by Elyse Wild • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
The first thing you’ll notice about Kelly Koning-Ramic is her poise; she carries herself with the grace of a woman from another time. But behind her soft smile (and the delicate diamond that twinkles from her right incisor) is a powerhouse of passion and business knowhow.
She has been very busy as of late. The Grand Rapids resident and longtime business woman recently made a bold purchase: She bought The Matthew Agency, the premiere modeling agency in West Michigan that seemingly disappeared three years ago when it was acquired by Unique Models. She also runs a logistics and brokerage company she built from the ground up with her husband of two years. Last month, she was elected President of the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC), making her the youngest board president in the history of the organization. And in a few month’s time she will be celebrating her 30th birthday.
“I’m really pleased with how my life has turned out,” she said “I’ve worked really hard. I didn’t just fall into this.”
The Matthew Agency
Koning-Ramic’s interest in The Matthew Agency was peaked three years ago when the company was first put up for sale by the original owners. With a work history that includes running a logistics company and doing international expansion for a fashion house in Spain, it seemed like the perfect place to apply her well-honed business acumen while indulging in her lifelong love of fashion. The agency, however, was acquired by Unique Models.
This May, she heard that the new owner was considering selling. This time, when the opportunity struck, so did Koning-Ramic. She made an offer, and two weeks later she found herself, keys in hand, as the owner of The Matthew Agency.
“I jumped right in,” she said. “It felt like fate.”
Her first order of business was to do away with the industry standards that are notorious for painting the modeling industry with a discriminatory brush.
“That is not who we should be,” Koning-Ramic explained. “You should never sum someone up when they walk through the door by the way they look.”
Under her leadership, the Matthew Agency has no height, weight or age requirement.
“The modeling market for Grand Rapids should reflect everyone who lives here,” she said.
She also immediately signed a lease at McKay Tower, an office building erected in 1927 that overlooks Rosa Parks Circle in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.
Her goals for the agency include growing the brand, partnering with charities, hosting networking events to connect brands and talent, and recruiting a diverse group of models in terms of age and ethnicity.
“I want people to know what we stand for. I want to represent diversity and inclusion and promote body positivity.”
Eight years of running a company have well informed her for what lies ahead.
“No one tells you when you get your degree, ‘Oh, by the way, if you are the owner, you have to know how to do every single job in that business, and do it well and be able to represent each different piece.’ That is something I have learned. ”
Carrying Her Father’s Legacy
As Koning-Ramic describes a life through which the GRCMC runs like a bright ribbon, it’s difficult to suppress the goose bumps; her father was Dirk Koning, the Founding Director of GRCMC. Koning has been described time and time again as a genius and a visionary— the godfather of community media who coined the term itself and traveled the globe to help cities implement CMCs of their own. He passed away unexpectedly in 2005, a loss that left the community reeling and his family stunned.
“Losing my dad was incredibly difficult,” Koning-Ramic, who was 17-years-old at the time, said.“My mom inspired my brother and me to get back up and live lives they both would be proud of. [My Dad] died when he was 48, but he did so much in that short amount of time. If I could do half of that, I would be really proud.”
For those who were drawn to GRCMC by Koning’s vision, and knew Koning-Ramic when she was a child answering the phones at annual fund drives and manning the cameras at Festival of the Arts, it is serendipitous to see her step up to the role of board president; but that isn’t to say that she had the spot reserved. She has served on the board of the media center for the past three years, and spent the last year as the treasury officer. She also spends Friday afternoons volunteering at GRCMC doing data entry.
Linda Gellasch, executive director of GRCMC, speaks to the qualities that made Koning-Ramic a standout candidate for the role of board president.
“Kelly is somebody who takes things through to completion,” Gellasch emphasized. “She says it; she will do it. She makes it happen and will pick up the slack where others drop the ball. The level of commitment she brings is essential.”
One of her accomplishments while sitting on the board was creating an end of the year donation in honor of her father. She wrote letters and raised thousand of dollars for the media center, all on her own.
“You have to say what you mean and mean what you say,” Koning-Ramic said. “Once you say you are going to do something, you have made a pledge to do it. You have to follow through.”
Of her goals on the board, she speaks of wanting to help people reconnect to the reason they decided to get involved with the media center in the first place.
“The media center is a passion of mine,” she expressed. “It was my dad’s life’s work…His whole life was poured into the media center. I feel really humbled to be able to continue that.”
Koning-Ramic describes what others may deem her work ethic as her lifestyle: a culmination of what she learned from a father who built a landmark concept and spread it around the world, a tenacious mother who ushered her family through tragedy and her husband, a Bosnian refugee who, as a child, supported his family with several paper routes.
Needless to say, her schedule and plate are full. She spends three days a week at The Matthew Agency, two days a week working at her logistics company, Fridays volunteering at GRCMC, on top of attending to her duties as board president of the media center; all of which she couldn’t be happier doing. Of the little downtime she has, she prefers to spend it traveling the world over. She describes her ideal evening as enjoying a drink while walking through the serene gardens of Vienna.
“To live the life you imagined for yourself is the greatest thing, but it comes with a lot of hard work.”