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Leah Gradl
Chief Business Officer
Kent Companies
Grand Rapids, Michigan

What is the last gift you gave someone?

Last year, I gave a custom, embossed leather journal to a member of my management team. It’s my hope that my colleague understood the parallels between her professional practice and the strength and timeless character of leather. I wanted to recognize the extraordinary effort she delivered throughout the pandemic.

Could Jack have fit on the door with Rose in “Titanic”?

It would take teamwork and sacrifice to fit both Jack and Rose on the door. Sometimes in business (and in life), it’s more important to take the back seat so that your teammate can grab the win. Jack made that sacrifice, and Rose fulfilled her duty to carry on and win for the team.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love negotiating with customers and our vendors. It’s an opportunity to enhance and grow relationships. My opening bid is grounded in a compelling story, and it is always focused on the other side’s needs. When you enter a negotiation focused on the other side’s objectives, you’re already their partner rather than an adversary.

How can contractors boost employee productivity without running into burnout?

Help your team to focus on small, achievable goals that set them up to win early and often. It helps you avoid the feeling of “eating the elephant” by focusing on defined areas that you can control and improve quickly.

It’s equally important to listen to your team and monitor for stress, exhaustion and burnout. Breaks and realigning priorities are okay, too.

Do you have a family heirloom you are looking forward to passing to future generations?

Our greatest family treasure is our collection of old-world Italian recipes. Of course, they’re not written down! I want to pass a love of cooking and slow food to my kids. There’s nothing better than a long afternoon spent making “Sunday sauce” from scratch; making fresh linguine; and baking intricate, multistep cookies. My family makes an Italian anise bread called Tadales. Toasted, with butter and a cup of coffee—it’s the taste of my childhood that I want to pass on.


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