When Melisa Denis, former Global Lead Partner of KPMG, took the plunge into the next chapter of her life and retired, her retirement helped her look back and appreciate how keeping herself and her family grounded over the past years helped keep her perspective and focus on what really matters.
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Tell us a little about yourself!
Well, I’m 57 years old, recently retired from my big job at KPMG after more than 30+ years in the consulting world. I am married to the most amazing man in the world (did I say that he was drop-dead gorgeous) and coming up on my 30th wedding anniversary. I have two kids: Alexis who just turned 28 and AJ who is 26. They are both out of college with great careers, totally launched and successful (and seem to be very happy) with their lives. I am transitioning to my second career of corporate board service and have landed my first public board and my second board will be public soon. We are building a duplex in Avon, Colorado, and starting the preliminary phase of building in a new subdivision in Flower Mound, Texas. We plan to live in both Texas and Colorado, as Alexis lives in Denver and AJ lives in Dallas, so we will spend time in both places.
We love to travel and are hikers/bikers/divers/golfers/travelers and overall adventure seekers. So crazy that we climbed Kilimanjaro and the mountains in Patagonia.
When you were working and raising children, how did you keep everything balanced?
When JF and I started our careers, we knew that both of us could not be on the Autobahn, so we decided that one of us would stay on the service road while the other one was in the left lane. We used to say that JF was the “first responder” in our family while the kids were young. We had a nanny even before we could afford one, just to give us some additional coverage since our families were between 200 and 2000 miles away. It was very hard but having some additional help around the house helped us keep our sanity.
We had a very strong pediatrician and she gave us some amazing advice along the way with the kids. She helped us understand that the most important things we could give our children were not money or material things. The most important things were a loving home with two parents who loved each other. She taught us how important a healthy marriage was to model for our children, so that is what we did. Every Friday night, regardless of the situation, we had a date night. I never scheduled work events or kid events on Friday night. JF and I had a date night every week for the entire time while our kids were at home. We were able to model a strong, healthy relationship for them. Most of the times, the date was just a way to catch up and focus on each other.
We actually never had balance in our lives, but we leaned on each other. We had a pact that we would not give our marriage 50/50; we would give 100/100. Sounds funny but it is a huge difference in how you go about helping each other. It was not always rosy, but we worked at it very hard. Plus, I got lucky and married a terrific man!
After being offered early retirement (congratulations!) in 2020, what changed for you?
I felt like retirement was the biggest sign (and a gift from The Lord). KPMG has mandatory retirement at 60 but I had been praying about leaving and starting my board service before I reached 60. Honestly, I was too scared to leave, but when COVID happened, I felt the Lord was giving me permission to leave and start the next chapter in my life. It was weird, as before the pandemic, I was traveling at least 150,000 miles a year for work. When COVID hit and I was not traveling, I realized I was ready to make a change. I never realized how much a toll traveling had taken on my body. Suddenly I was sleeping a good eight hours a night, something I had not done in more than 30 years.
It was not always easy at work or home. Frankly, I was not doing what I wanted to do at work and was constantly praying that the Lord would show me what He wanted from me. I felt like my gifts and talents were not being utilized. I had spent my entire career being a networker. I really felt compelled to help women but at the same time, I knew it was good to network, so I spent so much time doing both. Turns out that giving back and networking were the Lord’s way of preparing me for retirement and He was leveraging my gifts and talents. You never know when a situation you think is not ideal is really preparing you for something bigger and better.
The other big change that happened in 2020 is that we sold the big house. We had more than 13,000 square feet (a back guest quarter) and 2.5 acres, and decided it was time to “cleanse” ourselves of the big things in our lives. It was the most liberating exercise we have ever done. We moved into a 3000 square foot house so we literally gave away two households full of “stuff.” I think the Lord was telling us to shed so much stuff in our lives. We have prescribed the “less is more” philosophy, and it feels great!
What advice would you give a fellow professional woman who wants to keep her life focused on what’s important?
I highly recommend that you focus on God, your marriage, and children, in that order. So many parents feel guilty (especially women) that they must focus on their children with what little time they have outside of their careers. I believe that is a mistake. Raising children is a dual effort that’s not just on moms. Don’t correct or redo what your husband is doing with the kids. Make sure you share that responsibility (and joy) with your partner, without correction or complaining. Sometimes, the living room will just be a bit messy or the kids might not match exactly. That is ok. Concentrate on a healthy marriage and your children will learn from you to “give and take.”
Wives, spend time dating your husband and making sure you don’t forget about the man you will be with long after your children leave the nest. Do things that keep the fire going!
It is hard but I highly recommend that you network, network, network. You never have time, but you make time. Bring the family along with you as you network. It helps your children and your spouse see you in a broader light. I tell my family this and it has become my personal motto: “You allocate time and resources to things you want.” If you apply that motto, you can do amazing things.
Melisa Denis is a former Global Lead Partner of KPMG where she led accounting, tax, and advisory services to several multinational companies in the consumer and pharma industries transforming their business with innovative financial accounting strategies, overall governance while managing risks. Melisa led client service delivery, growth strategy, and practice management across the consumer products and related sectors. She guided teams to create targeted and competitive solutions and services aligned with industry-specific trends that helped clients adapt strategies, solve challenges, and accelerate growth. She currently serves on the audit committee of Hydrofarm (HYFM). She is the President of Miracle Pointe Development, a real estate development company where she has developed residential communities in Texas and Colorado. Melisa co-founded KPMG’s diversity network for women and has been an advocate for diversity in the boardroom. Ms. Denis serves on the Board of Regents for the University of North Texas. She is a Certified Public Accountant and received her degree in accounting and her Master of Accounting and Tax from the University of North Texas. Melisa is married to JF Denis and has two children, Alexis Denis, a manager with KPMG and AJ Denis, a senior consultant with Duff and Phelps. She resides in Texas and Colorado.