Kim Kelleher ’93: Media Mogul
As a UW student in 1989, Kim Anderson Kelleher ’93 couldn’t have known just how much the world — and specifically, the World Wide Web, created that same year — was about to change. Or that she — a history major when research meant shuffling through sweetly musty stacks at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library before pecking out papers in the Memorial Library computer lab — would one day helm Wired, the revered digital and print media powerhouse that reaches 47 million people annually.
“I was one of those freshmen who actually didn’t know what they wanted to do, so once I found an incredible professor, I was absolutely hooked,” says Kelleher of the Russian and Irish history professors (David MacDonald and Jim Donnelly, respectively) who made an indelible impression. “They taught through stories and storytelling, and it’s funny, because it led into the career that I’ve had in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated. Because I feel like now I’m in a career where storytelling is a big part of my profession — storytelling of brands, storytelling of partnerships — and it really started with my love of storytelling in history.”
Kelleher was named VP-publisher of Wired magazine in September 2014, when parent company Condé Nast’s president Bob Sauerberg called her a “proven business leader” and a “true pioneer in this industry.” He’s referring to Kelleher’s striking trajectory since the Sister Bay, Wisconsin, native’s UW days, when she leaped straight into the New York City workforce after earning her bachelor’s degree. Her more than two-decade career in “storytelling” has included stints as VP-publisher of Self magazine, the first female publisher of Sports Illustrated, and global publisher of TIME magazine. She’s served as president of Say Media (the umbrella site for xoJane, ReadWrite, and a dozen or so other sites) and was named Ad Age Publisher of the Year in 2011. But it’s the move to Wired that has Kelleher feeling especially excited, particularly on a personal level.
“I’ve always loved Wired. I’m a longtime reader of the magazine, a longtime visitor to the site. I really appreciate the curiosity that Wired readers have of what could be lurking around the corner, what is coming up next,” says Kelleher. “Curiosity is either a personality trait that you have or you don’t, and I’ve always had it, since I was a little kid.”
That childhood spent in a tiny Door County town — in a house without cable TV and the closest movie theater forty-five minutes away (not to mention dial-up Internet and the limited reach of AOL keywords in her college years) — couldn’t possibly have prepared Kelleher for a high-speed, high-profile digital media career. But it imbued her with the Midwestern family values that she draws on today, not only as a wife and mother of two children under the age of ten, but as a woman in leadership.
“I think that leadership is often tied to intuition and decisiveness and kindness, and those are values that I hold dear,” says Kelleher. “I feel incredibly grateful for the teams of people that I’ve worked with over the years.”
Published in the Spring 2015 issue