Oxford native, Edith Kelly-Green, is a 1999 Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame inductee, and she was recently named the 2019 Farrington Entrepreneur of the Year at this year’s Gillespie Business Plan Competition. Her work with FedEx, the KGR group, and various other projects made her a prime recipient of this year’s award.
“When I thought about the recognition, I concluded that entrepreneurship isn’t necessarily or only about one starting with $10 and growing that $10 to $10 billion,” said Kelly-Green. “Entrepreneurship comes in many ways, like encouraging others to step out and initiate something new, supporting other entrepreneurs, or creating non-profits that make a difference and are successful in helping others.”
According to Kelly-Green, her education at the University of Mississippi enabled her to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate her career.
“I give Ole Miss credit for preparing me to operate in the business world,” she said. “I knew nothing about business or accounting, not having any exposure during my early years.
“Ole Miss has a strong network throughout the country, and I have been afforded opportunities across the world because I’m an Ole Miss grad. One of the best things Ole Miss gave me was the tenacity to be the best and never give up.”
Her Grandmother as a Role Model
Kelly-Green’s upbringing played an important role in her love and connection to the University of Mississippi. She was raised in Oxford by her grandmother, Christine Mitchell Hickonbottom, who worked as a housekeeper on campus.
“[She] strongly believed in education, having only gone through the 6th grade,” she said. “She wanted much more for me than she had.”
In turn, Hickonbottom became her first role model. Witnessing her grandmother’s perseverance and sacrifice helped craft her life’s narrative.
“As a result, I place getting a great education at Ole Miss as my No. 1 key to any success I have achieved,” said Kelly-Green.
“I have been afforded opportunities across the world because I’m an Ole Miss grad.”
At the university, Kelly-Green pursued a degree in accountancy, which had more to do with chance or fate than any preconceived visions she had of her future.
“In the world of college, and the business school, I was a really small fish in a big pond, and it was intimidating,” she said. “At the time I selected accounting as a major, I had no idea what accountants did.
“There were a couple of women from Oxford majoring in accounting so they must have influenced me although I don’t remember ever having a conversation with them about our careers.
“Being comfortable with numbers, perhaps I gravitated to accounting.”
Propelled Toward Entrepreneurship
Throughout her professional career, many of Kelly-Green’s experiences have propelled her towards entrepreneurship, including her nearly 30-year career at FedEx. As Chief Sourcing Officer, she allocated many of their resources towards entrepreneurship.
“FedEx is a poster child for entrepreneurship,” she said. “We, who worked there in the early days, were charged with moving the company forward, taking action within the service capacity, finding new and better ways to move packages, and initiating new services.
“Everything was entrepreneurial in nature.”
Once she retired from FedEx, Kelly-Green founded the KGR Group with her son, James Kelly, and daughter, Dr. Jayna Kelly, a 2005 Ole Miss graduate. Her son, Ryan Green, has also worked in the family business.
Their organization invests in restaurant franchises including Lenny’s Grill & Subs and Wimpy’s Burgers and Fries. Their latest shop opened this June in Germantown, Tennessee. Kelly-Green is proud to “create a legacy for my family and help some other young people become owners.”
“I place getting a great education at Ole Miss as my No. 1 key to any success I have achieved.”
Giving back to her community is hugely valued for Kelly-Green. She is the founding chairman of the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy, a founding member of the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis, and one of seven women founders of Philanthropic Black Women of Memphis.
While she has faced many challenges in her pursuit of success and in entrepreneurship, including battling cancer and “being an African American female in a white-male dominated environment,” she didn’t let these things hinder her from achieving her goals.
“We all have daily challenges, and I don’t know that any of mine have been more difficult than others,” she said. “It just depends on what the day is.
“The uncertainty of cancer with two small kids created the challenge of making sure they would be provided for regardless, while doing everything I could to understand the disease and to fight it. Divine guidance and healing ultimately got me through this challenge.”
Rooted in Positive Thinking
Kelly-Green tries to remain rooted in positive thinking and thankfulness. She believes that “no matter who you are, someone would love to be you,” meaning someone would love to only have the problems of someone else.
Many mentors, colleagues, and friends have worked alongside her and provided her with support throughout her career. She notes the most meaningful piece of advice she has ever received was “Always take the high road. And, one may not be able to change the world, but you may be able to change one person, one issue, one outcome.”
She has indeed lived by this philosophy, and has impacted the lives of those she encounters, including her fellow Rebels.
Kelly-Green’s takes great pride in her children and considers them as her greatest accomplishments. Like her grandmother before her, she valued being able to create opportunities for her children that she didn’t have.
She is also an avid runner and continues to run marathons and half marathons across all 50 states. Additionally, Kelly-Green is open to pursuing more passion projects and is “conscious of opportunities to make this world a better place.” As she said, she aims to lead a life where she “dreams in color.”
In her life now, Kelly-Green is focused on spending time with her grandchildren and mother, as well as planning her daughter’s May 2020 wedding.
By Asia Harden