Kim Guarino & Evolve Marketing

Sitting in a room of 1,000 peers with the "Mission Impossible" song playing, I’d hit a career ‘aha.' The American Marketing Association had flown me to Chicago to receive the National Leader of the Year, a lifetime achievement award that a handful of marketers have received. It should have been a career high but became a trigger for dramatic change.

As a colleague read my accomplishments, the woman next to me joked, “Did you ever sleep?” I cracked a smile but thought, Exactly! 

I was surprised. Had I really done all that? I’d been focused saying “yes” to every opportunity that came along that I hadn’t stopped to assess if I should.

My professional life was out of control and personally I felt pretty empty. Flying back to DC, I vowed to change.


I'm a serial entrepreneur. At 27, I founded my first company. At 32, I merged with two firms to form a branding agency and, at 36, I sold my shares and started my third company, Evolve Marketing. Today, at 40,  I am the mother of an energetic two-year-old and wife to an amazing husband.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for art. At six, my prized possession was my Crayola Crayon Tower and at ten I was taking oil painting classes. When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my answers evolved over the years from an artist to a fashion designer to advertising agency exec—but one thing was certain, I wanted to create things.

My parents were terrified I’d grow up to be a starving artist! They stepped in with a series of interventions.

 When I declared I wanted to be a fashion designer, they arranged for me to meet one. Brimming with excitement, I envisioned glamour, creativity, pride of authorship and hard work, but I had it in me. Of course, when she asked, “do you like to sew?” I thought back to those half started sewing projects and realized I liked coming up with the concept and sketches much more than sewing… back to the drawing board.

By high school, I had thrown myself into more art classes and my parents were worried. When a job shadow day was announced my junior year, my dad arranged for me to spend the day with a graphic designer. It was enlightening to see a day-in-the-life and hear her tales from an advertising agency.

 After eight hours, I was hooked… convinced this was my calling. As I relayed my new plan, I could see the relief come over my dad’s face: “She’s landed on a career that’ll actually pay the bills!”

When it came time to apply to colleges, my parents encouraged me to research what ad agencies looked for. While some hired art majors, the majority had business and advertising majors. Reminding me of my strength in math, my parents helped me see that taking advertising courses within the business school provided my best chance at getting to an agency. I decided to be a business major taking marketing and advertising courses and used all of my electives to minor in graphic design. I landed a graphic design position at the Pentagon where I worked all four summers.

Looking back, I give my parents credit. They knew better than to tell me not to do something. I’d have just resisted. Instead, they encouraged me to follow my passion, evaluate my options and make informed decisions - a life skill I’ve relied on for 20 years.