Rebuilding an Empire After the Recession with Jennifer Kem

Today, we’re talking with the incredible Jennifer Kem, a San Francisco Bay Area-based brand building and leadership expert who gets entrepreneurs seen, heard, and paid for being themselves. In this episode, she’s pulling back the curtain on the moments that shaped her life and led her to her purpose, from getting passed up for a promotion and starting and growing an 8-figure retail business, to losing that business, and falling into a deep depression. She’ll open up on the moment she knew it was time to come back, and how she went on to build a career and a life that sets her soul on fire.

What to Listen For:

  • Who is Jennifer Kem?
  • Looking back on what she thought her life would be

If you would’ve asked me back in 2005, would I be interested in being an entrepreneur, owning my own business, my answer would have been, no. My dreams at the time were to ascend the corporate ladder and I wanted to show that an ambitious woman could rise through the rankings of the corporate world and make a big difference in that way.

And I felt so strongly that I thought that was going to be my life path and the way that I was going to use the gifts that I was given.”

  • The advice a mentor gave her when she was 22
  • Being known as “The Project Crusher” and climbing the corporate ladder rapidly
  • Get passed up for a promotion for a male colleague after implementing a profitable and complex project
  • Realizing she wanted more control over her life
  • Creating her 9-month exit strategy
  • Making the leap in 2006

“I opened a retail store chain. I actually only thought I was going to open one store. It turned into multiple locations.”

  • Finding rapid success in her first entrepreneurial venture

“I went from making a very respectable salary as a corporate executive to having a multi-million dollar business in less than 18 months. I say this with not just humility, but also caution because that actually worked against me.”

  • Defying the advice of her financial advisor and mentor – and what happened next

“When the economy crashed in 2008 and I literally went from on the highest of high to the lowest of low in my entire life. I spiraled into depression. I had lost my business completely two days before Christmas, all my assets were frozen by the U S government and by private law firms.

I couldn’t get my daughters Christmas presents, which really bothered me. I lost my marriage. It was already rocky going into that year. I also lost my biggest mentor in life, which was my grandmother all in the span of these 90 days. You want to talk about, like on one hand, my confidence had been so high and I was so proud of what had accomplished. Then I had the ultimate bitch slap in my face because this time it was nobody’s fault at all, except for mine.”

  • Becoming functionally homeless after being shut out of my business, house, and bank accounts
  • Moving back into my grandmother’s house and then losing her
  • Becoming catatonically depressed
  • Returning to humble country roots
  • Not eating and dropping to less than 100 pounds

If you were a functioning person, and then all of a sudden, a big change happens in your life, a trauma, a change, something, and you don’t even realize how you physically fall apart, but everyone else can see it. And that was my experience. I would sit on the porch. I would watch the cars go by. I was catatonic. I subsisted on green tea and cigarettes. I started smoking.”

  • The incredible moment with her daughter that put her back on her purpose-driven path

“You forget that people care about you, you forget that. And it’s not just the children, it’s the adults. And I don’t know, I can’t even describe it, it felt like magic. When she put her hand on my shoulder the aperture of my eyes shifted. I could see things clearly again, and I looked at her and I just said, Oh my God, thank you. Thank you so much. And I promise you, Mommy is going to figure this out and we’re going to get through this.”

  • Borrowing confidence from someone who can see it
  • Considering going back to corporate and why she didn’t
  • Get past feeling humiliation, feeling like a failure
  • Going days and days without sleeping
  • The best advice a friend gave her on getting back out there
  • The amazing psychiatrist who was so special because she gave Jennifer what she needed next in graduated steps – starting with sleep

Your mental health is paramount. We can’t get anything done without our mental health. And so that’s really what happened for me. And I’m a huge proponent for mental health support. If you’re an entrepreneur, make it part of your business budget to have a therapist on call, whatever can support you. That’s so critical.

Honestly, I think it’s more important than having a life coach. I think it’s hard to have a life coach if you still haven’t released trauma. You’re still not working on your past because coaching is about forward, which is awesome. I’m a believer in both.”

  • How she got through the most difficult financial times
  • How fearing judgment held her back

“I did not want to file for bankruptcy because of the shame of my mother. My financial advisor was like, I had already not listened to him one time. Second time. He was like, ‘you need to liquidate everything.’

And he goes, ‘this is why bankruptcy was created; for moments like this. You are a high integrity person. You didn’t like cheat people. You didn’t do these things.’ He’s like, ‘so go ahead and get it done because the faster you liquidate, you can get back on your feet.’ I waited 13 months after that day that I got locked out, I should have filed for bankruptcy immediately, but I waited, trying to figure out how to pay my bills and scrape by and super stressed.

I maxed out on my credit cards to pay stupid debts that could have been filed. I didn’t listen to him again all because of my mother and it’s not her fault, but it’s because I didn’t want her to find out because that would be the biggest embarrassment.”

  • Getting the motivation to do what needed to be done

My grandmother willed me her house. The problem was, I was wrapped up in litigation and they were going to try to take that house. It was the last thing and I was like, there’s no effing way my grandmother immigrated from the Philippines as an indentured servant, made 30 cents an hour working in the pineapple fields for me to screw up and have the house she and my grandfather built their own two hands taken away.

I was like, there’s no freaking way that’s happening. So, I had to woman up and I had to say, I can’t pay for this mortgage.”

  • The phone call she dreaded that gave her so much relief in more ways than one

“Finally, I just had to make that phone call to my mom. And the crazy thing is, the moment I said, this is what’s happening through all my tears and blubbering because I was a hot mess, my mom simply said, ‘how much do you need?”

  • How filing for bankruptcy gave her enough peace of mind to start knocking on doors
  • The courage to tell people that you don’t have the answer – this is crucial
  • The realization that the only person judging her was herself
  • Getting to know the new Jennifer Kem as she pulled herself out
  • The importance of keeping your body and mind connected
  • The danger of “maybe”
  • Tapping into her values to align uncomfortable actions with her dreams – despite rejections
  • Becoming values-driven vs. results-driven
  • Taking a step back and evaluating the ingredients of Jen Kem
  • Identifying her three pillars of motivation – vision, violations, and voids

“I always was a curious human being. And I was like, why do I keep stepping into this pile of shit? And also, why do I get to a certain point and then I sabotage myself? Why am I doing this?”

  • Letting go of ego and finding the obvious solution
  • Jennifer’s advice for listeners – with specific questions to ask yourself
  • Realizing her vision was too small – and what she did about it
  • Finding the spark she needed while visiting her dad and sharing her vision

“Dad, I have this vision. I want to help more people. I want to help people like me, like people who overcame this and create a company through their expertise and their experience. My whole thing was I realized that I had chosen the wrong business to start because I thought I couldn’t take my experience and turn it into a business.

So I chose another industry thinking that’s what I should pursue. And I said, I actually think that if I simplified it and I helped other people do that, I think I could help a lot of people make different choices.

And I was like, I think that people can create autonomous lives. I want to teach people how to do it based on what I learned.

I remember my dad specifically just looked at me and he’s like, Jenny do it.”

  • Losing her dad 7 weeks after this conversation
  • Looking back at her values and making a choice
  • Making #WhatAreYouWaitingFor the hashtag on her campus
  • The belief that tragedy appears to teach us the choices we can have after it
  • About the Brand Archetype Quiz – take this for free at

Get to Know Jennifer Kem

Jennifer Kem is the creator of the Master Brand Method: a framework to develop powerful brand archetypes that win customers’ hearts, leveraging Jennifer’s 20 years of corporate experience and her launching of multiple companies. She uses the Master Brand method in strategic consulting for emerging entrepreneurs, celebrity brands like Oprah Winfrey Network and Steve Harvey, and major corporations including Verizon, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Bank of Hawaii.

What she is most passionate about in her work today is her legacy project: Femmefluence, a platform that supports women leaders to fully rise into their influence and affluence, so they can make an even greater impact in the world.

Jennifer serves up straight talk wrapped in love, because she understands entrepreneurs’ challenges: She built a retail business and became a millionaire at 32, only to lose it all in the recession two years later. She is now the successful owner of three million-dollar brand-building businesses and the mother of three children.

Where you can find Jennifer Kem:

Facebook biz page:
IG: @jennifer.kem
Twitter: @JenniferKemComm


Access our free 8-part Journey Mapping™ sampler program and begin uncovering the purpose of your path at

Read my memoir, Unravel: Rising Up and Coming Back from a Season of Living that Damn Near Killed Me at