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Kathi Leiden

  • Up, up, and away

    Kathi and Mark LeidenArmed with tenacity and an entrepreneurial spirit, Kathi Landreth Leiden ’86 has breathed new life into her career. She is soaring high as the founder and president of Zephyr, the leading national helium supplier and a major provider of wholesale propane for industrial machines.

    Leiden did not always know she would start her own business, and the path that led her there has been eclectic. Her jobs have ranged from sales for a tobacco company, to buying and managing a pub with her husband, to running a homebuilding company with him, to directing sales at Marriott, to managing a business unit at Western Enterprises.

    Her job at Western Enterprises gave Leiden the inspiration to found her own company. While working there the industry experienced a shortage of helium. Because of her work, Leiden knew about the importance of helium and was struck with the idea to make equipment that inflated balloons with air.

    She quit her job and started Zephyr in 2008 from the sunroom of her house. Leiden’s first major client was Party City. Her business started to grow, and in its second year she decided to branch out and broker helium. “We could find helium when no one else could. I’d always find a way to get it and have it delivered to the stores,” she said.

    Eventually her husband, Mark ’83, a business graduate, closed their homebuilding company to work with her at Zephyr.  “We grew the business organically, by word of mouth and a referral bonus program,” she said.

    Zephyr’s employee count kept doubling each year and eventually Zephyr landed major national accounts like Wal-Mart. Zephyr offered Wal-Mart consistent pricing and supply, centralized ordering and billing, and electronic data invoicing (EDI). Zephyr also provided Wal-Mart with a national delivery footprint to every major city and small town in all 50 states (only Zephyr has this). Today, Leiden’s company supplies other major retailers, such as Dollar Tree, Kohl’s, and Weis, with products and services including helium, nitrogen, propane, and CO2.

    Leiden graduated from Saint Francis with a degree in journalism and a minor in art, and credits her liberal arts experience for helping her succeed in her diverse career.

    “A liberal arts education exposes you to so many things. I went from journalism to product development. Liberal arts opens your brain up to learn so much,” she said.

    Leiden also credits the professors at Saint Francis for giving her the confidence to work hard and succeed. “One day my professor, Dr. Labrie, pulled me aside. I had such great respect for him. He very thoughtfully and kindly told me I was smart, and that I needed to be focused. I couldn’t believe that this really intelligent man thought I was smart. It was a big catalyst of change for me. It was completely life altering and shows the difference one person can make,” she said.

    Now Leiden runs a business of 18 employees. In addition to Zephyr’s national accounts, the company sells internationally with service locations in Central and South America, Canada, Japan, Israel, and the Caribbean.

    Leiden also makes time to keep up with her original passion: journalism. She blogs and writes for industry publications. Her versatility and drive has helped her career soar to heights beyond her imagination.

    Photo Caption: Kathi Landreth Leiden ’86 (right) and her husband, Mark ’83, are both Saint Francis graduates. Over the years, the couple has owned multiple businesses. Kathi’s latest venture, Zephyr, sells services and products nationally and internationally.