Women of Influence: Kelsie Ackman

After graduating from Indiana University School of Law, Kelsie Ackman thought her work trajectory was set to “lawyer life.” Then she joined a firm where no female attorney seemed to succeed. One day, as she headed to court wearing a skirt suit, a colleague pulled her aside to admonish her choice of dress. The organization couldn’t send an attorney to court in anything but pants, he said. She’d have to change.

Ackman listened — and then she walked away, her trajectory shifted by a pivotal moment. Surely there would be more diversity and open-mindedness in the business sector, she reasoned. That had to be the answer. As she scoured LinkedIn for job vacancies, a legal generalist query for College Hunks Hauling Junk and Moving caught her eye. The rest, as they say, is “herstory.”

“From the first day at the company, it just felt right,” she says. “It’s amazing to feel valued in your work.”

Since 2015, her role has evolved from molding the Hunks legal team with a compliance/safety arm to focusing on franchise law with management’s blessing. Instead of a planned MBA, she earned a fraud examiner’s certification. When she was named vice president of franchise development, the company had only 30 locations; today, that number has grown by nearly a hundred. And her workfellows? They’re as diverse and inclusive as she’d hoped.

“A lot of people say: ‘There’s only room for me at the top,’ ” she says. “That’s not true; we’re all in this together.”

College Hunks Hauling Junk and Moving keeps its corporate office in Tampa, a short jaunt from Raymond James Stadium. When COVID-19 silenced both the roar of nearby fans and the rapport of the Hunks call center, its workflow shifted nearly immediately. Ackman points to the organization’s positive team culture, and willingness to pivot, for the successful shift to a remote workforce. Within three days, their large call center was transformed into a completely virtual one. Ironically, the executives are communicating perhaps even better than before the pandemic.

“We spend a lot of time on Zoom and have ‘town hall calls’ with franchise owners to relay all the details franchisees need to know,” she says.

Named an essential business, CHHJ and Moving has a new mantra: Our wheels are still moving. When lockdowns went into effect, Ackman was proud of her franchisees’ willingness not only to continue doing what they do best—hauling and moving—but also to partner with domestic violence shelters. Moving vulnerable people from dangerous situations to safe havens was a practice embraced companywide.

The future holds plenty of uncertainty, but Ackman feels strengthened by the company’s focus and feels a profound feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’ She’s been given opportunities from mentors, from people who saw something in her that could be cultivated. Her energy, and resources, are now spent developing the next generation of her team and asking “how can I help you succeed as an employee or franchisee?”

She’ll keep asking the question within the business environment she values, a merit-based organization that fosters her ambition and seeks to achieve a collective goal. Will she ever go back to working at what she calls “a stuffy law firm?” She answers unequivocally: never. In the end, the people at Hunks make work worthwhile. She thrives on helping franchisees achieve their slice of the American dream through small business ownership.

“It’s not all about what you’re doing, but who you’re doing it for,” she says. ♦

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