For our sixth episode, President & CCO Ethan Whitehill sits down with Kim Randolph President and CEO of the Heartland Black Chamber. Kim shares key elements of growing a nonprofit and building a better community with a lasting impact.
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Ethan Whitehill: Welcome to the podcast. I’m Ethan Whitehill, President, and Chief Creative Officer at Crux, the “un-agency” that fuels business growth. Here on “To The Point”, we get to the point with entrepreneurs and marketers who have transformed organizations by elevating brands and amplifying missions.
Our guest today is Kim Randolph, President, and CEO of the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, HBCC partners with all types of black-owned and operated businesses across the region. In her role, Randolph collaborates with other area chambers and regional entities such as NWSL’s KC Current, local colleges, and universities in the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City to share resources, build a better community, and create lasting impact. Kim has led efforts and ventures across a variety of industries, from economic development to construction, to nonprofit organizations, and she’s worked in both large and small companies. Ultimately, her grand vision is to help Kansas City become a model entrepreneurial city that celebrates its diversity and builds equity and equality and areas including education, healthcare, and affordable housing.
Kim, welcome to the show.
Kim Randolph: Thank you, Ethan. I’m really excited to be here.
Ethan Whitehill: Well, we’re excited to have you. You have had an illustrious career from our previous conversation, it’s amazing all the things that you have been able to do. Tell us how your career journey led you to Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce.
Kim Randolph: I was an entrepreneur, and I actually became a member of what was then KBCC Inc. Kansas Black Chamber Commerce. As things transitioned during a time when they were needing to expand the reach Heartland Black Chamber was as a region. We went into St. Louis, created a St. Louis affiliate, and went into Wichita and did the same. At the time, again, I was just a member from being a member.
I became a board member from a board member. An executive committee member out of the blue, this nice little mayor from Kansas City, Kansas, Mr. David Alvey, took away our President and asked her to come to his cabinet. At that time, they said, Hey, since you’re in the office most of the time and you’ve done a lot of the work, would you mind being the interim ED? Absolutely not, I’d love to do it. Six months into it, they said, look, we need you to take this on as the CEO and I saw a platform and I said, yes.
Ethan Whitehill: That platform. Tell us a little bit more about what you saw there then.
Kim Randolph: When you think about the advocacy and the need for capacity building in the small business community, in the black small business community, that was a gap. There was an area that was not being fulfilled. We have a lot of ESOs, we have a lot of great programs, but the actual structure and advocacy. For small businesses to move from mom-and-pop or micro to actual businesses. There was no one there. the opportunity to say, we can build a program, I’m a businesswoman, I kind of understood what was missing and got connected with the Hispanic Chamber and the rest is history.
Ethan Whitehill: Well, we’ll talk a little bit about that collaboration in a second, because I think that’s really, unique what you’re doing there. But focusing on HBCC, how do you effectively build a nonprofit? So, given what you started with, where do you go from there?
Kim Randolph: Well, you know, that’s a good question. First of all, you pray a lot, but second, you start looking for people who understand the industry. I am a for-profit person, so I tell people all the time, I am a capitalist. I know I’m in the United States where our system is capitalism, and my businesses have always been for-profit.
So, the first thing you need to do is find someone that understands the industry that can help you get through it. From that point, I used my business background to build a nonprofit. I learned through some very influential people. One being Mr. Barnett Helzberg and the other being Mr. Henry Bloch when I was in the E Scholars program, that nonprofits need to make a profit. Utilizing those skills, I started working on it, but it’s not an easy thing to do.
Ethan Whitehill: Yeah, I love the idea of applying actual business principles to nonprofits. As you did that, you obviously took a look at the geography of the chamber and you know, it’s not the greater Kansas City Chamber, it’s, it’s a regional chamber. When you talk about Heartland, so maybe a little bit more on that decision and as you expanded, what drove that expansion and the larger regional approach?
Kim Randolph: Well, as I said, that was not my ideal. If it was my ideal, if I’d have stepped into this, I would’ve never stepped into a regional shoe. However, there was an incident that occurred in Ferguson. We all remember the Mike Brown incident. There was a lot of unrest in St. Louis, and there was no advocacy and no organization for small businesses.
So, Mr. Ron Busby out of Washington DC who is the President, and CEO of the US Black Chamber Art, then President Crystal Watson asked her to take on the regional reach. The idea of building out a region was very new to all of us, and a big step to make. No, we’re not by any shape or form, the Greater Kansas City Chamber.
However, they have been very helpful to me. They’ve helped me not only with my reach in the greater Kansas City area but also by including me in the leadership exchange working with me, so I get a better understanding of when I go into other regions or other states how things are run and how to make those contacts.
Ethan Whitehill: Another great example of collaboration and connection that you have going. It almost sounds like first and foremost from your experience too, you have a lot of connections with entrepreneurs, and you have a heart for entrepreneurs. Talk a little bit about that. I’d love to know what appealed to you about the entrepreneurial space.
What draws you to this?
Kim Randolph: Entrepreneurial space, is my passion. The small business became my passion. I came from a large corporation. I worked for DST back in the eighties, and at that time, as you know, women had low ceilings. The President then reminded me of that and literally said I needed to go into a small business.
Once I got in a small business. I did see the difference in how small businesses don’t realize that you’re still a business and you operate on a smaller scale than a corporate business. My passion became, I can help small businesses operate on the scale of a small business using corporate principles.
That’s been my passion. That’s what’s driven me, and it drives me every single day to work with small businesses. I love what I do. I wouldn’t trade it for all of everything.
Ethan Whitehill: Now, you used a phrase earlier, micro-businesses, not small businesses, and I think of solopreneurs, folks that are going from individual technicians who’s really good at what they do, and they start building a business and they have to manage people, and then they have to learn to lead and do all these things.
What are the most common missteps that you see in your space for your members?
Kim Randolph: One is, you said it, solopreneurs. They’re not actually businesses they’ve created a job for themselves. There’s a difference between a business, an entrepreneur, or a micro-business. Most micro-businesses are one person run, or if it’s two, it’s a husband and wife or a family member. But the owners do all the work. They are the chief operator and the dishwasher; they are the mail carrier and they’re the accountant. They haven’t really created a business yet. The difference between those two, getting them to understand that in a business, there’s two things you’re wanting to do, generate revenue and create jobs. If you’re not creating jobs, you have not created a business.
Ethan Whitehill: Talking about creating jobs and you’re also creating a culture as you do that. I think that’s also another area that you’re very interested in, so talk about the importance of taking risks and making decisions. What does that mean within the culture of a small business?
Kim Randolph: It’s funny that you talk about taking risks. This brings me back to the airport. I recall when the concessions were being debated. The debate was whether we wanted to bring in all these small businesses, local businesses from Kansas City. There was a side that said, we’ve got to protect these small businesses. We can’t let them go out there. They’re going to fail. My thought was, excuse me, first of all, I’m an entrepreneur. The first thing you learn in entrepreneur training is it’s a risk. Being in business is definitely a risk, and it’s a decision that you have to make, and failure is an option. I’ve been told this by some of the wealthiest people in America that they failed. They got up and they utilized their failure as a steppingstone to the next level. Taking the risk, it’s all about business. I co-facilitate for the Women’s Business Center, and one of the things that I tell the participants is, you’re going to take a risk. If you’re not ready to take the risk, don’t try it.
Ethan Whitehill: There’s definitely a risk threshold. Isn’t that entrepreneurial personality, but I know when you take risks sometimes it helps to have friends with you. See he’s really representing that too with their collaborations.
Let’s talk about Hispanic Chamber and what that looks like because you all are taking a risk together to some degree.
Kim Randolph: How did that start? When I first got into this seat and became the CEO of this, Chamber. I had no idea what I was doing, and I reached out to Carlos Gomez, who is my counterpart. We’re like Lucy and Ricardo. Honestly, he and I realized how important it was for us to collaborate and he would bring me so much, so many resources.
Along with that, Congressman Cleaver when he was mayor, initiated the Black and Brown Coalition. We thought, why don’t we look at that and see how we could collaborate, how that could have worked. It was really just a fluke, like how could that have worked? Mm-hmm. If we had, so we sit down and we made sure that over the last.
Three years that I participated in his programs, he participated in mine. We were seen together. He took me to DC on their fly-in those types of collaborations, and we realized that it comes from the top down because people were seeing the two leaders of these two organizations come together. Then the members were seeing an easier pathway to work together. It actually started out as. What if we did?
Ethan Whitehill: Just to mention a couple of the other partnerships, KC Current has their home opener coming up. That’s a cool partnership. Talk about how that started and what is impact that you expect to create together.
Kim Randolph: Everyone in Kansas City knows this about Kim Randolph. She is a sports fanatic. I go to the Monarchs game. They were one of my first partners, the Kansas City Monarchs. I go to sporting games, which I’m going to tomorrow night. I go to the Chiefs’ games and the Royals. Royals have now just become a partner. The Kansas City Current became a partner before their first year.
It was through one of their executive directors, and I think she’s over Development and community, which is the DePrice. She knew that I love sports, and from that point it was just like a marriage made in heaven. They called and they said we want to be partners. We want you to come in and be a host for our Black History Month celebration.
We’ve been partners since. Now, as I just mentioned, I just had a meeting with the Royals, we’ll be partnering with them. They were very influential in our annual softball tournaments. We had our second annual tournament last year, this year at the UIA and the Royals were our partner.
Ethan Whitehill: What do those partnerships bring to the wider membership and the benefit of that?
Kim Randolph: It’s a two-way street. For us, it is the impact of having the sporting franchises recognize the urban core Kansas City sports. Belongs to everyone. I was just telling someone today we can be divided it in everything outside, but if you go to any sporting game, it is the most diverse, most cooperative place and everyone is loving everyone.
We had the best fan base ever. I hear that everywhere I go from other teams, from other fans, they say, we love coming into Kansas City because you guys have the best host city, and you have the best fans.
Ethan Whitehill: You’ve picked your partners, well, you’ve got some good company around you. How do you find the right partner? How do you know when the time is right to partner?
Kim Randolph: I’m going to throw something at you that you probably not expecting me to do. Crux is a new partner for us, and the way I picked you guys was through research and Shae. Shae Perry is someone that I respect. I follow her quite a bit, but then I started following Crux and I’m like, this is where I want to be.
These are the people I want to be partners with. Someone who has the mindset for the community. Who really truly means I want to be a part of something bigger than just making money. Believe it or not, the leaders of most of these franchises have the same mindset. We want to be impactful; we want to give back to the community these sporting franchises.
Crux, it’s about community and it’s about making the whole of Kansas City One.
Ethan Whitehill: We’re on the same page. So, you have a couple other initiatives and businesses that you’re involved with. Tell us about those.
Kim Randolph: This is the funny thing. This is how I even got involved in the chamber. I started INC U LLC and then INC U was for incorporate you LLC. I thought I had this little smart idea and because of the fact that I understood small business, I had worked in small business, and I noticed. That there were a whole lot of businesses that were not at the level at some of the small businesses I worked for. It was a place to start helping build capacity. What I found out, it doesn’t matter that you were smart, you went to college, you have a degree and you worked in business. When you go into your own business, you find things that you never learn in school, and that is small businesses don’t have money to pay you. So, I kind of pivoted to something that I knew, which was consulting the small contractor.
My journeys back and forth to St. Louis to help build St. Louis. I met a gentleman, Anthony Tony Thompson, who is a KU grad, has a construction management firm, which is one of the largest minorities owned in this region. It’s Kwame Building Group in St. Louis. He does everything from universities to utilities, light rail, you name it. He’s done it and been very successful.
He is a construction manager, and he does no self-performing. We partnered, actually, we created a joint venture in 2017. And we named it KWAME KC. It was so that I could move some minority leadership in Kansas City because of his background, 32, 33 years. He was a managing partner at Lambert Airport expansion. He’s the managing firm right now at Lambert, did the soccer stadium in St. Louis. Seattle, Washington. That partnership has grown in Kansas City now. KWAME KC you’ll find Kwame Buildings Group are about to be the construction managers or the owner’s rep for Early Start who is restoring the Sarah Rector Mansion. We are over that, right now we are looking at some work in the semiconductor manufacturing plants.
Ethan Whitehill: Beyond that on the world stage, we have a huge opportunity, obviously with World Cup coming and other things. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about Kansas City’s entrepreneurial environment? About our business profile in general?
Kim Randolph: I can say that some of it is happening. I have learned that getting to the table at the front end and not the back end for minorities is more important than anything. If I could wave, a magic wand, I would really like to see our leaders recognize that there is minority leadership that can be at the table, that can bring something very important and positive that can be an asset to the project and the processes.
I think that we have gotten really lost. In the ideal that minorities don’t have the capacity or the well withal to bring an investment to what Kansas City needs. On the flip side, one of the things that I believe that we have to bring as minorities is an investment. We have to not be always expecting someone to bring us in, but we have to bring something into the process in order to be included.
I would like the opportunity for us to bring, let us know what we need to bring and then give us the opportunity to bring it.
Ethan Whitehill: Now I’m going to get off the point. I think Shae probably warned you, so this is the time on the podcast. When I ask you a totally random question that has probably nothing to do with anything we’ve talked about so far.
I rolled this 20-sided die and never comes up as the question I ask. I’ve got 20 questions. Here’s a good one. What is your favorite place on earth?
Kim Randolph: Wow. My most favorite place on earth, it’s changed since last year. The Indian Ocean in Mombasa.
Ethan Whitehill: Oh my gosh. I’m sure there’s a story behind that.
Kim Randolph: Last year I was fortunate enough to visit Kenya. I was there for 17 days. I went there actually on a fact-finding trip and have the opportunity to spend three days. Mombasa Tanzania, but we stayed at a resort that was completely off the grid. Everything was solar and it was right on the Indian Ocean. Imagine being on the equator and walking down the beach line.
We walked like 10 miles to another resort, not even realize that you walked it far and it’s all made of bamboo and palm trees. My question was, what do you do if there’s a hurricane? They said, we’re on the equator. There are no hurricanes. It is the most beautiful body of water, so my favorite place in the world is around water. I’m a water person.
Yeah, you got me with it. That was an easy one though.
Ethan Whitehill: Well now I’m just hoping that with your construction experience, you can bring some of that to Kansas City, figure out how to build a little community by some water, and I’m in too.
Kim Randolph: That would be really nice. Can we build it next to the new stadium?
Ethan Whitehill: Right by the pitch.
Kim Randolph: Put the stadium down here and then we’ll have this Lakeside property.
Ethan Whitehill: You know, I think we’re onto something here. Kim, thank you so much for your time. This has been wonderful talking to you. How can our listeners learn more about the Heartland Black Chamber?
Kim Randolph: Very easy actually can go to our website, which is www.HeartlandBlackChamber.com, or you can give me a call, 913-948-7680. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter and always just look for me. I’m always open. I love, love, love meeting people.
Ethan Whitehill: You’re a woman about talent.
Kim Randolph: I try to be.
Ethan Whitehill: Well, that is fantastic. Thank you so much.
Kim Randolph: Thank you, Ethan.
Ethan Whitehill: We’re going to talk again real soon. I have a feeling.
Hosted by Ethan Whitehill
Ethan has made a career out of building agencies and growing brands. He founded the firm Two West in 1997, running it as an independent shop for nearly 20 years before combining his firm with an AdAge Top 100 Agency, where he served as CMO. As an agency founder and entrepreneur, Ethan brings a business owner’s mindset to marketing, working on a host of diverse brands, from packaged goods and professional services to hospitality and healthcare.