Makaila Kelso is a Utah native and graduate of Utah State University. She currently is the Branch Manager at Spherion, where she leverages her interpersonal skills and innovative thinking to cultivate strategic partnerships and create cutting-edge staffing solutions. Makaila is driven by her deep-seated commitment to employee advocacy, equity, positive company cultures, upward mobility, and eliminating barriers to workforce entry.

During March, the Salt Lake Chamber is highlighting influential women in Utah. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we asked Makaila to share her stories, thoughts and advice.

What does success mean to you? Share your path to success and the challenges you’ve overcome to get there.

I am a really motivated person with a high-achieving personality. What success looks like to me is ever-changing. I have learned that what matters to me regarding success is the impact that you leave behind. Success itself is so subjective. I’ve found that the more influence you can have on other people for good, the more likely that influence will have a ripple effect on people after them, and so on. So, success for me is when I’m able to change the way I think about myself and the way people think of themselves. Success for me is when someone on my team who didn’t have confidence before finds the confidence to do tasks they previously didn’t feel equipped to do. Success means getting up on a stage and publicly speaking for the first time because we are sharing important, relevant content with others who also want to make a change. That’s success to me. Success to me is not about how big your house is, or the fancy car that you drive. It’s not only the paycheck you take home — what legacy did you leave behind?

Share an experience of a past initiative or project that you’re proud of.

In 2020, I was working at the Family Support Center. We operated three crisis nurseries in Salt Lake County and crisis therapeutic services for those experiencing abuse. During the pandemic, a lot of the messaging was to “stay safe, stay home.” While this was true for a lot of people, for many of our clients, this was difficult to do because their homes were often unsafe places. To keep operating, we decided we were going to need some serious resources financially to keep our spaces clean and safe, so we launched a campaign called “Keep home safe.” Prior to this campaign, we had only ever raised less than $10,000 in a campaign. We achieved our ambitious goal of raising $100,000 in about 45 days. Not only did we do that, but we did donation drives for the supplies so that the $100,000 was able to last us so much longer. I am proud of myself and my team for doing this during an incredibly challenging time!

Do you have a favorite daily routine or habit that keeps you centered and focused?

Being kind to myself! I am not afraid to look in the mirror and say, “I love you.” I am not afraid to look in the mirror and truly look myself in the eyes and tell myself why I’m valuable or worthy of a situation. Something that I try to do every single day is stop myself from saying negative self-talk about myself and encourage positive self-talk about myself and others. I also try to stop other people when they are speaking negatively about themselves. Once I started doing that, my whole life became different. My outlook on life improved just by changing the way I think.

Who is a woman in your life who has impacted you in some way?

I come from a line of very strong women — women who have endured a lot. My grandma is a changemaker. She worked and held many jobs while raising seven children and was the first woman in our family to start a business almost 30 years ago when she launched a child care center out of her home. My grandma exemplifies strength, courage and a desire to help others.

My mother is a cycle breaker. She has been through a lot in her life but has never given up. At 15 years old, she became pregnant with me while in an abusive relationship, which resulted in her expulsion from high school. However, despite these hardships, she found the strength to both complete high school through night school and escape the abusive situation. 

I mention this because my mom’s resilience and ability to push through have inspired me my whole life. She set a standard for me to never give up, even when times are hard, and this belief helped me become the first person in my whole family to graduate from college. 

It takes courage to break cycles, but my mother did it. She is my hero, and I hope to be like her someday.

*Stay updated on more stories, events and information on Women’s History Month by visiting the Salt Lake Chamber’s website.