Kelly Loeffler’s story sounds like the stuff of legend.

From a modest upbringing on her parents’ Illinois farm, she’s worked her way through school, mid-level jobs and a series of setbacks to the top of the global financial and commodities markets.

Kelly Loeffler
Kelly Loeffler speaking at the 2014 Professional Women's Conference

Now, as a senior vice president for Intercontinental Exchange and co-owner of the WNBA franchise The Atlanta Dream, Loeffler is a world-renown businesswoman famous for her work ethic and tenacious drive toward self-betterment. 

As the keynote speaker at the Terry Professional Women’s Conference, she shared these four tips for women – or anyone – to achieve their goals in business and in life.

One: Know what you’re good at

“At ICE we have an entrepreneurial culture and we focus on staying close to our customers. I think it’s important to know our strengths, and that’s an area we’re good at. We focus on change and knowing our customers, and I believe that’s led to our successes in being a growth company. In terms of anticipating change, it’s important. We like to say that with change comes opportunity, and we like to focus on our next play.

“As you know, there’s much more to success than attending events, being featured in magazines, etc. It really struck home for me when I saw the video of the Cathy family, I think they believe this as well, that it’s about using your elevated platform to build something enduring and to make people’s lives and jobs better. We don’t take that opportunity or that responsibility for granted. So, as you continue to grow toward success in your careers, don’t forget the focus that got you where you are in the first place. Ask yourself if you would want to be a customer of your product and if you’re playing the right role for your organization.”

Two: Invest in yourself

“If I had to describe my personal journey from the family farm to the global financial markets, I would simply say this: it has been a path of deliberate personal and professional growth. No matter how long I’ve been with ICE or the Dream, I never stop reading or thinking about how to grow and improve these organizations. You will never go wrong by investing in your growth.  Whether that involves taking a class in Mandarin, running a marathon, or going all out for whatever your dream might be. It can also be as simple as reading a newspaper everyday. I always remember how one of my managers at a bank stressed the importance of being informed. He said we should read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover every day. He said if you’re not reading it, someone else is, and they’re going to have an edge over you in understanding how the world is changing around us in business, politics, technology and innovation.”

Three: Embrace failure

“You may fail whenever you chase your dream. And the bigger the dream, the more likely that is to happen. And then what? You get back up and you try again. One of my inspirations growing up was Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time. He was once asked about all the shots he missed. His response is a lesson about life and failure. ‘I missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been entrusted to take the game winning shot and I missed. I failed over and over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.’

“Regardless of the outcome, how you handle the situation makes all the difference in the next play.”

Four: Think like a CEO

“You may not be the CEO of a public or private company yet, but you are the CEO of the most important company of all, which is the CEO of you. What does thinking like a CEO entail? It means doing exactly what every great CEO does – having clear, specific goals, because you cannot hit a target that you cannot see. It means having a detailed plan to reach your goals and executing that plan, weighing all your decisions carefully and adjusting plans to deal with setbacks and events that you cannot control but that will happen. And it means looking at the results and making hard decisions when necessary. Many successful CEOs and entrepreneurs will tell you that when they started out they faced headwinds time and again, and ICE is a prime example.

“In sports and business and in life, we all have to find what inspires us. And by taking these calculated risks, you plan a course, make it your own and make it the very best that it can be. Run your company – you – like a CEO.”