Kathleen Kelly Was Right: A Valuable Lesson from “You’ve Got Mail”

HPA Stories: As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, HPA team members share their personal stories and how they have impacted them professionally at HPA. We look forward to sharing these stories with you as part of our celebration of the people at the core of our business.

By Sr. Director Mary Haikin-Le

Since COVID-imposed social isolation first smacked us upside the head in 2020, I’ve seen a growing shift in America’s corporate culture. Gone are the days of the strictly-business workplace, with workers encouraged to leave home at home. Now we’re bringing our whole selves to work (whether literally or virtually), and I have to say, I am here for it! As Kathleen Kelly says to third-generation retail tycoon Joe Fox in the iconic 1998 You’ve Got Mail, “Whatever else anything is, it ought to start by being personal.” A shift to people-first, relationship-first business is way overdue. “Our people are people” sounds like a truism, but in a world where people have often been seen as means to an end, cogs in a machine, workers on an assembly line, etc., this statement is more radical in reality than it sounds.

This is part of why the concept of HPA Stories resonated with me so strongly. In the independent consulting world, the quarterbacks are the Ivy League-educated, top-tier consulting firm alumni who lead our client projects to success. But HPA and other companies like us are recognizing that it takes the full team…a full team of full people…to prosper. And with the HPA Stories campaign, we’re recognizing, publicly and out loud, the full spectrum of personalities and talents that lead HPA and our clients to thrive.

HPA’s been ahead of the curve in recognizing the value of each team member since long before I joined in 2017. Founder Sumeet Goel may fit the quarterback profile (Wharton & HBS-educated, ex-McKinsey), but he’s about as far from coldly corporate as you can get. When my kids were born (worth mentioning, providing a 3-month paid maternity leave is another way HPA is way ahead of the curve and supporting modern working parenthood), the question wasn’t “when are you coming back?,” but rather, “when are you bringing that baby to see Uncle Sumeet?”

When my kids were born, I felt a paradigm shift. Family would always come first, and work second. But the freedom to bring my whole self to work, to parent out loud and at times, in front of the Zoom camera, means I don’t have to choose between one or the other as often – I can do both. I can write up a marketing email at home with a sick kiddo by my side, participate in a lively discussion while feeding a hungry baby, respond to emails after my toddler’s bedtime routine, and find the balance that works for me, minute-by-minute.

While I am as a mother especially appreciative of this shift in corporate culture, the benefits extend to parents and non-parents alike. Businesses that lead with a people-first mentality recognize the importance and impact of welcoming the whole person. And at HPA, we value team and community right alongside productivity and efficiency. We regularly share photos and stories from our weekend hiking adventures in an #HPAhikes Slack channel created specifically for that purpose, and we set aside time each quarter to celebrate each other and the business – often bringing along our significant others. We know the names of each other’s pets as well as children; we ask about progress on personal goals (that #HPAhikes channel has some serious accomplishments logged); we exchange book recommendations; and we host Lunch and Learns on things like female leadership right along with problem-solving. And now that the world has opened back up following COVID-isolation, we’re developing plans for an ongoing, hands-on partnership with a local non-profit. None of these things contribute directly to our bottom line, but they’re at the top of our list of priorities, because…yes, people are people. And we celebrate and support that.

I’ve long maintained that if I’d been working anywhere else when I started my family in 2019, I would no longer be in the workforce. I grew up in a traditional, conservative home and aspired to ultimately be a stay-at-home parent, despite being able to attend college for free on an academic scholarship, and the world of possibilities that opened. For me, making material sacrifices in the household in order to operate on a single income with one stay-at-home parent was a no-brainer. And I applaud the incredibly hard-working parents who make this a reality! But as my post-college career blossomed, and I began leaning into all I was learning at HPA, it became harder to picture that life for myself. Luckily, I didn’t have to choose between being at home with my kids and being a part of the workplace – but only because HPA allowed me to keep my family-first mentality, bring my whole self to work (virtually!), and continually reshuffle to find the balance that enables me to be both the parent and the employee I want to be.

For a dose of reality, I feel obligated to acknowledge that the balance is far from perfect or stable, but it’s a journey, and one I’m thankful to be on. So the days that I’m ever-so-late replying to an email, or my daughter gets extra iPad time because I have a deadline – well, I know it all balances out in the end. And even better, I’m not alone; I have my team and my family with me every step of the way. That’s the beauty of people-first business…a people-first life.

Mary Haikin-Le is a Senior Director of Operations and Business Development at HighPoint Associates. After initially joining HPA as a database management associate in 2017, her role has expanded over the years and she now manages much of the firm’s internal operations including marketing, IT security, CRM, and business development efforts.

Prior to joining HighPoint, Mary spent 4 years working in post-secondary education as an admissions recruiter and corporate education liaison in Indianapolis, Indiana, and also worked as a freelance Spanish to English legal translator for immigration law firms across the country.

Mary holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, and a BA in Spanish-English translation from Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma, where she attended as a National Merit Scholar.

Mary is now based in her home state of Oklahoma with her husband and two children, after spending three years on the west coast. She is an avid reader always looking for the next interesting novel, and spends her free time with her husband, trying to keep up with their toddler, baby, and two French Bulldogs.