Soap is a pretty basic commodity by most standards but learning to make it was just what Kelli Denes needed at one point in her life. In 2001, she and her husband, Joel, moved from her hometown of Visalia, California, a farming community in the central valley, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in America’s heartland. In California, she worked for a top-performing wireless phone provider. In Iowa, the scene was more relaxed and, after experiencing four failed rounds of in vitro fertilization, she was ready for a change.

Denes saw a local company’s ad for a soap maker and it was just the ticket. “I love making things, so I became the 13th employee hired at Raining Rose and I made soap,” she says proudly. Since then she has moved on to become the supplier’s large account sales representative and one of approximately 350 employees, but she’s never forgotten the importance of that pivotal role.

“I used these big, wire soap cutters and the wires kept breaking so I would call the manufacturer daily to discuss the issue with them,” she says. “Everyone was pleasantly shocked that I had such good phone skills and shortly thereafter I was asked to help answer calls. A couple of months later, the current owners purchased the company and made it into what we are today.”

In her current position, Denes travels about twice a month and with today’s phone, video and text capabilities she believes she’s more accessible by not traveling as often as some of her industry counterparts. And she’s grateful to spend time with her husband and three children, Quinlan, 14, Marin, 12, and Grey, 8, and participate in their many activities. In addition to her family, a priority for Denes is completing her college degree. Since late 2015, she’s been attending Mount Mercy University, a small, local private school with an online curriculum. She expects to graduate June 2, 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

How are you fitting college courses in with work and being a wife and mother? What’s your secret to time management?   

There really is no secret; it’s all about having a plan and sticking to it. I look at what has to be done for the week, schedule it out and ask for help when I need it. For example, over the summer I took two courses at once which was an enormous time commitment. I asked everyone I knew for help. Part of the plan involved taking a leave of absence from the gym. I asked my kids what they could do, and they decided to load and unload the dishwasher every day for me. My husband did all the cooking June through August which allowed me the time I needed to get everything done the best I could.

Why it is important to earn your degree at this point in life? What has kept you motivated to finish?

The idea of going back to school was something I struggled with for years. I’m getting a degree just because I want to—I want to take any “ifs” out of the equation and that concept was hard to embrace. Motivation lies mainly within showing my kids I can do it, and knowing I’ve done everything I can to be the best version of myself.


Kelli Denes cherishes her time with her family including
daughters Quinlan and Marin, son Grey and husband Joel.


Health and fitness are priorities for you. What is your typical nutrition and exercise routine and how do you maintain consistency—especially while traveling? 

Let me first start by saying when it comes to nutrition and exercise, I am all kinds of crazy and I’m OK with that. Food outweighs exercise in my equation. I vary in the ways that I eat—mostly Paleo and sometimes Keto. What’s important is being in tune with my body and knowing that I’m fueling it to the best of my ability. No matter what though, my meals always include plenty of vegetables and protein. I always travel with food: Nick’s Sticks, Epic Bars, RX Bars or plain almond butter packs.

I try to incorporate fun and active play in my daily life. I seize opportunities to jump on the trampoline with my kiddos, kayak and hike—the normal boundaries of a gym just aren’t appealing to me. I’d much rather skip, jump, cartwheel and dance to my own beat.

You travel with a list of priorities. What are they and how do you use them? 

Family and time with my family are always at the top of my list and this is my guiding compass. Sometimes that means when I’m traveling my free time is spent hunkered down in my hotel room plowing through as much homework as I can so that when my plane lands the next day, I can give my focus to the people I love.

Another priority is to be present in the moment. It’s a waste of energy and resources if I attend a customer event and I don’t show up to everything I was invited to. I fully commit and look forward to every conversation and experience, and if I am going to be away from my family—I better make it count. So, if it’s an early morning hike with a client, I’m there. An evening welcome reception, I’m there. Nine hours on a trade show floor wearing a superhero costume, I’m there. My career and keeping presence with customers is definitely important to me.


Kelli Denes with her team at supplier Raining Rose, Inc. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


You are also a firm believer in self-improvement. What are you working on now?

So many things! I’m always working on some daily habit adjustments as well as some big- picture items. Currently on the list is tracking my water intake, eating more berries and greens, and weekly meal planning. At work my focus is on growing my business by 20 percent, staying out of email outside of scheduled times and having 20 in-person meetings before the end of the year. Personally, I’m working on limiting my social media time, establishing a gym routine and making time every week for personal connections with friends.


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.