Julia Keleher

Julia Keleher is a well-known educator, leader, management consultant, and author that is passionate about confronting some of the biggest problems that affect modern societies. She brings over 25 years of experience working in a variety of roles. She has become well-known for her influential work and is recognized for her ability to create practical solutions to complex problems.

Julia Keleher attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. She remained at the University of Pennsylvania to obtain her Master of Science of Education in Psychological Services. She went on to complete her MBA in 2013 and received her Doctorate degree from the University of Delaware.

Her strong educational background and natural leadership skills helped Julia grow her professional background. She has held a number of managerial and leadership roles over the years, working with companies between 2,000 and 50,000 employees, most recently managing a budget of 3.5 billion. Julia’s experience managing in a wide range of organizational contexts taught her how to balance competing priorities and multiple challenges at once. This has tested and proved her leadership and managerial capacity.

As a result of her experience in significant leadership and managerial roles, Julia led small and large transformations organizational operations and strategy. She held senior management roles in the federal government during the Obama administration and was responsible for creating several innovative solutions that improved the technical assistance provided to State and Local governments. Prior to her federal service, Julia held leadership positions at the state and local level and was responsible for transformation projects. An expert in data drive decision making, Julia led the implementation of a complex technology project that allowed teachers to create instructional strategies that responded to each student’s unique needs.

In 2013, Julia created a boutique management consulting firm that specialized in strategy and performance management. Her clients included government agencies, nonprofits and small businesses who sought to refine their strategy, improve operations and implement performance metrics. Julia led business development, managed delivery teams and provided direct service to clients. In this role, Julia developed expertise in design thinking and became sought-after for her ability to develop multi-pronged solutions to complex problems.

While serving as Secretary of Education in Puerto Rico, Julia defined and executed a large-scale right-sizing strategy, working collaboratively across Human Resources, Finance, Legal and Program areas. She was responsible for coordinating resources, resolving conflicts and ensuring sound decision making in a politically charged, fast-paced multicultural environment. In this role, Julia system-wide priorities, developed performance improvement goals, coordinated external partners, and reported to various fiscal oversight entities. She designed models that integrated programmatic goals and ensured efficient operations working predominantly in Spanish.

Most recently, Julia Keleher founded Thought & Voice, a specialized language school that works with students who need to improve English skills for business and/or academic purposes. In addition, Julia provides free ESL classes to community residents who have recently resettled from other countries. In addition to providing this crucial service to foster adaptation and acculturation, Julia is committed to refugees who recently immigrated to the United States under duress through her volunteer work.

Julia’s commitment to providing equal access to education has helped individuals from all backgrounds and contexts to succeed. She was recognized for her community service receiving the Extraordinary Changemaker Award. For her work in education, Julia Keleher was recognized for her exceptional impact. She was recognized with the Excellence Education Programs in 2010 and 2012 and was named as the Outstanding Professor of Project Management in 2014. Julia was recognized with other awards, including the Extraordinary Changemaker award and the Leadership Award for Valor in Crisis. She has also appeared on a number of programs to discuss her expertise, which included TODAY, PBS Newshour, and C-SPAN.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I have lots of ideas for services all the time. My first company was focused on filling the void between government and business. The former gets a budget every year, no matter their performance. The latter only has a budget if they performed well the previous year. I was looking to cross-pollinate, so to speak.

Almost all of my ideas are along the same lines – creating something by blending two existing concepts into something new.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I get up at 430/5 am. I shower, get dressed, and start classes at 6 am
I have class until 10 am; then workout for 90-120 min
Then I shower and have class or work with clients from 1 until 6 pm
2-3 nights a week I have a volunteer activity
I turn off the phone by 8 pm and read books/listen to books in Italian until I fall asleep
8 hours sleep is ideal

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think the way you bring ideas to life is by DOING something. People can talk out loud, opine, think, complain, etc…but none of that turns into anything until you sit down, put it on paper, and make someone else react.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I like that people today can make money doing anything. I think it’s great that if you put time and energy into something, you can earn a living. Technology and globalization have made that possible. The one drawback is that the ability to make money on various platforms isn’t always accompanied by the requisite seriousness, discipline, and expertise.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I get up every day and start again. It doesn’t matter how much I succeeded or failed the previous day. Every day is a new day. So my routine is – get up, start again.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to spend more time listening to people – even when you didn’t think there was something you could learn. Connecting with others, listening, and understanding their life experience is almost like getting to live additional minutes in your own life.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I tend not to have opinions that no one agrees with me on. If no one agrees with me, I think I should rethink my position.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Forget yesterday’s mistakes- if you carry around bad feelings about the things that didn’t turn out right, you are just weighing yourself down. So, if you made a mistake or something didn’t turn out right, find the lesson, internalize it and forget the bad feelings. Approach the next opportunity with the most positive attitude possible.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Two things have helped me grow my business – 1) being known for being the person who will get the ball across the line and deliver what was promised and 2) creating solutions that incorporate the best ideas from all relevant stakeholders.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One of the biggest mistakes I made was underestimating the influence and power of politics. In my situation, there was no option to overcome; I simply needed to begin again.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Today, there are a great deal of federal funds being dispersed across America to assist in the pandemic recovery. I think this represents an opportunity for products and services that can capture and provide transparency around the uses and effects of these funds.

One lucrative business idea is to offer a product/service that captures data on the uses of federal “recovery” funds. The data could be captured by integrating existing POS systems and apps as well as through AI automation. The product/service would answer the questions 1) where did the funds go and 2) what effect did they have.

The solution would integrate data from multiple government systems (inputs) and recipients (individuals, institutions, private sector). It would provide analytics that illustrates which types of investments resulted in the best outcomes. Analytics could be disaggregated for different groups: students, families, vulnerable populations, racial/ethnic minorities, educational institutions, and businesses.

At present, there is no way to quantify the positive effects of different government investments and/or the strategies/products/services they are used to support.

Who would buy this product/service:
– Private sector who want to demonstrate the positive effects of their services
– Lobbyists who want to argue for increased federal support of specific programs
– Academics and public policy experts/think tanks who want to have real-time access to data to conduct research
– Investors and entrepreneurs who want to be able to demonstrate potential for future returns.
– Government agencies/CBA who need analytic capacity to show the effects (or non-effects) of investments.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a new pair of running shoes. Running provides me an opportunity to reset and clear my head. My mind loves running more than my body so I need good running shoes. To be honest, the shoes were a little over $100…and they seemed expensive. But I think it was a good investment in something that promotes my overall wellbeing.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Lately, I am really into software that helps us share content using video and multimedia. I really like Adobe’s suite of products. Some (like Illustrator and XD) require some advanced knowledge – but others (Spark and Captivate) are really user-friendly. What I like about Adobe is that all the products work together.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I am a big fan of Andrea Camilleri. He’s an accomplished Italian author who died recently. His characters are timeless and the tension he creates in his stories juxtaposes the positive and negative aspects of humanity.

What is your favorite quote?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Desmond Tutu

Key Learnings:

  • People are complex individuals and life provides us all with an opportunity to learn, grow and develop over time. I appreciated being able to answer these questions but am more interested in reading others’ responses to the same.
  • I should pay more attention to the things I do unconsciously. The questions that asked about my routines were easy to answer. I underestimated the importance of the routines I have.
  • I am inclined to think that, while there may be similarities among responses to questions that relate to entrepreneurship, there are also likely to be differences. In giving my own examples/illustrations, I realize that there is likely no one “right way” but there are probably some approaches that are not likely to lead to persistence or generate the optimism to succeed.