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Keeping a legacy alive: CEO puts her stamp on the family business

From Nina dos Santos, CNN
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
  • With over 25 years experience, Kathy Bloomgarden is the CEO of global PR firm, Ruder Finn
  • With an affinity for languages as a child, she served as interpreter for her father on business trips
  • She reveals how she continues to build on Ruder Finn's success since CEO appointment

Editor's note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time. Each month, we meet two women at the top of their field, exploring their careers, lives and ideas.

(CNN) -- As CEO of public relations agency Ruder Finn, Kathy Bloomgarden has spent much of her career shaping the corporate reputations of big name clients like L'Oreal, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Visa.

With 30 years of experience in the field, she was first introduced to the world of communications by her father, David Finn, the co-founder of the firm.

Bloomgarden doesn't just serve the public relations needs for over 250 corporations, governments and non-profits. She's also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has written a book entitled, 'Trust: The Secret Weapon of Effective Business Leaders'.

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She opens up to CNN about her ascent to CEO and how she led Ruder Finn to become one of the world's largest privately-owned communications agencies.

CNN: You speak about five languages and you've got three degrees. Where did you think that was going to take you in that time in your life?

Kathy Bloomgarden: Well, I was always fascinated by languages and I wanted to be a global person. So I was fortunate enough to start learning French from even before school -- I began nursery school even... And that sent me on a journey for thinking about how I could really understand different societies and cultures and really be able to communicate with people and live locally in many different settings.

CNN: Your father founded the company back in 1948 when the PR industry was in its infancy. He was something of a formidable thinker and a bit of a Renaissance man. Were you aware of his reputation growing up?

KB: Absolutely. I was fortunate enough to be able to go around with him. And he worked for wonderful institutions, including the UN for many years -- so I met many of the Secretary Generals as a child. He worked for the Vatican, so I had a chance to meet the Pope and to attend mass at Christmas Eve. It was a very exciting, really inspiring time as I grew up serving as an interpreter in some of these countries when he was traveling.

CNN: How hard is it to break out from the mold of being viewed as the boss' daughter?

KB: You can't talk your way out of that one. You have to really deliver results. The more you can develop an exciting business and really do things that become a hallmark for the firm, that's when you gain your recognition.

CNN: Looking back on your career, was there any particular "Aha" moment, when you realized, "I've made it"?

KB: I never would think that I've made it...As a typical American who came from an immigrant family, there's still something of that in my DNA. Everything could change tomorrow. So never think that you've made it. Always think, "What am I going to do tomorrow to make sure that I'm still staying in a strong position?

"I think diversity both ways is a good thing.
Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO Ruger Finn

CNN: Do you ever get asked, "How did you get here as a woman?"

KB: I always ask myself this question, maybe because I'm in the field of public relations. But people haven't -- I've never felt held back, in terms of my gender. But I always felt that I've had to work extra hard. So maybe that's why I didn't face that problem or challenge.

CNN: The world of public relations is actually pretty female heavy already, isn't it? What are your thoughts on that?

KB: I think there can be a reverse bias that sets in. I try to encourage men and women to come into communications....We might see more men coming into the PR firm because the remuneration is good...I think diversity both ways is a good thing.

CNN: If you met somebody who had the same aspirations as you did when you first started out, what would your advice be to them?

KB: Believe you can do anything you want to do is really the key for me. And don't be afraid. Take risks. Be really bold in your thinking. Close your eyes and dream about what you want to achieve and then just go and do it.

Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this piece.

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