From The Ground Up: How Building Leaders From Within Works For Our Agency

Aug 9, 2017 | Uncategorized

Jill KerriganBy Jill A. Kerrigan, president and CEO, JAK Creative Design

When I was a young woman starting my business alone, my passion was design. The creative work I did for my clients was my main focus. But as my business grew—from a one-person staff (me) to a team of first four, then six, to 16—I discovered a new passion within myself: Leadership.

As the youngest of six children in my family, I rarely had a chance to lead. Then, suddenly in my 30s, I found I had a highly skilled staff that was looking to me for direction and motivation.

This new challenge was exciting, and through today I have worked hard—with the help of NAWBO, the Women’s Business Development Center and my mentors in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program—to be the best leader I can be. But I found I couldn’t do it alone—and, I didn’t really want to. Where would I find the leaders I needed to help me manage my growing company?

A sense of camaraderie

In 2007, Chris, a young designer, joined our team at my woman-owned business. He was highly skilled, and he worked hard on each assignment he was given. That junior designer turned out to be instrumental in the advancement of digital design for the company. Chris proved to be extremely meticulous but also very approachable. As my company began to add several major clients over the years, I knew I needed a thought leader for our ever-increasing digital assignments. Chris became our digital director, and he brought the team together with easy conversation and driving creative brainstorming. When there’s something new to learn or some novel technology we can employ, Chris is at the forefront. Recently, when it came time to choose a new creative director for our team, Chris was the natural choice. His love of our work comes through, and he has earned the respect of the team. Here’s what I see in Chris: Deep knowledge, exceptional skills, dedication and a unique but welcome sense of humor.

Up for a challenge

In 2008, I met Allison, a super-organized and personable account executive, and I hired her to join my staff. She quickly proved herself to be invaluable in handling client needs. Over the years, she mastered new skills and worked well with the other members of the team. As she was promoted to account manager, I watched her take challenging situations and turn them around for the betterment of the team, and the company overall. I saw her treat each of her coworkers with respect—and they respect her, too. When I realized I needed to find a vice president for my company, I didn’t have to look far. Today, that friendly, organized account executive I met almost 10 years ago is helping me lead my business. Here’s what I see in Allison: Hard work, proven performance, superior problem solving and a smiling face.


My love of design and art is where my business began; but my journey didn’t end there. As I have added clients and built relationships with them and their respective businesses, I have become passionate about leadership and how I can foster that leadership within my company as we grow.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that leaders who walk the walk and put in the time to earn trust are more successful and are better at guiding my team. Like me, their unique talents and passion form the foundation of their leadership as they learn to share those skills and guide others along the way. At my design agency, our best leaders are homegrown.


About the Author

Jill A. Kerrigan is a NAWBO-Chicago chapter member as well as a member of the NAWBO Circle program for $1 million and up businesses and the founder, president and CEO of JAK Creative Design, a certified WBE in the western suburbs of Chicago. Jill is also a member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and WEConnect International. In 2013, she completed the intensive Tuck School of Business program with the WBENC and, more recently, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Learn more at



Skip to content