Saying thanks, one month at a time

| January 17, 2013

Practically from the time Kelly Meredith Iacobelli ’88 graduated, she has been an enthusiastic supporter of Sweet Briar, both financially and as a volunteer.

In those early years, she worked full time in marketing while studying for an MBA, first at George Washington in D.C., then at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Money was tight. Still, she budgeted for her alma mater.

Kelly Iacobelli ’88 (center) with her daughter, Kathleen, and Elvira Tate ’65 at a recent Sweet Briar Day event in Atlanta.

“I paid my way through Sweet Briar,” Iacobelli says. “That always made me more aware of the need to give back, because the financial aid I received was very generous.”

Time and changing circumstances eventually made giving back easier. She married in 1992 and finished the MBA in 1997 — and she was succeeding in her job at GOJO Industries. In 1996, the maker of industrial skin and hand hygiene products introduced its first brand into the consumer marketplace. Iacobelli was instrumental in launching Purell, the now-ubiquitous instant hand sanitizer.

“Frankly, it shouldn’t have worked, but it did,” Iacobelli said of a product that was almost entirely unknown outside of health care settings, where it was competing with brand-name giants Dial and Lysol.

Neither she nor any of her GOJO colleagues knew the consumer market, she recalls, noting it was a paradigm shift for the company. She attacked it analytically: Who were they trying to communicate with and what would convince that audience to buy Purell? (Answers: Start with new mothers, always voracious information-seekers, and the promise of neutralizing familiar foes — cold and flu viruses).

Iacobelli believes the instinct to break down the problem was born at Sweet Briar. So was the fearlessness that made jumping into new territory seem ordinary to her. Then-President Nenah Fry, she remembers, told students they weren’t learning job skills; they were acquiring the ability to learn. Change “just doesn’t intimidate me,” she says.

Having graduated from Case Western and fresh off the Purell triumph, Iacobelli’s thoughts turned south — literally anywhere warmer than Ohio. When she was offered a regional marketing position in Atlanta, her husband John knew there was no arguing, she said, laughing.

Since accepting that position, she has changed jobs several times and today is the director of industry communications at Coca-Cola. She works with numerous industry associations but her favorite is the Network of Executive Women, which helps retailers and consumer packaged goods companies attract and retain talented women.

Iacobelli is from the small city of Monroe, Ga., where her world wasn’t very big. Arriving at Sweet Briar, people such as Cheryl Mares, today the Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor of English, “shook me up,” she says. “I think my education also is valuable to me because I took the filters off and let myself expand my viewpoint on everything.”

Over time, her gratitude to Sweet Briar has remained strong, and she found the best way to support the College financially is through installments. This has allowed her to give consistently at the Boxwood Circle leadership level since 2007. “When I made my monthly contribution a part of my fiscal routine, it became very easy to manage,” she says.

Meanwhile, her roots firmly re-established in Georgia, she’s also generous with her time and energy. She has served on the Alumnae Board in several capacities, fundraised, volunteered with the Atlanta Club and participated in Sweet Briar Days and other local events.

“I thoroughly enjoy volunteering!” she says. “I meet engaging women and help protect the College that I love. As we have watched other women’s colleges make difficult decisions about their futures, it is clear that we need to protect the future of Sweet Briar.”

Iacobelli’s 25th Reunion is coming up and she won’t miss the opportunity to reconnect with friends. “I also love sharing my cherished memories with my husband and daughter, who attend Reunion with me.”

Want to know more about installment giving? Visit sbc.edu/alumdev/ways-give for more information. To learn more about volunteering, please visit sbc.edu/alumdev/volunteer.

Jennifer McManamay

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Category: Alumnae and Development