Woman’s Work

One of the region’s few woman board chairs, Jane Kennedy Greene works to provide uncommon value at Kenco.

Story by Deborah Petticord

Photography by Big Lenz Studio

The Vanderbilt English major hadn’t given much thought to a career—at least not until she volunteered to work in the university’s Career Planning & Placement department. It was the 70s. In Career Planning & Placement she was exposed to the options of the day and faced with the fact that—for women—there were limited career paths available.

Her first job after graduation was with the Tennessee Bicentennial Commission in 1975, which was paving the way for the country's Bicentennial to be celebrated on July 4, 1976. It was a partnership supported by state and federal government and private funding.

On the morning of her first day she was seated next to the state governor and the other four members of her office at a press conference. “They told me to smile and say nothing,” says Jane Kennedy Greene. So she did. Greene does have a great smile, but over time she’s learned how to do a few other things, too. The job for the commission was actually heavily weighted with networking responsibilities and was good preparation for things to come.

It’s a small category—private, woman owned, with the majority of shareholders being women as well. Even in family situations, there just aren’t many of the gender chairing the boards of large American companies these days, especially in traditionally male career tracks like logistics and trucking. Even with all the progress women have made over the years, Adweek’s March 31, 2014 issue reported in a recent article that only five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and chairmen were women in 2013.

Kenco, a homegrown Chattanooga company with an annual revenue of $465 million is one of those rare institutions that has a woman at the helm. The company was founded in 1950 by her father, James Kennedy, Jr. and uncle Sam Smartt. This particular woman, a slight brown-eyed brunette with a quick charm is leading it in a vastly changed world from the one of the 1950s.

Kenco serves some of the highest profile customers ever to grace the shelves of America’s retail stores, annually managing and delivering $75 billion in product value through its supply chain. From Kimberly-Clark diapers to Whirlpool appliances, more than 20 corporations in over a dozen manufacturing categories entrust their products to Kenco.

Prep Work

Even before Jane Kennedy began her high school education at Girls Preparatory School, her father was teaching her how a well-run warehouse should operate. Although he was not grooming her to take charge of the business, he put her to work at entry-level jobs. It was a family business after all, and the entire family was involved. The siblings and cousins grew up in it and many worked there during high school and college years. Greene spent several summers working—from checking in the drivers returning from long hauls to posting invoices in the bookkeeping department—her memories of family and company are intermingled.

“My mother was a wonderful cook and organizer,” says Greene. “She cooked for all the company Christmas parties.” Sometimes the employees provided the talent and entertainment for the parties, where singing carols around a piano was typical and as Greene recalls, really fun.

After her high school graduation, she was accepted into Vanderbilt and enjoyed a successful college career.

When her first job with the Tennessee Bicentennial Commission was over, Jane returned to Vanderbilt to work in the university's Annual Giving Office as Assistant Director of Annual Giving.

The work there was all about speaking engagements, annual campaign drives and development calls on university alumni throughout the southeast.

After working in the Annual Giving Office, she went to work for Kenco for a year and studied for her GMAT, before returning to Vanderbilt to attain her MBA. It included two years of study at the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, with a concentration in marketing and advertising. Upon completion, Greene packed up her MBA and headed for New York City, first working for NW Ayer in midtown on accounts that included Cannon Mills and Gillette. Later, she was hired by Tracy-Locke in Dallas, Texas, a firm that was eventually bought out by BBDO Worldwide, to work on the Phillips Petroleum account. She was the only woman on the account team. After a couple of years she married Greg Greene whom she had met in business school at Vandy. His work had taken him to Dallas as well, and after their marriage Jane and Greg settled there. They raised a family. While in Dallas, Jane served on a variety of community boards and was actively involved in her children's schools. The children, now in college or on their own career paths, are Gregory, Landon and Drake.

These days Greene commutes between Chattanooga and Dallas, spending a few days a week in each place, often visiting her 89-year-old father.

Here and Now

The Kenco headquarters stands on the 30-acre property once occupied by Quaker Oats and was distinctively redesigned by Artech Design Group in 2005. The test kitchens of Gordon Biersch restaurant group were located there at that time. In recent years, Kenco has grown into the full complex that once seemed vast.

In the past three years, there has been significant growth for Kenco, with revenue up 9.25 percent and a 36 percent increase in net income over that period. With over 30 million square feet, the company casts a long shadow and includes dozens of dedicated and shared warehouses, not only across the United States, but in Canada, too. Recently, Inbound Logistics, a trade magazine focused on third party logistics (3PLs), inducted Kenco into its Top Ten list.

“It’s an extremely competitive business,” says Greene. Creating a strong organization and assembling a team of managers has been the focus of the board under her leadership. Greene adds, "The current leadership, management team, supervisors and associates are some of the best and brightest Kenco has seen in years."

She is quick to point out a few of the shining stars in the company, many of whom are women. Vice Chairman, Sheila Crane a 42-year Kenco veteran; Kristi Montgomery, vice president of Information Technology, has been with Kenco for 23 years and oversees a 40-member team; Ann Christopher is vice president and legal counsel; Judy Craig is a vice president of sales; and Paula Hise is a vice president of operations. Greene says these are just a few of the many women who lead at Kenco.

In 2013, Kenco Group, Inc. received Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification. WBENC is an approved third party certifier for Women Owned Small Business as part of its federal contracting program. This enhancement is expected to garner additional business. Recognition, support, development and advocacy are other aspects of WBENC member benefits on both national and international platforms.

Jane Kennedy Greene is targeting the education of shareholders and the development of an exceptional board of directors that will support the core values of the company. She is determined to give appreciation to employees and remind everyone that Kenco's success begins with the person on the warehouse floor. She also hopes to strengthen her connections to other women business owners throughout her involvement with the regional and national Women's Business Enterprise Counsel. Kenco is a big supporter of Chattanooga’s United Way and national issues of conservation and sustainability rank high with her. First is her commitment to lead the Kenco family of companies, saying, “We will remain privately owned and professionally managed and headquartered here in our hometown of Chattanooga.”

Visit www.kencogroup.com for information about the company and see www.wbenc.org about certification in Women Business Enterprise National Council.