Next Up Columbus 2020: Kelly Atkinson

Kelly Atkinson
Kelly Atkinson

Photo by Matt Reese / CityPulse Columbus

Interview by Sarah Shumick

Name: Kelly Atkinson
Age: 37
Profession: Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator and Office Administrator at Barnes & Thornburg LLP
Neighborhood: Pickerington
Education?Certifications: BA in Accounting; MBA with Operations & Logistics focus; Certified Tourism Ambassador
Quote: “I LOVE connecting people to other people, organizations, and purposes that help them reach a better version of themselves, and to be recognized in any fashion as someone who makes a difference is humbling.”
Connect: LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

After Kelly Atkinson graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Accounting (a field she knew she wanted to go into since the age of 12!), she took an accounting job at a regional law firm, leaving once for an opportunity in retail, and then returning only to be laid off after a merger. Once Atkinson found her place at Barnes & Thornburg in Columbus, she knew she was in the right spot, saying, “I have never been at a loss for new challenges.”

Atkinson loves her role in shaping a company culture “where each and every person is valued for who they are and what they contribute to the greater firm.”

Being so involved in her company and in the central Ohio community, Atkinson admits, “Resting is not my strong suit, but I love cheering my kids on while watching them play sports – especially soccer. And jigsaw puzzles give me a strange sense of accomplishment while barely moving for hours, so they’ve proven a great resource for me to relax.”

Give us a snapshot of your career path:
I’ve had incredibly good fortune to have several opportunities to try new things, often within the comfort of familiar workplaces. Out of college, I started in accounting for a regional law firm, then moved to special projects at that firm while I was working on my M.B.A. I then had a brief stint at a large retailer, only to be asked to come back and manage a department I knew nothing about at my first law firm.

I was laid off when that firm went through a merger, just when my current firm was looking to fill my dream job – Office Administrator of a large, national firm’s Columbus office looking to grow its presence in the market. At Barnes & Thornburg, I have never been at a loss for new challenges. For the past two years, I have even had the privilege of working on firmwide diversity and inclusion initiatives while continuing to work alongside my office managing partner to create an incredible office culture.

What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
I love people. The idea that everything I do ultimately serves not only external clients of the firm, but all of the internal clients by building an environment where each and every person is valued for who they are and what they contribute to the greater firm.

What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way?
No one has guided me more than Bill Nolan. He has taught me the secrets of networking, endless tips to best manage people, and maybe most of all, that I can do so much more than I would’ve thought if I just believe in myself as much as others do. I owe him so much for helping me become who I am today and for always challenging me because of his overwhelming confidence in me.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
Resting is not my strong suit, but I love cheering my kids on while watching them play sports – especially soccer. And jigsaw puzzles give me a strange sense of accomplishment while barely moving for hours, so they’ve proven a great resource for me to relax.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
I decided in sixth grade that I wanted to be an accountant after taking a career test that suggested either that or hotel management. At age 12, I thought hotel management sounded ridiculous, and I knew I was good with numbers, so even though I didn’t exactly understand what it meant to do accounting, that became my path.

What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
In addition to the Bible, which is always on my reading list, I’m reading The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre as I attempt to help my son with his ADHD in second grade. As for podcasts, I always enjoy Theology for the Rest of Us, The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer, and Impact Makers with Jennifer McClure.

What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
I’m truly honored to have been chosen as someone who positively impacts our great city. I LOVE connecting people to other people, organizations, and purposes that help them reach a better version of themselves, and to be recognized in any fashion as someone who makes a difference is humbling.

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
Columbus is on fire. The people of this city are crazy proud of what we’re accomplishing, but we’re not so big to forget that PEOPLE are what make the city so amazing. I love that you can get a meeting with anyone you want to talk to, and that so many people are always willing to help each other for the collective good. Columbus has all of the wonder and excitement of Oz while still maintaining that “there’s no place like home.”


The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in Central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. Special thanks to the Columbus Young Professionals Club, Discover Financial, and Zipline Logistics for their support of this awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2020” »

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