Following a BA from Amherst College in economics and English, magna cum laude, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Kelly spent her early career working on Wall Street in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, equity research at Merrill Lynch and later at McKinsey & Company.
She is currently the Founder of Close Concerns; a business focused on making everyone smarter about diabetes, pre-diabetes, and weight-related conditions. Kelly’s passion for the field comes from her extensive professional work as well as from her personal experience having had diabetes for over 35 years. She is the author of over 35 peer-reviewed manuscripts as well as a co-author of an award-winning book published by the ADA. Kelly is an editor of Clinical Diabetes, a journal focused on diabetes for primary care physicians published quarterly by the ADA, and speaks on diabetes globally for entities including major manufactures and entrepreneurial players, a range of policymakers and payers, as well as entities such as the Milken Institute and the Aspen Institute.
Kelly founded The diaTribe Foundation to improve the lives of people with diabetes and pre-diabetes and to advocate for action. She is the co-founder of diaTribe.org, begun as an educational resource for people with diabetes; diaTribe.org’s free educational mailers go to over 350,000 people every week and over 3.5 million people visited the website last year.
She was a founding board member of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, and has also served on other multiple boards. Kelly and her husband, the co-founder of Close Concerns and diaTribe, live in San Francisco with their three teenagers.
Kelly, how did you get started in your career?
I was diagnosed with diabetes in my first week at college. I never intended to be a writer or journalist or do anything related to healthcare. I had experienced some very textbook-like symptoms and went to the University health services. There was a bit of a fuss, and I said “Look, I have a formal to go to tonight,” and they said “No, actually you’re going to the hospital.”
After university I pursued a finance career and went to work on Wall Street, Bain consulting, McKinsey consulting, a technology start up, etc. But I kept coming back to wanting to be more involved with diabetes. It had become part of my identity, and I believed that the government and businesses could do more if we all better understood diabetes and we connected our efforts.
Looking back, I believe that the learning and skill building that I did early in my career was a massive investment in myself. Learning how to collaborate and innovate was what set me up to take an entrepreneurial path and to do what I’ve done since.
What was this transition like?
I had begun to help investors around the healthcare area while a consultant, and I could see the medical perspective, the services perspective, the nutrition perspective, etc., and I wanted to connect it all, yet I was terrified to start my own company. Then my dad got very sick with cancer, and I needed and wanted to work from home. Mind you, this was 2002, I was in consulting, and I was only asking to work from home on the weekends! My Wall Street boss said, “No, you need to be in the office.” I gave notice that day. I believe that you have to go with your gut. Sometimes in life you just need to walk away. It’s fine if you don’t work for three to six months. Believe in yourself and believe that it’ll work out.
That sure sounds like a pivotal life and career moment?
It was. My dad in so many ways really launched my entrepreneurial career. We should really listen to those around us! During this time, he encouraged me to become the entrepreneur that I am today. And since I had left a great job, I thought I’d better go for it!
What are some of your career highlights to date?
A key highlight is simply all the training that I received. I learned so much. I believe effort, relationships and how committed you are make a key difference to your success. I still think hard work matters and when you’re young, go the extra mile, or extra five miles-do it and great things will show up. I’ve always been generous with my time and my laughter.
I always asked “what can I do to be helpful?” I learned this from a leader at Goldman Saks and I believe it differentiates people.
There were some project wins and travel that were also highlights but what I think mattered the most was the environments where I was energized and not depleted. I was fortunate to work in places that had interesting work, interesting people and were also fun. I worked extra hard, and I pushed myself to learn what wasn’t natural. I love to learn and in turn help make others smarter. That’s essentially what I’m doing now; learning and then applying that to one of the biggest healthcare issues of our time and also one of the most expensive healthcare issues of our time. To be able to learn and share is an honor.
What are some insights from your entrepreneurial experience?
I was so lucky to have a partner in my husband who wanted to see me succeed. I think that supportive relationships around you are extremely helpful. I think it’s important to not be afraid to be wrong. Some of my early work experiences were in environments where that wasn’t the case. When you’re starting something up, building something new, you’re going to be wrong a lot. Enabling your business to be profitable early is important, but it often takes more time than you think. I learned that asking for business or doing new business development is difficult, and I had to really learn this area- it was not a natural skill. There’s a certain amount of fear that comes with new things. You will ask yourself, “Is this going to work?” But I now think that question is a waste of time. It’s important to try to be fearless and just go for it. Of course, I had to get health insurance in place, some savings, and also have a backup plan that allowed me to go into it in a more fearless way. I also learned while I had built an amazing network, that network is really critical when you do something entrepreneurial. And last, I learned how important it is to remember to always thank people.
Looking back, is there something you wish you had taken more advantage of?
I think it’s so important to always invest in learning what you don’t know. I wish I had learned sales and business development earlier. I remember studying all the different jobs one can do and getting as much exposure to different functional areas, becoming a better leader and manager of talent. But somehow the functional area of sales I missed. And given that I’m more analytically focused, that was something that I really had to develop.
Kelly, what is still on your bucket list?
I haven’t thought about that for a long time. I’d love to be on a public board. Perhaps a hospital but a board where I can contribute even more than I am now. I’d also like to be part of continuing to address the stigma around weight and diabetes that still holds us back. And while I’m proud of the impact that I’ve had helping so many individuals and impacting individual lives, I’d like to be part of a more systemic change where there is greater health equity in our communities. It’s much more difficult to make systemic community-wide change, but that’s what we must do to see a significant difference.
Lastly, what are some tips or advice you might share with others?
I would say invest in yourself -you’re fortunate to be able to learn, so learn all that you can. It’s important to learn how to prioritize how you invest your time and what things NOT to do.
And one more! Go to and stay in environments that are energizing to you. It takes some time to figure this one out. Be on the lookout for those environments that fill you up and make your tank feel full rather than deplete you. That’s where you’ll have your greatest impact and enjoy whatever it is you choose to do every day.