Personal Development

Kevin McKeown: The journey from big business to purpose-driven coaching

Kevin McKeown climbing Mt. Rainer

I held C-level roles at startups, midsize firms and Fortune 500 companies, but I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know what it was until Vistage came calling.

Editor’s Note: This profile is part of a series highlighting Vistage Chairs — executive coaches who help guide CEOs and leaders of small and midsize businesses to make better decisions for their companies, families and communities.

Kevin McKeown entered law school with a plan: Earn his degree. Get accepted into the FBI Academy. Become an agent. “Unfortunately, I failed the physical because of my eyesight,” he recalls.

A law professor of Kevin’s knew he was upset and suggested that he set his sights on a federal clerkship since he was a strong writer. After the clerkship, Kevin planned to become a U.S. Attorney but then the Gramm-Rudman bill put a freeze on federal hiring. As a result, Kevin worked for a top firm to pay back his college and grad school loans.

“I put myself through school while working 2-3 jobs plus studying,” he says.

Vistage Chair Kevin McKeown

Kevin then moved on to work in business for two Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi International Corporation. However, he realized that he wanted more from himself and pivoted to the start-up space, which led to a leadership role and ownership. After building and selling that company, he co-founded another company and then became part-owner of a third company.

By 2014, Kevin realized something was amiss. He was successful but felt he was being pulled in a different direction.

“I know how to launch a business,” he says. “It’s a process. It requires breakthrough energy. But when I talked about doing something else with my wife, the love of my life for 17 years, I didn’t feel supported. I didn’t feel encouraged. I didn’t feel she believed in me. We divorced.”

As Kevin prepared to build a fourth business, this time without a partner, a tenacious Vistage recruiter gave him a moment to pause and reconsider.

“After a litany of messages from this recruiter, I finally agreed to a phone call. I asked this recruiter why he pursued me so hard,” McKeown says. “He said, ‘Kevin, your background in big business and entrepreneurism will make you a great Chair.’ My reply was, ‘Say more.’”

When passion meets purpose meets calling

Something clicked for Kevin as he learned about Vistage’s peer advisory group structure and the Chair’s role as a facilitator. He had twice been invited to a peer group and declined because he didn’t understand the value.

Being a guide to small business leaders is an honor and privilege.”

This time, Kevin listened and realized he had made a mistake by not joining a peer group. Kevin decided to embrace the opportunity to guide such a group.

“The recruiter saw something in me. He helped me see my potential,” he says. “My gift is seeing a person’s potential and instinctively knowing how to tease that potential out. I did that as a martial arts instructor, and I did that as an entrepreneur. I even did that when I worked for a big business early in my career.”

Now Kevin gets to live his life’s purpose — seeing and teasing out the potential in others — and he loves his work. Currently, Kevin leads six peer groups for CEOs, business owners and executives across the Seattle metro area. His groups include for-profit, co-op and nonprofit companies ranging from $5 million to $500 million in annual revenue with workforces ranging from 25 to 600+ employees.

“I ask members to take responsibility for getting 10 to 1,000 times their Vistage dues back,” he says. “They do this by bringing their most challenging issues. By being open with their business struggles, they help their peers see that they are not alone.”

Kevin McKeown morning sky

“I took this photo from my home early in the morning — just before I started my one-to-one sessions.”

Executive coaching is different from consulting, Kevin notes. It’s about asking probing questions that move someone beyond their limiting beliefs. Questions that shift an unhelpful mindset. Questions that drive performance.

“The chance to lay down a ripple that a CEO or executive turns into a tsunami of positive change and the chance to see that impact ripple far and wide is why I decided to become a coach, a guide, a facilitator,” he says. “It’s a passion-meets-purpose-meets-calling. Being a guide to small business leaders is an honor and privilege.”

‘Less is more in leadership’

Kevin’s work as a Chair has earned him multiple accolades, including several Chair Excellence awards, the STAR award, which honors Chairs who consistently achieve the top 20 highest scores within the Chair Performance System, and the title of Master Chair.

Kevin also served as the Chair-lead for the Vistage Executive Summit (three times) and served as a board member on the Vistage Chair Counsel.

Kevin’s role today just might require the same level of breakthrough energy he associates with launching companies. But as a Chair, he’s learned to help others create the space they need to recharge.

Kevin McKeown 2 dogs

“I raised these Leonbergers, Budoc (left) and Kiai, from puppies. Amazing mountain dogs. I’m close to finding my fifth dog.”

“I’m an introvert. I must manage my emotional energy for this high-energy avocation,” he says. “I do that by building in ample white space and strategic solitude for myself. I encourage members to do the same. Less is more in leadership.”

Kevin leads a fulfilling life outside of work and makes the most of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer. He enjoys hiking, golfing, sea kayaking, cooking, and photography. He also raises and trains Leonberger mountain dogs and has been a mountain climber for over 20 years. Among his favorite mountains to climb, Mount Olympus stands out, but he also loves climbing Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.

“It took eight days lugging an 80-pound backpack to reach Mount Olympus — about 26 miles one way. Why not? The landscape is remote, beautiful, and unspoiled,” he says. “With any challenge, once I commit, I set my intention and I persist and improvise until I get the result I want.”

Explore more coaching journeys

If this coaching story interests you and you’d like to see more, learn more about Chairing and how it could lead to the next chapter of your life.

Category : Personal Development

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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