Build a Legacy for Your Business with Kelly Cardenas

August 5, 2022

Build a Legacy for Your Business with Kelly Cardenas

August 5, 2022

About This Episode

Our guest on this episode of Brilliant Thoughts, a SUCCESS magazine podcast, is none other than Kelly Cardenas. He’s been in the professional beauty industry for 29 years and owned a lot of salons all over the country, and now he has transitioned into the personal development industry. This guy has remained humble despite all of his success, and he’s taught me a lot about leadership and culture-building in this conversation too. Listen in to the podcast or read on below. Let’s dive right in.

The importance of building trust and relationships

During his childhood and his 29 years in the professional beauty industry, Kelly has learned a lot of things from so many people.

Most of his principles in life, both personal and professional, had come from his parents, and they were reinforced later on by the people he met in his career. One such influential person in his life was Robert, the person Kelly used to work for as an assistant hairdresser.

He asked Robert how to become a successful hairdresser, and Robert’s advice was to “go have a nice dinner.” Puzzled by a piece of advice that seemed to have no connection with hairdressing, Kelly tried what he was told and discovered the secret to success in any business in general: how to engage your customers (or clients) and bridge the gap to build legitimate connections.

“I realized there was no limit to this stuff,” Kelly shares. When you engage people with the things they are passionate about, you start to have these conversations, and now you become a person. You have a commonality. “That’s where the true connection happens,” he adds.

Another person that has made a profound impact on his life is Julie Compton. Before he had his own salon, when he got fired from his job, Julie was the person who was really there for him. She gave him the push he needed, both emotionally and with the means to kickstart his own business. 

“She believed in me. If I didn’t have that ‘angel’... if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have any business,” Kelly shares.

Not only did she lend him the money to open his own salon and believed in him, but she also taught him the value of “getting to know people before you need them.” When they first met, Kelly had the mindset of “business is business,” but here was Julie, trying to befriend him authentically.

“I realized that this woman doesn’t want anything from me. All she wanted was to be my friend,” Kelly says. “And four or five years later, she helped me… I got to know her before I needed her.”

After that, he managed to grow his salon successfully enough to open different salons in different parts of the US. But he didn’t do it alone. He accomplished this with the aid of the 19-to- 24 year olds he worked with, who embraced the culture he established and actively lived it.

He opened one in San Diego, and soon after, the idea of opening a management company for the professional beauty industry came to him.

He got his first opportunity with Van Dungeons, but the work with Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas was what “threw his business into the global stratosphere.”

There’s only one business: the people business

Leaving behind 29 years of his “identity” in the professional beauty industry wasn’t easy for Kelly. It was scary. But he held on to his principles and the teachings he grew up hearing from his dad. 

“[He] kept telling me that there was only one business in the world. One business only—and that was the people business. If you took the people out of the business, you had no business at all,” Kelly shares.

He realized that regardless of what industry you are in, if you can build people, you can develop a culture, and you can grow a business.

Kelly’s three steps to building people

When it comes to leadership, it is one of our responsibilities to help other people grow. However, a lot of leaders end up tearing others down instead of building them up. So how do we help others grow?

“...first of all, stop watching reality-TV contests where there’s judges, and those judges are telling people all the horrible things about themselves. That’s number one,” Kelly says.

Kelly learned three simple, effective steps in building other people.

  1. Respect and reverence for where someone came from.
  2. Know where they are at right now and encourage them from there.
  3. Only then can you build them up to be who they can be or to go where they can go.

Most leaders skip the steps and go straight for the last one. While casting a vision helps others expand their horizons and aim higher, it might be ineffective if we skip the first two steps. “They end up freaking out,” Kelly says. Before, and even until now, a sizable portion of professional hairdressers came from meager backgrounds. For most of them, just having work was already considered a success.

Casting a huge vision of earning six figures with a four-day work week sounds amazing in print, but it is a vision that is hard to grasp if delivered the wrong way. But if you can deliver that vision coming from a place of understanding of where your people came from and where they are at right now, it would be more effective and transformative. It would become real and tangible to them as well.

“I learned this about altitude. Altitude is your point of elevation in reference to the ground level. But most of the time, we don’t take time to understand where the ground level is,” Kelly shares." What is simple for him wasn’t as simple for those just starting out, and he learned through that experience to dive deeper into getting to know others to help them grow.

Building culture

Working with young professionals isn’t always easy. They have this amazing vision and ambition, but the key to engaging them fully is to build a culture that they believe in and can help them focus. Culture is also something crucial for older professionals as well. This is what makes (or breaks) your company.

Kelly shares how he was able to build a positive culture that allowed the young professionals he worked with, and his business, to grow.

The first is in helping them understand why they are doing what they are doing. In his case, when he was still working in his salon business, Kelly’s goal was to change people’s views on hairdressers. It starts with changing the way professional hairdressers behave. Financial literacy and discipline in time management were the top things he worked on in his culture.

The next is something we are all familiar with: what is the company’s story? But more importantly, how do the individuals’ stories who are working for the company fit into the company’s story?

By making their individual stories part of the company story, they have more ownership of their work and responsibilities. The need to police them and make sure they are doing their jobs (and doing them right) disappears.

The third is asking them how they define “success.” This circles back to Kelly’s three-step principle in leadership, of knowing where they are from, knowing where they are at right now, before showing them where they can be. Working on their initial definition of success and allowing them to achieve that first before redefining success helps them take growth in small but sustainable steps.

And last is to understand the threshold of their belief system. As Mike Tyson said, we all have a plan until we get punched in the mouth. Understanding how they behave when that belief in the culture is put to the test helps establish integrity. “That’s what I really wanted to make sure. That we were the same in the dark as we were in the light. That meant that we had that integrity in our culture,” Kelly says.

The key is to understand that culture is a living, breathing organism in your organization. As with all living things, there has to be room to innovate, make mistakes, and grow.

These principles are what Kelly carried over to his personal development business. When he does consultation for organizations, he reminds them that “rules are just a list of screw-ups,” of examples of what not to follow, and he examines their rulebooks to make sure that they simplify communication.

When you know that rules are simply lists of past mistakes, you understand that someone did something, and that it didn’t work. This gives newcomers into the company a freedom to act, instead of being fenced-in by merely following the rules. They have space to innovate and try something new.

“If it worked, we wrote it down. We systemized it, and it became amazing. If it sucked, it became a rule of what not to do in the future,” Kelly shares.

The important things in the company culture are a sense of ownership of the mission and purpose, a shared vision, clear and simple communication, and a solid sense of trust.

If you trust in your people, it creates evangelists for your company and culture. They, in turn, make customers feel happy, and that turns your customers into a new batch of evangelists for your company.

“And once you have guests as evangelists, and they are preaching the gospel of what you’re doing, you don’t need advertisement. You don’t need PR. You don’t need any of those things. Because the people are out there, speaking about it, and they are speaking from the heart.” — Kelly Cardenas

However, relationships need to be established both ways. Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. A kid who understands the reasons for the rules being set will know why that rule makes sense. But without establishing that trusting relationship, the kid will try to figure it out of curiosity.

The same thing applies to business and all aspects of life. Kelly believes in principle-based learning, leadership, and success over circumstantial success. 

“Circumstantial success meant that I could only succeed in one area of life, right? Or one lane, or one niche,” he says. “But when you work principle-based, it can apply to a lot. It applies to your business, your relationships, your marriage, your family, and your kids. There’s not that many of them… they haven’t changed much over the years. Sometimes we change the language to them, but if we understand principle-based then we can build everything [professional and personal], based on principles.”

Success is in the process.


The Hideout is a two-and-a-half day mastermind that Kelly does, and it is about getting to know people before you need them. It is an event for entrepreneurs to “refill” on joy during those two and a half days of activities—the same joy they can pour out when they get home to their families, their relationships, and their businesses.

It is a “place to be yourself” and get to know other people that might become a big part of your personal or professional life. Get to know them now, before you [might] need their help someday.

You can check out their website if you are interested in being part of this event.

What is Kelly currently reading?

“Corresponding proverb, corresponding day,” Kelly says. “There are 31 proverbs [in the bible], and there are 31 days. I encourage a lot of my friends, because a lot of times, they think ‘Oh, you’re trying to bible beat me.’ I’m not doing that. I’m saying, every single book in our industry, the personal development industry, is based on proverbs.”

Kelly is also reading Seth Godin’s This is Marketing, MONEY Master the Game by Tony Robbins, and Winning by Tim Grover.

Follow Kelly Cardenas on his social

Instagram: @therealkellycardenas

LinkedIn and Facebook

Check out his website:

The Kelly Cardenas podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, and soon on Success!

DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.

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