“My Passion Is Helping Companies Grow”
Position: Vice President of Marketing at Revinate, which uses data to help hotels better understand their guests.
Home: San Francisco, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Waterloo in urban design and planning.
Career: Marketing roles with Adobe Systems, Createch Group, Dynamic Signal and Lithium Technologies.
Favorite movies: "Stand by Me"
Favorite book: “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond. “I love how it tries to explain things and make sense of the world,” Lee said.
Interests: Traveling, hiking, surfing.
Fun Fact: “I once worked out with Sylvester Stallone,” he said. In Vancouver for a conference, Lee was in a hotel gym when someone with a distinctive sounding voice asked if he was finished with the 30-pound dumbbells. “I looked up and it was Stallone,” Lee added. “I said ‘Sure,’ and he ended up giving me some coaching tips on how he does back exercises. So I tell my friends, ‘Yeah, I worked out with Stallone.’”
SAN FRANCISCO – Not much dust gathers on Kenny Lee’s passport. By his count, he has visited nearly 60 countries. And when Lee travels, he isn’t your typical tourist.
For instance, he has hiked up 18,000 feet to the Mount Everest Base Camp. Paddled the Amazon River. Trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Volunteered to help build a school in Ghana. Herded livestock with nomads on the steppes of Asia.
“I’m honestly not an adventure junkie,” Lee said. “But I’ve always been curious about the world. I always knew that it was so much bigger than just the neighborhood where I grew up. There are so many things to see out there. And I want to see it all.”
So it’s probably only appropriate that Lee’s professional career has gravitated toward making sure people get the most out of their travel experiences . . . although it usually doesn’t involve lodging in Mongolian yurts and Nepalese teahouses.
Lee, 43, is the vice president of marketing at Revinate, which works with the hotel industry to build deeper relationships with guests. A self-described “Swiss Army Knife” marketer, Lee brought his two decades of experience in a variety of marketing roles to Revinate in 2015 with a simple mission – scale quickly.
“My passion is helping companies grow,” Lee added. “And we’re trying to grow really fast. My marching orders are to help build the company exponentially by transforming the marketing department.”
Lee’s background in everything from enterprise to startup companies makes him perfectly suited for that role, said his friend Anuja Dharkar.
“Kenny has such a broad expertise in marketing, but he’s not just a high-level generalist,” said Dharkar, who worked with Lee at Adobe Systems. “He really dives in and gets to know new technologies and strategies almost at an expert level. Nothing gets past him. He’s voracious when it comes to gaining knowledge in different areas of marketing.”
But there’s another reason why Lee has been successful, she added.
“He’s the type of person you trust and know that you can count on,” Dharkar said. “Everyone’s success is very important to him – not just his own.”
The personable Lee may be a natural marketer, but it wasn’t his first career choice. A native of Toronto, Lee attended the University of Waterloo where he studied urban design and planning. His first job out of college was at a development company that built high-rises.
But he grew frustrated by the slow pace of dealing with government bureaucracy and made the switch to marketing by joining Adobe. While that might sound like a drastic change, Lee found similarities between the professions. Well-designed civic projects and marketing campaigns both are about orchestrating different elements so that they come together in harmony.
“You look at cities that have sprawl and think: This makes no sense,” Lee added. “Then you look at other cities with beautiful open spaces and that are easy to get around. It’s complex, and yet looks so simple. Systems should behave that way. I learned quickly that it’s frustrating when marketing systems don’t flow. I love it when everything works and plays well together.”
During his 15 years at Adobe, Lee did nearly every kind of marketing – field, product, digital, campaign. Dharkar remembers how Lee had a reputation as a problem-solver. A favorite Lee tactic was to frame an issue by using analogies to make sure the entire team was on the same page.
For instance, she said, let’s say Adobe was trying to determine the right global partners for an initiative. But there were no obvious matches.
“Kenny would say, ‘It’s like we’re dating and we don’t yet know if this is the right person or not. So we have to keep looking,’” said Dharkar, who now has her own consulting firm. “Kenny has this knack of bringing out a totally off-the-wall analogy and it will help you understand the situation. I used to call it a ‘Kenny Special’ because they really would help you solve the problem.”
It wasn’t just that he had a humorous, collegial way of driving consensus by soliciting the opinions of others, added Diana Helander, who first met Lee at Adobe. He also has the ability to make the hard decisions when needed.
“That can be a tricky balance, but Kenny can strike it,” said Helander, senior director of product marketing at Revinate. “I’ve always been impressed with his willingness to uncover what actually is going on. A hallmark of his is not just to accept things at face value and actually dig a little deeper to figure out a more effective way of doing business.”
Already a world-traveler, Lee journeyed throughout Asia when he left Adobe just before turning 40. Among the numerous countries he visited were Japan, China, South Korea, India and Vietnam.
“Traveling was just something that I was always curious about,” he explained. “When I was a kid, I had a lot of encyclopedias and loved watching the animal shows on television. It just sparked an interest of seeing places.”
Once back in the Bay Area, Lee returned to marketing roles that included stops at a startup called Dynamic Signal and Lithium, where he began thinking more deeply about marketing technology.
Lee recalls the age-old adage about advertising that later was applied to marketing: Half of marketing gets wasted, but we just don’t know which half. The emergence of MarTech tools, he added, is helping to solve that problem by adding data analytics to the role of marketing.
“This has allowed a lot of marketers to start quantifying their value and justify how much they are spending,” he said. “If my CEO is entrusting me with money and resources to drive our business, I should be able to say whether we’re getting a return over time. I don’t think of myself as a deep technologist, but I want to understand how it works and how it can help me.”
Now, he’s at a company that’s bringing technology to an industry that hasn’t been known for being digitally savvy – hotels.
“I’m sure his love of traveling has a lot to do why Kenny is here,” Helander said. “I love to travel, too, and we’ve talked a lot about how it’s a dream come true because we get the chance to marry travel and technology into our work. It’s exciting for both of us being able to help that industry.”
Revinate uses feedback data to help mid-size and large chains as well as independent hotels gain insights into what guests think about them and personalize their future stays. So maybe a favorite bottle of wine will be waiting when they arrive, or perhaps even an upgrade depending on their profile.
“I was always passionate about the travel industry because I’ve been a lifelong customer of hotels,” Lee said. “We help them know their customers. It’s part of why this is such an interesting time when it comes to technology. I’m loving where the world is right now.”
Speaking of the world, Lee said there are other locales he wants to see. But he doesn’t keep a bucket list.
“I have been wanting to visit Antarctica and go the Galapagos Islands,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do the Silk Road as well.”
Then he paused.
“I guess I do have a list,” Lee added with a smile.
About the Author
Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow on Twitter