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Couple You Should Know: Ken Leija, Paula Elias

Couple You Should Know: Ken Leija, Paula Elias

Ken Lieja and Paula Elias
Photo by Art Smith
Ken Leija
Vice President/Creative Partner, Axiom
Paula Elias
President/Creative Director, Axiom
AGE, HOMETOWN: Paula: 46, Columbia; Ken: 43, Albuquerque, N.M.
YEARS LIVED IN MID-MISSOURI: Paula: My father was a professor at MU, so I was raised here but moved to New Mexico in my 20s. We moved back here 15 years ago after Ken and I were married to raise our children.
EDUCATION: Paula: I went to Columbia Catholic School, Jeff Junior and Hickman. I spent my freshman year at MU but then transferred to the University of New Mexico. As I have become more interested in film, I’ve taken a few excellent classes in the Stephens College Film Department. Ken: Central New Mexico, then the University of New Mexico Art Department. On relocating to Columbia, I attended the art departments at Columbia College and MU.
JOB DESCRIPTION: Paula: I absolutely love what I do. I get to wake up every day and work with Ken, who is one of the most creative people I have ever met, and with really great business people to help them figure out the best and most effective ways to connect with and express who they are to their customers. Ken and I work out the creative ideas together. I tend to write and produce more, and Ken runs the video division of the company. Ken: I do lots of listening, thinking and producing. We work on the client’s image and make absolutely sure we have a goal and a targeted demographic. Then we implement the creative aspects of the campaign — and that’s when the fun begins.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Paula: I co-direct the Citizen Jane Film Festival (Sept. 30 to Oct. 2), which gives me the chance to support some incredible women filmmakers, help to create an awesomely fun weekend and see some great films, too. I work with Kilgore’s Community Garden, which benefits the Nora Stewart Early Learning Center, and through this project I have gotten pretty excited about urban gardening and the benefits that it brings to a community. I also have the honor of serving on the Commission for Public Art. This past year, Ken and I got to help True North transition to its new name and to help promote them and the crucial work they do.
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Paula: I ran the marketing department for the largest natural foods co-op in New Mexico for six years after college (which is where I met Ken) and then worked as a sales director for a national environmental products company. After our two sons were born, we moved back to Columbia, and I worked with Premier Marketing/Cumulus as creative director for eight years. In 2005, we decided that it was time to open our own ad agency and started Axiom. In 2007, I co-produced the award-winning short “What is Left,” which Ken directed. Two years ago we filmed the documentary Eco School House about the first ever community-built, environmentally designed schoolhouse at Grant. Ken: I have been doing some form of art for 30 years and have been making commercials and working in film for more than 10.
A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE AND WHY: Paula: I think Ann Bromstedt is exactly what a businessperson should be: passionate about what she does, ethical, caring and real. She is completely committed to her community and a heck of a lot of fun as well. Ken: Nick Peckham because he fights for his beliefs and has integrated those beliefs with his business. He has held a vision of the world as a humanist and environmentalist inclusive of art, design and beauty for all.
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: Paula: I love the creative process, coming up with ideas and solving problems, and in this field I get to do that all day long, and the best part is that it helps my clients be more successful. Ken: Luckily I was able to create for myself a job that is fun and meaningful to me. I get to work with Paula, and if I need to take a break and pick up the kids, I can just do it.
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, I WOULD: Paula: Be a blues singer, or maybe I would grab my backpack and travel the world. Ken: Making films full time. There are some amazing people out there with incredible talent and great stories just waiting to be told.
BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME AND HOW: Paula: Believing in myself enough to start my own company — a great deal of which I owe to Ken, who never doubts that he can do anything. Ken: Figuring out that to be in business for yourself, it might take some time to learn what you don’t know. Giving yourself a break instead of beating yourself up over things. Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, admitting them and then moving forward.
A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: Paula: The Citizen Jane Film Festival was so fun this year. I feel like we are really beginning to hit our stride. The quality of the films and the incredible filmmakers who are willing to make the trek to Columbia, the incredible audiences and the community support just blow me away. The festival art made by artists in the community such as Irina Tevzadze’s sculpture and the installation that Fergus Moore and friends erected outside Ragtag were amazing. Ken: I have been filming another documentary with an amazing poet and writer friend from New Mexico, who happens to also be an architect and a great thinker.
FAMILY: Paula: My father and sister and her family still live here, so I get the chance to hang out with them a lot. Ken and I have two boys: Quanah, an artist and musician and a senior at Rock Bridge; and Rafael, an eighth-grader at West and one of the most disciplined people I have ever known. Three years ago he decided to stop eating sugar and hasn’t had a lick since. I wish I could say the same! Ken: They’re two really smart and amazing boys who teach me many things and remind me every day how lucky I am to be alive. I have two other kids from a former marriage, so I am now a grandfather times two. Paula and I have been together 21 years, so learning how to work together building a business and raising a family has been the hardest but most rewarding.
WHAT TACTICS DO YOU USE TO BALANCE WORKPLACE AND FAMILY DEMANDS: Paula: As my father has gotten older and with two active teenage boys in the house, this has become more difficult, but being our own bosses and the kind of work we do allow us to do the work pretty much whenever we need to. That means people often get e-mails from me in the early hours of the morning because that is one of the most productive times of day for me; there aren’t many distractions. Ken: Family comes first for us, which is why we started the business in the first place. Everything else seems to flow really smoothly for the most part if we can keep our priorities straight, which means taking care of family and business.
WHAT WE DO FOR FUN: Paula: We really do love what we do, so sometimes it’s hard to tell where work begins and ends, but we love to see movies, make and eat great food, go floating and camping and travel. Ken: Movies and family time, experiencing a new place or revisiting an old one. A good long trip locked up in the vehicle seems to stimulate lots of good discussions and music sharing.
FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: Paula: Anywhere my family is. I joke to them that I love to take long car trips because it means we have to spend many hours locked in a small space together. Ken: Stephens Lake Park is a great place for me to take a walk and enjoy a bit of nature in the city at any time of day.
ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: Paula: My amazing kids. Although I’d have to say that is really their accomplishment, but I hope I have had something to do with it. Ken: Winning first place at a film festival for the first documentary I entered, Eco School House, and the work I’m doing on my current project: Histories and Stories along the High Road.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT I: Paula: Ran for secretary of state on the Green Party ticket in 2000. Ken: Worked in the natural foods industry for many years and was the statewide coordinator for the Nader 2000 campaign.

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