Defy Communications was launched in 2017 by co-founders Joanne Krell and Omar Hussain as a way to connect the most courageous and modern communications strategies with mission-driven work. Ultimately, it’s Defy’s mission to partner with extraordinary people and organizations on issues, causes and movements that defy convention, perception and limitation while helping to deliver the outcomes our society deserves.
At Defy, we believe communications has become deeper and wider than ever, and now elements of neuroscience, social anthropology and evolving technological interventions have to be recognized in communications theory and practice. Seeing around the curve and off the horizon while resisting conventional thinking have never been more important to helping organizations succeed. We are strategists that activate through communications, and we understand how to translate modern thinking and approaches into outcomes that serve your end goal.
Joanne and Omar created Defy after working at General Motors, in part on the company’s corporate brand. In 2017, context matters, and everyone has to recognize time and place. The country and the world have entered a period in which people, organizations and entire sectors (i.e., civic leaders, corporate executives, non-profits and advocacy organizations, small and large corporations and foundations, and educational institutions) will have to make conscious decisions about the role they want to play in steering the world’s direction. Defy was formed to help them make that decision and then act upon it.
Joanne Krell has had the honor and pleasure of working at the highest levels to help companies and organizations solve their most pressing and complex challenges. She has a reputation for smart thinking, disciplined execution, pragmatic and candid approaches and a big smile. Her strong track record of success along with a satchel’s worth of life lessons has been earned by learning from some of the toughest and kindest bosses, winning achievements and losing efforts, and mistakes of her own doing. If nothing succeeds like success, nothing teaches like failure, and her human approach to work has brought her to the perfect point in time to co-launch Defy.
Joanne served as executive director of corporate communications for General Motors Company, a senior leadership role responsible for reputation management, executive communications, internal and external communications for the corporate functions and the GM brand. Earlier in her career, she spent a dozen years at GM in a wide range of communications roles including as director of communications for Cadillac and Saab, for GM’s financial services division, and as communications lead for the company’s global issues management. She has worked on countless product, reputation and issue-based campaigns as well as through multiple, high-profile crises.
Previous to her return to GM, Joanne was the vice president of communications for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, among the nation’s largest philanthropic foundations. While there, she implemented a strategic communications approach and structure to improve the foundation’s own organizational communications and to amplify the grant-making and mission-driven investing work of the foundation and its grantees, which focuses on social change toward better life outcomes for vulnerable children.
Joanne began her career in Washington working for the American Federation of Teachers and the Air Line Pilots Association before spending several years with Widmeyer Communications (now Finn Partners) on issues ranging from education reform to health care and reproductive rights to energy policy. She later managed communications for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, helping introduce and seed board certification for teachers as a way to improve both learning and the teaching profession.
Joanne has been active in community service and local initiatives and was a member of the board of the Communications Network, the national organization for foundation and non-profit communications professionals, serving as its vice chair from 2013-2015. She holds a bachelor’s degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in marketing and advertising from Michigan State University. She has completed executive education at Oxford University and studied abroad as an undergraduate in Jerusalem, Israel.
Motivated by the Gates Foundation tagline, “All Lives Have Equal Value,” Joanne co-launched Defy in September 2017 with her partner, Omar Hussain, to work toward better, more equitable life outcomes for all and to help all kinds of organizations contribute to that goal.
Omar has built a career around connecting strong strategies to organizations. He has consistently taken a view that there is no other field that is experiencing disruptions on an evolving basis like communications, and as such, communications professionals, if they wish to stay modern, must evolve their thinking, skills and abilities just as rapidly.
Just before Defy’s launch, Omar was brought on at General Motors to help redefine and manage the company’s corporate brand and ultimately, the corporate brand’s reputation. After working with an executive team to redraft the company’s “golden why” that re-explained why General Motors exists and how it serves a greater good, he put together a reputation plan that unified the entire corporate communications team in a manner that allowed for strategic storytelling efforts to remain in alignment with the newly constructed brand. Omar then worked to establish research and analytic inputs to help create an ongoing constant stream of feedback from the target audiences of the company.
Omar’s recent experience with GM followed years in the non-profit sector. He was hired at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a communications analyst, where he helped manage the foundation’s health and racial equity portfolios. Omar led communications campaigns for nationwide “Good Food” movements occurring in urban areas, message development and implementation for national racial justice organizations, and later oversaw the foundation’s executive and internal communications.
Before his time in the world of philanthropy, Omar worked at a number of non-profits, helping to either launch them with effective strategies and a strong foundation of communications, or carry out their mission, which has included helping institutions of higher education and connecting Sudanese refugees with resources they need to foster leadership within their own communities.
Omar holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from California State University Monterey Bay and a master’s degree in higher education from the University of Michigan.
When he’s not connecting organizations to effective and modern communications strategy, Omar writes in his free time and is the author of the recently published novel, The Outlandish and the Ego.