Alumni Spotlight: Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, EMBA ’16 Protector of the Planet and the Family Business
February 21, 2022
Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks is the president and CEO of ECOS, of one of the most innovative, diverse, and socially responsible companies on the planet. She leads strategy and production of environmentally friendly cleaning products at the company’s four geographically diverse facilities across the U.S., as well as a European manufacturing platform.
Kelly received her undergraduate degree at UCLA and an EMBA at Chapman University Argyros School of Business and Economics. She’s a proud alumna who currently serves on the Board of Governors and ASBE’s Board of Counselors, and she was ASBE’s first recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, alongside George Argyros. Kelly has been featured on CNN, CBS News, ABC News, FOX News, NBC News, Bloomberg, and MarketWatch and in publications such as Fortune, Entrepreneur, and the Los Angeles Times. She has received many awards for her sustainable leadership, including Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Powerful Women in 2020 and Conscious Company’s World-Changing Women in Conscious Business.
As the daughter of an African American mother and Greek immigrant father, Kelly grew up in a tiny town (pop. 3,000) outside Chicago. “You can do anything,” her mother often told her. In her undergraduate years, Kelly studied History and Communications and was committed to learning about her ancestral legacy, doing study abroad programs in both Africa and Greece. Upon graduating, she had the opportunity deepen her cultural connections by working as a curator at the California African American Museum and as the executive director of American Hellenic Council.
In 2003, a call from her father led her to join the green cleaning products company he founded in his garage in 1967. Recognizing a need to modernize the company and strengthen connections with consumers and retailers, Kelly created the company’s first media relations department. Over the next decade, she worked in every aspect of the business. In 2012, she was promoted to Executive Vice President, and in 2014 when her father passed away, Kelly was chosen as his successor.
Over the past 8 years, Kelly has transformed the company far beyond its original mission to sell cleaning products that are safer for people, pets, and the planet. Under her leadership, ECOS became the first company in the world to be carbon neutral, water neutral, and TRUE Platinum Zero Waste-certified. A self-described “planetary warrior” and mission-driven CEO, Kelly leads the industry on a variety of fronts including ingredient safety, sustainable manufacturing, and employment practices. She has built an extraordinarily diverse and inclusive corporate culture, with a leadership team that is 63% female and 45% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) – ECOS is a WBENC-certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise and an NMSDC-certified Minority Business Enterprise. In addition, Kelly offers her employees exceptional benefits like paid family leave and financial incentives for purchasing a low-emissions vehicle and solar panels.
While most of ECOS’ competitors have been acquired by multinational corporations, Kelly is committed to keeping her company an independent family business. With a focus on long-term growth instead of quarterly earnings, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks has become a leading voice in the green movement and corporate social responsibility, making ECOS a model for green business in the U.S.