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Kelly Hansen. Source: Teresa Esser.
Those who venture into the conference room at Neohapsis, Inc.
are greeted with a huge black and white poster depicting Kelly Hansen as an entrepreneurial superhero. Created by an illustrator for Marvel Comics, the full color version of the poster is located at Milwaukee's Discovery World Museum.
Hansen's profile was ideal for the Marvel Comics-inspired Hall of Entrepreneurs because of the tremendous obstacles Hansen has had to overcome to get where she is today.
Born in Milwaukee, Hansen moved with her mother to Everglades City, Florida at age 6. After years of struggling with school, Hansen recalls telephoning her father in the sixth grade and announcing that she could not read.
"I'm dyslexic," Hansen said. "Evidently pretty badly."
Hansen's admission of illiteracy prompted a move back to Milwaukee, where her father enrolled her in a special school. But even with the extra help from her new teachers, Hansen says she did not achieve true reading comprehension until high school.
Once she had mastered reading, Hansen made up for lost time. After graduating from the University of Rochester with a 3.7 grade point average, she went on to study archeology and comparative religion at Harvard Divinity School. With a master's degree in hand, Hansen went on to work at a variety of nonprofit agencies, where supervisors quickly recognized her aptitude for solving technological problems. One of Hansen's early projects involved helping the PBS television network create a presence on the World Wide
Web. "Technology paid the bills," Hansen said. "Comparative religion didn't."
Back in Milwaukee, Hansen provided IT assistance to nonprofits like the Discovery World Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Although her first assignment was to help the museums develop an electronic presence, her job quickly evolved into helping the institutions maintain the security of their networks. "Kids kept hacking the controls," Hansen explained. Something needed to be done.
The solution Hansen provided evolved into a technology consulting firm called Sun Tzu Securities, which merged with Chicago-based Neohapsis, Inc. As CEO of the combined entity, Hansen's current mission is to provide information security consulting and product testing for Fortune 1000 companies. In addition to maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of client data, Neohapsis helps its customers meet the challenges imposed by legislation such as HIPAA
, Gramm Leach Blily
Growing the Company, Sharing the Work
As CEO of a company with just under thirty employees, Hansen has discovered that it is impossible for her to do everything herself. "You create a trusted circle around yourself, and get really great advisers," Hansen said. "That's the name of the game." Instead of looking over everyone's shoulder and micromanaging her company down to the last detail, Hansen concentrates on figuring out the most effective way to share her responsibilities.
Hansen admits that delegating tasks is not something that comes naturally. "I've spent so much of my life trying to prove that I could do it," Hansen said, that the thought of handing responsibilities over to her colleagues seemed counter-intuitive. But as her company has grown, Hansen has realized that the most effective way to make use of her resources is to assign jobs to the people who can do them most efficiently.
For example, "Reading legal contracts is extremely hard for me," Hansen said. The language of legal contracts is extremely dense, and because of her dyslexia, Hansen is an extremely slow reader. Recently, Hansen delegated the task of double-checking the fine print on legal contracts to a trusted colleague. "I still know what is going into the contracts," Hansen said, although she no longer forces herself to spend hours pouring over the fine print.
"I see myself more as a coordinator than as an executor. My job is making sure that the right people are on the bus, and that everyone is well and healthy. It took a long time to give myself the grace to say, 'You know what? It's okay to be a coordinator.'"
Teresa Esser is a contributing columnist for the Wisconsin Technology Network and author of the book, The Venture Café.
She can be reached at email@example.com
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