of folks out there that fall under that category that deserve a chance to be seen and heard.
Kelly Gay: [00:16:23] You’re completely right. I wish I’d been here to the punch on that critically important. And beyond the critically important. You see, Atlanta has always had such great corporate leadership outside of technology as well in terms of being good citizens, being proper shepherds of the human race. And you see companies overall, yes, many in technology, but many not in technology and in many consumer brands, for instance, looking at each other and saying, you know, we’ve an obligation and an opportunity better for a company and our community by lifting up this population of diverse, talented people that we represent. You see it happening all over the city. And technology is just one of the places that has been smart enough to take advantage of the great base of both leadership and a base of employees from every walk of life.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:27] Now, if you look into your crystal ball, what are you seeing coming into 2022 and then beyond as we hopefully get out of this pandemic? And then we go back to some sense of normalcy, even if that normalcy is just dealing with these kind of an endemic at this point?
Kelly Gay: [00:17:45] Right, right? You know? I think we all would like to believe there will be a moment it’s over. I think we all would like that. We’re desperate for that. I don’t I do think we’re headed towards an endemic, but I don’t think it’s fun and it will. You know, the flu is an endemic olarinde and endemic. There’s a set of things you can just not wipe out. The flu is a great example, but we manage it and we manage it fine. I think technology stands at a wonderful place in terms of being able to deal with whatever comes our way because people can work remotely. We have the technology to work remotely. We are all about providing populations with the ability to do your job with with great tools from wherever you are. That’s the great strength of technology, much of the work. Yeah, it’s much work technology companies being able to do that work from wherever you are and, you know, so many collaborative tools and and the ability for those teams to work collaboratively. I think that we will. No, I’m not worried about technology industry in the population of industries that Atlanta and its very diverse set of industries represents will be fine as an industry. I think that our big industries, let’s just use fintech and payment processing as an example. I think those will continue to thrive because there is no question that scale drives scale.
Kelly Gay: [00:19:25] And I hope it continues at a rate that can be consumed properly by the city, by the employment base, by the number of companies that are created so that we don’t create, you know, the equivalent of a Dutch tulip bubble and some trouble. I don’t think it will. We’re just too practical a city and too diverse for us to lean all in on one thing and create a problem for ourselves. So I do I. We’ll continue to drive scale. I think that the our diverse population. Is it down? And I think there are many technology companies realizing it’s a gem and there as a group that is a gem of humankind, that other companies in other cities would love to be able to replicate where they are, but they can’t. And so you see a fair number of companies. Yes, many of them are smaller. Moving to Atlanta and Georgia, but certainly the Atlanta metropolitan area to be able to capitalize on the opportunity of. Having a diverse workforce, which, you know, has so many benefits, it has so many benefits to your current employees, you know, who want to live in that kind of a world. And so I do think that we’ll see companies continue to to move to Atlanta to participate in this in this fabulous environment that we have.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:06] Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s a true melting pot, and I’ve been fortunate to do some of the radio for ATC and Georgia State University’s Entrepreneurship Institute and to see those the startups that come out of each one of those are totally different, even though there are just a few blocks apart, you know, from there just down the road from each other. But it’s a different group of people, a different kind of mission and different kind of activities that interest them and they’re good at. And it’s just fascinating to see them both have a place to grow and learn, and people are investing in them and helping them get to new levels. And I think that that is, you know, that raises all boats, that kind of effort and that type of collaboration. I think that’s what we need here in Atlanta. More of and that’s what the country needs as a whole.
Kelly Gay: [00:21:54] Mm hmm. I completely agree and you said an important thing, but the populations are different and the support and raising up is probably a little different. But the strength is in all of us. No one of us, the strength is and the strength is in the diversity. And I mean that broadly, not just underrepresented communities. And that’s an important point that you just make.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:21] Well, thank you so much for all that you do, and congratulations on the John M. Leo Award. We really appreciate you and your work here in the city and beyond. And if there’s anything we could be doing for you, please let us know. We think your work is important.
Kelly Gay: [00:22:38] Well, thank you. Thank you so much, Liane. Thanks for the time.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:41] All right, this is Lee Kantor Willis Hale next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
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