“Determination, decisiveness, drive, resiliency, and hard work: You can go a really long way in life just by being the hardest worker in the room,” said Karen Handel, President and CEO at Carroll Tomorrow.
On Wednesday afternoon at the Villa Rica Civic Center & Sports Complex (V-Plex), Handel gave an inspiring speech and a couple of guiding principles that has helped her throughout her professional journey to become the leader she is today. Executives, entrepreneurs, educational leaders, innovators, and city officials gathered together to learn key leadership tips and hear from the woman who is known to have participated and prevailed in the race for congress in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District which is still known as the most expensive House race in history.
Handel went back to the beginning when a terrifying family incident launched her life into the unknown. She spoke about a time when she was unsure of what she could and would become considering the major changes that had taken place in her life.
Handel said it all started on a very cold, January evening when her mother put a .30-06 rifle to her head. Being just a child, she mustered up the courage to call the police, and they escorted her back into the house. Horrified to go inside, she grabbed two large, green trash bags and put as much of her stuff as she could in them.
“Dragging those two trash bags out of the house, I walked into what could only have been a great unknown for myself,” she said. “I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do or what in the world would ever become of me.”
From working with AARP at the age of eighteen, KPMG — a professional services and accounting firm — Hallmark cards, the White House, an elected Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissions, Georgia’s State Secretary, to many other senior positions in-between, Handel has an extensive and rich background in leadership. She told the crowd that those learning experiences she had to endure now stand as the pillars to her success and are the key performance indicators that she always will have, to not only fall back on, but to share with fellow leaders.
“I will never change the amazing opportunities that I’ve had, and I have a grateful heart for all that has been given to me and the things that people have allowed me to do. I would never change the things I’ve done or the places I’ve seen,” she said.
Handel gave a few points that are at the top of her list for becoming a great leader. Having integrity, surrounding yourself with amazing people who will push you to be great, paying attention to the details, understanding those different leadership styles, and being positive and optimistic are some of the pointers that have made Handel who she is today.
Currently, Handel’s role at Carroll Tomorrow and goal is to tackle the challenges Carroll County faces in managing the growth of the cities and making sure that the right companies that fit the culture and community are coming here. She said she is making sure that they are being intentional about the growth and that these companies are being dispersed evenly throughout the county to help the mayors and council in each city to manage the extra people and housing that will be needed in these areas.
“Right now, we have around 15 companies countywide — existing industries that are expanding. That among those companies they will together create an excess of 600 jobs in the next 12 to 18 months,” she said. “That’s a lot of jobs and then that puts a lot of burden for David Brooks with the city of Carrollton and councilman Watters and Tom Barber and Mayor McDougal in how they are trying to manage the infrastructure to accommodate having that many additional people coming in. And then you add to that, the crunch on talent and trying to recruit the best and right folks to fill those jobs. It kind of all works in tandem with one another. And I know that there’s a lot of focus around the housing aspect of things all across the county, and my job is to make sure that we are building out…”
In addition to finding the right space and properties for these companies, Handel and her team are also evaluating the verbiage they will need to use to attract and attain workers and talent. This will help them determine where they will need to go to get them.
Handel holds on to a few bible scriptures including Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 22 and a quote by R.S. Grey, “She believed she could, so she did,” that helps her get through hard times and encourages her to continue to do the work she loves to do.