A business leader’s passion for equity, accessibility, and inclusion with Kim Alfonso | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

A business leader’s passion for equity, accessibility, and inclusion with Kim Alfonso  | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Kim Alfonso, co-founder, and CEO of Results One. Kim Alfonso talks about advocating for people with disabilities, immersing herself in the disability world, and her mission to create a community that embodies dignity, respect, accessibility, and inclusion. 



Some highlights:

-Kim Alfonso on her leadership challenges at Merck

-Kim Alfonso on her inspiration to become an advocate for people with disabilities

-Promoting accessibility and inclusion as a passion and as a business

-Kim Alfonso on how has the pandemic impacted people with disabilities 

-Integrating business practices in nonprofit organizations

-Supporting the growth of black businesses by providing resources and opportunities for networking

-Kim Alfonso on how mentors and leadership programs can help develop better leaders


. . . . .

Also mentioned in this episode:

-Dr. Bette Catoe, pediatrician

-Tony Cancelosi, President and CEO of Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind

-Rosie Allen-Herring, President and CEO of the United Way NCA 

 (Listen to Rosie Allen-Herring’s episode here)


. . . . .

Connect with Kim Alfonso:

Kim Alfonso on LinkedIn

Results One Official Website


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

PartneringLeadership.com



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited today to be welcoming Kim Alfonso. She's the co-founder and chief executive officer of Results One. Results One offers diversity, equity and inclusion training and additionally works with organizations to make sure that their websites, mobile apps and PDFs and all digital content are accessible to people with disabilities. Because Kim has been a true champion for people with disabilities, partly because of her own experience as a mother, partly because of her belief that we need to have more equity, access and inclusion for everyone in our community. 

Now, I really enjoyed this conversation because of Kim's purpose driven belief in doing the right thing all throughout her career, including now running her own consulting firm.

I love also hearing from you. mahan@mahantavakoli.com. Feel free to leave voice messages for me on partnering leadership.com. There's a microphone icon you can use for that. 

Don't forget to follow the podcast on your platform of choice, that way you'll be first to be notified of these conversations on Tuesdays with Greater Washington, DC DMV regional Changemakers leaders from this region. And then on Thursdays with thought leaders, primarily authors of leadership books, whose insights I believe will have a big impact on our leadership as we look to improve and have a greater impact all throughout the region, the country and beyond. 

Now, here is my conversation with Kim Alfonso.

Mahan Tavakoli:

 Kim Alfonso, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

Kim Alfonso: 

I'm so glad to be here. Thank you for this opportunity. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I love your journey, your husband's journey. And I've known him for a very long time too, but can't wait to capture some of your leadership and share it with the Partnering Leadership community, Kim. 

Now, I know you're a fourth generation Washingtonian, and I wonder how your upbringing impacted the kind of person that you've become.

Kim Alfonso: 

That's interesting. I will say that I was blessed. I was blessed with two parents that attended college. They both went to Howard University. My father became a physician. My mother became a nurse. And so very early on, they instilled enough the importance of education. They instilled enough the importance of work.

Clearly I won't say my age, but I was around the time when we were called chocolate city. So I will say that, there was a very strong foundation on it, who we were as African-Americans, who we were as his students And so I think that, I left my cocoon with a very strong sense of myself, a very strong sense around the importance of doing better, the importance of excelling at what you do, learning as much as you can, being that generation to take my parents' generation a step further.

And so I think that that really created who I was. And I think the other piece of it is it was always from my father's perspective and very strong sets around community. No one was better than we were. Didn't matter how much money they had, where they lived in the city. They were no better. We were all equal. All the same.

And he constantly was drilling that in our heads. And so that helped me later in life, not realizing that at the time, you never realize what you've learned until later in life. But now.  I see that a lot of what I do is community-based, but I've always been immersed inside the community, the grassroots in the weeds. And I think it's because of my father always saying, as they say, "To whom much is given, much is expected."  So I would say that I was just blessed to have parents that could provide the sort of life that I've led.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And your parents did serve as role models. And as you mentioned, your father obviously was also a big advocate for education. Both of them had been educated at Howard. 

So what was it? That had impacted your father so much to want to build the community, build so much confidence in you and was so persistent in education for you and your sibling.

Kim Alfonso: 

My father had a really unique upbringing. He was raised in Washington, DC. His parents both worked for the government. So I would argue back then that might've been considered middle class. And they sent him away to Rhode Island to boarding school. It was so important for them at the time for him as the male child to really do much better than what they had done. It was always that the next generation is going to be better than the current generation, et cetera. And then my grandmother, my grandfather were always very church focused and very community focused. And so till this day we all still go to church. We all still, when Thanksgiving comes around the turkeys et cetera, because that was ingrained. 

And so I think my father came up with a very strong sense of education and the importance of education. And then also along with that, it's not losing who you are and also focusing on the community. And so that trickled down to us as kids.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it sounds like your father also pushed you and determined which colleges you would end up going to.

Kim Alfonso: 

Yes, he did. To this day, I still angst about it cause I wanted to go to Brown university. What was ironic is I had tried to not apply to university of Pennsylvania. And when I did apply, I did apply to my school because I didn't necessarily. But long story short is he did.

He really saw something, I think in us that we didn't see. And he saw in me as a child,  I was always that as my parents said, I had a bunch of people behind me, following me as a child. I was the ringleader. I was the taskmaster. I was, as they said, the boss. And so I think my dad saw in me the business side, that this is someone who is going to go to business and he did all his research and he wanted me to go to Wharton.  So I ended up at Wharton, my sister, the same thing. He wanted her to be a lawyer. She's a lawyer at Duke. My brother's a physician university. And so did with all of us. 

So in retrospect, I'm glad he did. I'm glad he took that level of interest in the schooling, but at the time, I told him I would go one year and then I would transfer to Brown. Of course, that did not happen. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it sounds like after that, obviously Wharton is an outstanding school. After that he also pushed you to go get your MBA.

Kim Alfonso: 

Yes. He taught all of us. We had two years to work and to find ourselves as he said. And that if he were going to help support us, he was not going to pay the full ride. He said, "I did undergrad. I will pay half," Again, I'm blessed to have a father that could do that, "but you've got to come up with the other half."

And so, near my 18 months, I started getting articles of the best business school. And of course, his first choice was Kellogg. I was trying to stay in the East coast, then go to the West coast. But he also decided that he wanted somebody in the health field. And so I had done an internship at Howard University Hospital.

At the time he said, "You know, you really need to be unique in what you do, not that many African-Americans are going into health management and hospital management, you know, everybody's going into marketing." 

And so again, I've followed my father which I'm really glad that I did because I think I got an opportunity to see a different side of the nation, just a different perspective because I had been East coast, raised and then Philadelphia is certainly not that far from here. So I was really thrilled and loved Chicago. Love Chicago would have stayed except for the weather. But love the people. I love the campus and I can even remember the first day of snow. You know how DC people are one inch, two down, and it was about eight inches. And I remember looking out my dorm and saying "I don't have to go to class!" And very quickly my roommates, knocking on the door saying, "What are you doing? It never stopped. It doesn't matter whether it’s 10 or 12 inches, we're expected to go." So that was kind of a rude awakening. But yes, so I went there and loved it. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And two outstanding schools, Wharton and Kellogg that your dad set the bar really high for you. And you raised yourself to surpassing that and gaining the most out of those experiences. Now out of Kellogg, you then decided to join Merck. Why Merck specifically?

 Kim Alfonso: 

I guess for a couple of reasons. One is I was committed to the healthcare field. So I wanted to do something in the health. The second is I wanted to give back to the East coast. And so one of the things we learned wherever you go to business school, most of those opportunities are usually in that region. Just by virtue of who's coming into the school. And so most of my opportunities were with Ernst and Young or Pricewaterhouse. All of those in that area. And I really wanted to get back. The second reason is they did have a program targeted to African-Americans and we're trying to increase their diversity in particular in the sales and the marketing side of the house.

And so they had a program that afforded me an opportunity to come in, have a sales experience, marketing, marketing research, et cetera, to really figure out where I was going to land, to really figure out what do I enjoy doing, what am I really good at.  And the third was I happened to have met who was my mentor. I can remember her Miriam and I liked her and I felt as though this was someone that was going to help me to really become the better version of me, because she was probably five years my senior and already risen very high up in the organization as a black woman. And so I also felt that that said something about Merck at that time.

And so that's why I joined Merck.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And you had a lot of success while you were at Merck. Eventually also becoming the second African-American female manager of a mostly white team. 

How was it while Merck was trying to promote this at the same time? It must've been difficult leading a white team at a time when a lot of people weren't used to having a woman lead them, let alone a woman of color leading them.

Kim Alfonso: 

It was challenging. It was challenging number one, because at the time I was relatively young. The team was predominantly white male and most of them were older because back then a lot of people went into the sales field and they stayed there because you can make a lot of money.

The good news was I did a year of sales in Southern Mississippi and Southern Louisiana.  I wasn't coming in with no knowledge, but only on one year. So I'm coming in as an African-American, as a female with only one year sales experience where normally it would take a minimum of five years.

 So it was challenging. It was not easy. But one of the things I tried my best and again, I had mentors, was to come in and as  we said at Merck, do no harm the first six months, sit back and learn. And so I came in and tried my best to do no harm, to learn what they were doing, how they would do.

They were the experts. They were no question better at me in sales. What I needed to do is figure out how can I support you? What do you need from me in order for you to continue to excel? And I think probably six to seven months in, things started becoming calmer. And obviously some left when I came. So I had some vacancies, which was a good thing because you get to create your team. So I started having an opportunity to bring on other individuals. So in retrospect, it's a great experience. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And as you were having that great experience at Merck and professional success, then at age 35, you ended up marrying Pedro Alfonso, still your dear husband.

Kim Alfonso: 

Yes. I was probably 33 in DC. And that's when I started to kind of get my feet in with politics. He was heavy in politics and the gentleman who was running was a Wharton professor. So I knew him from Wharton. So he happened to be here, running for office.

And so we both met in kind of the political. Two years later we decided we really want to do this. My parents love him. My father says to me every day, and in fact, on my wedding day, he said to me, the worst thing you all can do is divorce. And the reason he said that was because he so loved Pedro. They're both Cancer. So I married my dad. I married my father. And Pedro's Catholic. I mean, he grew up Catholic. Pedro goes to the same church my father helped put the brick in his four bass help bill. So it was really kind of eerie when we first met. It was like, this is really strange. So yeah, so 27 years later, we're still together and still, making it work, like we say, nothing's easy, right? 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It takes work, but I do have to know, were you the one that asked Pedro first or did Pedro ask you out first?

Kim Alfonso: 

So Pedro asked me out first. What was really funny though is at the time I was a manager and I covered West Virginia, Virginia, the whole state of Maryland DC Delaware. So when he asked me out, my response was, "Oh, yes, but let me get back to you with some dates." To this day,- 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You weren't going to make it easy.

Kim Alfonso: 

- he said that he hung up the phone, and called one of his guys and said, "She told me Pedro, she has to wait to send me some dates." And the ironic thing is I wasn't saying it to be funny, but literally I was traveling a lot. So I had to really look at my schedule and figure out where was I going to be, what made sense. 

And so of course, I called him back and we went on a date and years later, we absolutely left that. Not that night, he didn't bring it up that night, but after we got to know each other, he said, “By the way, when you said that to me, I be like 'Do you know who I am?’ ”

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Well, the relationship has been so great over the years because you set the boundaries straight from the beginning. Now eventually five, six years later, you also had your daughter, Alexandra. And I know she has been a significant joy in your life. Now, Alexandra was born with Peter's anomaly, which means she has very limited vision. And I know that by itself really transformed your life and your purpose in life.

Kim Alfonso: 

Yes, first I wasn't sure I wanted kids. My husband always wants two kids. And so I made the decision. I loved them enough. So it took us a minute to even have a child. So at 41, I had Alexandra and the first day they brought it to me, they said there's a problem. They weren't sure what it was. Except when I looked different and they weren't sure what it was. Fast forward Peter's anomaly limited vision. 

So we spent the first two years or she spent, I would say almost at least every two weeks she was in the hospital. There was some procedure that we're doing. So we lived down in Baltimore at John Hopkins for years.  And I was not depressed about it. I was more worried. Like, what is this going to mean? What is this going to mean in her life? What are we going to need to do? 

And I had this physician, Dr. Bette Catoe, who a lot of people in DC know, and she said to me, "You take a day at a time. You do not think a month out or two months, you take a day at a time and love her and give her that strength. Number two, do not treat her that as though she has a disability. You treat it like you would treat any other child." And once she said that to me, that's what I did. So I didn't think what's going to happen because we all know a lot of things can happen in five, 10, 20 years.

So I took a day at a time. We treated her. Just like any other kids, which is ironic because sometimes our friends would say, "You just let her do this by herself? You let her do thi?." Well, she's got some vision. And then second of all, she's got to learn how to be independent. She knows the house,  but I think she also taught me how to relax, take a step back. I was a workaholic. Well, both Pedro and I work. It's nothing for us to be up to midnight working. And that changed because now I had this child, she traveled everywhere with me. I would not leave her home. So I was blessed to have  someone that can travel with us.

And then I started immersing myself in the disability world. Because I really wanted to be the best advocate for my daughter. I wanted to know all the resources, where were they? What can I do? Because I wanted her to be successful, productive, and independent. 

And so in some respects, I would always say this,  everybody wants a healthy child. Everyone wants a child with no issues, right? That perfect child with no issues.  And I would argue that every child has something. There's no perfect child. I happen to have a daughter who sees differently. And so that just means I've got to be able to help her navigate through it, help her learn how to accommodate for herself, but at the same time, make sure she feels that I can do any and everything as anyone else can.

 So it has been a journey. She's 21 now. She's in college and nothing is easy.  I always say when you have a child with a disability, that work you already have is high with any kid. You add on another kid, people say, “Oh, it makes it easier.” No, no, no, no, no, it doesn't make it easier. Doesn't necessarily double the work, but it's more. So then you add a child with a disability and yes, that really takes it to another level because all of the regular things that kids go through, you've got something else sitting here that you've got to help and make sure their self-esteem, their self-awareness,  how people treat them, that they can handle and manage it. 

 Mahan Tavakoli: 

Kim, Alexandra seeing differently has made your life richer and more purpose-driven. And because of that, you have also had a significant impact in doing good for others in the community. Think about all the lives that have been improved because of the advocacy that you have championed through understanding what Alexandra had to go through as a child and has to go through as a young adult.

Kim Alfonso: 

Yes, I made that decision to immerse myself in the disability world. And I have served on many, many boards, Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities, Hogan had me on the Maryland School for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind. I've worked a lot with DC in the interagency coordinating council, which is special ed for the toddlers.  The DC special ed, which was for the public schools.  So you're right. I really have, and obviously that led me to Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, because I decided when she was seven years old, that I was really ready to give back. I was really ready to kind of get off that corporate high intensity, high stress, and really start to see what I could do to help really move forward. Again, my niche was, kids who are visually impaired and blind and I was blessed that my husband agreed and that's what drove me to come to Light house, to really work with all people of all ages who are visually impaired and blind.

Mahan Tavakoli:  

Obviously you volunteered and eventually you served as Chief Operating Officer of Columbia Lighthouse. Before we get to that, though, you did have a short experience where eventually after 25 plus years you left Merck and you became vice-president of marketing for a biotech firm because the money was good.

Kim Alfonso: 

So two things happened when I left Merck. I left Merck because unfortunately at that time I was traveling 60%. And my husband was not feeling that. And I was taking my daughter at the time who was three everywhere. And so a part of it was, I really have to stop now and focus and come back to what family is about.

And so there was a choice made to do that. So I took off for about six months and didn't do anything. I was trying to find who I was. And that's how I found an organization called The Butterfly that was trying to figure out, okay, what do I do now?

I was so defined by being at Merck,  and I never thought I would ever leave it. So now all of a sudden I'm unemployed, I've got a three-year-old, I'm trying to figure it out what's next. And so I saw an opportunity and it was making comparable, if not more money, than I was making at Merck. And I jumped at it. And I also thought at the time it was something different because it was director of marketing, and one thing we know in corporate America, particularly at the fortune 500, they do things well. You learn what good looks like. 

And so I jumped in there and I will take probably within the first three or four months, I knew this was probably not necessarily a good fit. But I stayed there and in part, because I was kind of determined to acquire and  learn more of the skills that I needed in this field. It was in the health field. I was certainly interested in some of the products. And I felt strongly that when you come to a job, you want to at least hang in there for two or three years.  So for me, before it looks like, "What? You made a mistake?" And so stayed there just long enough and then at that time happened to me, Tony Cancelosi. And then that's where I decided, you know what? It's time for me to do something different and give back. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is. And you were able to combine your desire to give back and have an impact by serving as chief operating officer for Columbia lighthouse for the blind.  How were you able to balance the purpose with the operational effectiveness that you needed to ensure for the organization?

Kim Alfonso: 

Well, it's interesting. I think when Tony came, it was at a time where there was a need for business. There was a need for someone to come in and recognize that nonprofits are businesses. And nonprofit doesn't mean that you don't generate an income or you can't generate a positive net income at the end of the year.

And so he came in there focusing on the business aspect. And so when I came in with my business background, now we'll say initially I came in really, the purpose was around business development and fundraising. So when I first came to Columbia lighthouse, that is what they saw in me and that's what they want. And they created the position for me. And very quickly Tony started recognizing, “Wow, she can do more.” And so that's how I landed at chief operating officer. But we always put the mission first. Mission is always first. And so you can't lose sight of the mission. Why you're there, what's your purpose, who your customers are, but you gotta start being business smart. 

And one of the first things I needed to do in the old school was you hire everybody and you have all these employees. I came in and said we've got to change this business model. We can't afford to have all these employees because the work is not there to support all these employees. So I started looking at the different departments and started to say, this business model needs to be a consultant. We need to have consultants and contractors here until it builds up to a certain level where it makes no sense. 

And so it was painful. Because again, many of the individuals that had been there a long time. I did it over time. So it wasn't come in and just slice and burn. It was coming in and looking at each department and figuring out second. It was also realizing that the government side of the business wasn't really focused on proactively.

We waited for things to land. How can we be more proactive? We do some things really well because that is that net income that you push off that helps the other side of the house. And then I think the final thing was learning that everything is relationships. Everything is relationships, and coming in and understanding the state agencies and understanding of who can afford your services and who is willing to pay for them.

So I think that was the other piece. I think Tony and I did a really good job of figuring out what we needed to do to keep the mission there. Make sure we're serving the community at the same time though, having a business focus. I think all nonprofits will say it's not easy. You get a huge grant one year and they tell you the next year you're not going to get. And all of a sudden you're sitting there.  But, it was a phenomenal experience. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is really hard. And it's important as you say, to keep that purpose and that mission in mind. That said, without the business understanding and those business principles that you and Tony brought to the Columbia lighthouse for the blind, then the purpose and the mission can not be achieved. So the two have to be combined.

And one of the challenges is that a lot of nonprofits have the heart, have the purpose of the mission and are lacking in the business systems and processes. 

Kim Alfonso: 

Absolutely. I find myself now, it's not a part of my core business, but because I did it for so many years, I'm helping out a couple of nonprofits now .They have a great mission. They have the customers, they have the clients, and they're doing what I'm going to consider as grassroots. They are asking friends. You can't really build an organization asking friends and hoping I can get a thousand here and 2000 there. I'm working with them selectively to help them out and understand the business aspect and the importance of the business aspect. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Which is why after about 10 years you decided to start Results One which focuses on training and IT. Why decide to start your own business at a later stage in your career?

Kim Alfonso: 

I've always played with business, wanting to be, but I'm risk averse. I, again, I'm old school. I grew up where they rented your behavior and they gave you a paycheck but in the last five or six or seven years, I had been playing with different things in terms of other side businesses.

And then I'll be honest. One day I woke up and I wanted to control my life. I wanted to start enjoying. I wanted to start controlling what I do and when I do it and how I do it. I think the other thing is at some point, especially when you're managing people, as much as I loved my staff, I was ready not to manage people.

And so, and then the third thing is I had a husband who always wanted me to start a business. And so I had the support of someone saying yes. And then I think the final thing is I knew I had a network. I knew I had a large network because of everything I had done and again, being a native Washingtonian.  I wanted it to be something I was passionate about and that I enjoy. And then I found I wouldn't say easy to do because you get new customers. And so you got to think through things, but just something that I knew I could do. And ironic thing is it was kind of started fortuitously because we would do a sexual harassment training and a good friend of mine said, "Well, can I do it?" We had used the same person for years. And I said, "Yes, why don't you do it?" And she did it. And Tony and I looked at each other and said, “She's really good.” And at that time, I had already started a business plan as I looked at her and I said, "Do you want to go into business with me? I can sell what you do really well." 

Because I'm a BD person. And so long story short, probably six months later, January, 2018, we started Results One.  We basically work with organizations to help them create an environment that embodies dignity, respect, accessibility, and inclusion. 

And so we do it in three ways. One is the training, diversity equity, inclusion, facilitating focus groups. We do conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, disability, sensitivity, and awareness. On one side, we do mediation services. And then also on my side, digital accessibility testing. So we worked to make sure websites, mobile apps, PDFs are accessible to people with disabilities.

And that's my passion because I have seen what my daughter and what young adults and kids go through. They cannot access the materials the way sighted individuals can. And so it's a passion of mine because as I always say to people, it is the law, but from Title 388, it is the law, but a lot of people don't really understand that it is the law. Don't really understand how to achieve it and maybe not have had anyone complaint.  So it didn't exist.  And so I love what I do. I love what I do. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Kim, how has the pandemic impacted both your business at Result One. How has it changed as a result of the pandemic? And how has the pandemic impacted people with disabilities being that you are both an advocate and very familiar with what's happening with the committee? 

Kim Alfonso: 

We started 2018, but we didn't start rolling until January of 2019. 2019 was our year of really creating relationships. So when we came into 2020, I had a significant portfolio of contracts to be delivered between March and August. They went to zero very quickly. And so of course, on one hand we were just really upset because we had really put a lot of time, energy and effort. And so like many businesses, we suffered because no one was focused on training. They would focus on COVID related issues and what are we going to do with staff?

And we've got to make sure the computers work. So no one was focused. And so I started kind of turning a little bit more on the digital accessibility side. Because again at the same time, this was happening, the internet, the virtual world, everyone was now engaged. And so what was happening was people with disabilities were being left behind. The lawsuits increased 300% because now everyone was sitting here looking at a zoom, looking at platforms. You need to order online, bank online, groceries online. I mean, everything that we take for granted, now what's being done online. And so we just pivoted and we focused more on that side of the business until we started hearing businesses say, "Well, we're going to be here a minute, so we're still gonna need to do training."

And then I'll be honest, the George Floyd, when that hit, our business really then started picking up on the DNI side. So we had to pivot like most businesses had to do. We had to tighten down, we had to forego some of the monthly expenses we had. And we were lucky if you want her heart the most. We certainly did the PPP. We did the idol in order to kind of help us out from a salary perspective.

 On the other side, I think, and I can even speak through my daughter's lens and through my personal friends' lens, it was difficult. It was very difficult because as I say to people, my daughter went online to look and see where the COVID testing sites were. She couldn't see, she couldn't. She's online, her  screen reader was not reading that because it was not properly scripted. So it was not reading that. 

So I think the second thing is, we used to send people, we have a lot of grocery shoppers from Columbia lighthouse. They will go in and read individual’s mail. They will take them grocery shopping. They will take them out. Well, that stopped. So now, how are they all of a sudden, supposed to know how to get those services? And so we very quickly,  cause I was still at COB as a virtual COO, we had to very quickly figure out we've got to put some courses together to educate them on zoom and the platforms and educate them how to use an Uber eats or an Instacart, et cetera, because the world changed so drastically.

So it was a big struggle. I could go on and on and on. But I think that in some respects I felt that they were being left behind and I felt that we didn't necessarily do all the things that we needed to do for people with disabilities given the pandemic. But again,  we were also learning in a whole new normal, with COVID. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is, we are learning and you are continuing to be a big advocate. At the same time, you also have supported the starting of Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce that you serve on the board of. 

What is the purpose of that organization? And what do you hope the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce can bring to this regional business community?

Kim Alfonso: 

We are really supporting the growth of black businesses. So, what we want to do is provide all resources, education programs to really help our black businesses grow. As even much more important now, because you hear numbers of 30 to 40%, we're going to see a loss in small businesses, period. I would argue black owned businesses are probably upwards of 50%.

And so we're hoping to do is to really help to curb that. And so to provide them with the resources. A good example, as many of them, as we all know, did not avail themselves with PPP for a lot of reasons. And so immediately we came in and we started hosting programs to help educate them on what they needed to do. Particularly since when the second time came around, they could be ready. Because I missed the first, a lot of us missed the first. I missed the first. So a lot of us missed out on the first.  So that's what we really want to do. We want to make sure they're engaged and we know part of your success and business success and I always say this to people, it's networking. It's networking, and you can network in a lot of different ways. And so we want to bring them together. We want to give them opportunities for networking, educate them, help them figure out how do they become a CBE in DC, which is so critically important. If you're not a CBE, what do you need to do? How can we help you? 

And the real big thing is resources. There are a lot of resources that people just don't know about. And that's one of the things I've learned. There's a lot of free  resources, there's free business counseling. There's free that a lot of our businesses don't know about.

So part of it is also making sure they know about those resources and avail themselves. So overall, we want to see a growth as we certainly don't want occur, whatever it's going to happen as a result of the pandemic, but we really want to support the growth of black owned businesses. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that will contribute to the entire region growing and doing well, which is wonderful to see. 

Now, you are still very young and you've just started your business a couple of years back Kim. But if you were to reflect back and give the advice to the younger MBA Kim, she had graduated and, or younger leaders as they are hoping to grow and be as impactful as you have been.

What advice would you give?  

Kim Alfonso: 

Looking back on my career and if I were to say, what could I have done to maybe become a better leader quicker? Or I would say number one, mentors. I didn't really have a lot of mentors coming up, but you have to seek them out also, it's not just they come to you. Sometimes you're lucky and I did have one  at Merck and probably is the reason I became a senior, but other than that, I really didn't. And so in retrospect, I would say that's one thing is to try to look in that organization and find a mentor. They don't always have to look like you, and sometimes they may not look like you. But to really be proactive about that and not wait. I think the second is to always be prepared, always be prepared because you never know what's going to come at you. And I think the third thing, particularly if you're in corporate America, get engaged, get involved. A lot of times we, sometimes I'm saying we, get in organizations and you go to work and you'd go home. No, you go to work, you join some of those committees and clubs. You do some of the things that everyone does and every corporation has, and you get engaged. Why? Because that's how you network and meet because you never know who's going to help you going up. You never know. So I would say that that's the other thing. 

And then I would say work hard, just work hard. You can not afford to be lazy. Because there's somebody else out there working that much harder than you are. And so I think do more than what people expect of you,  that's how you're going to excel. And then again, I would also take you to avail yourselves, and I never did this. Avail yourselves of programs throughout that can help you become a better leader.

I didn't really take advantage of what Merck had to offer. I looked at Merck a little bit too much as a job, like I come in and do a job. I was smart enough to do some of the right things that helped me get to where I was, but I was also at a point where they were looking for us and they wanted to push us.

I'm not saying that's where we are right now. And so, you know, you really have to do your due diligence.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Looking for those opportunities for development is absolutely critical as people grow in their leadership, in their careers. Now, also you already mentioned mentors are really important. Networking is really important. Are there any other leadership resources or anything else with respect to leadership that you think is critical for people to consider in order to improve their skills and impact?

Kim Alfonso: 

I would think, really take advantage of the leadership programs in your area. I will say programs like Leadership Greater Washington, Senior leadership Montgomery, those kinds of programs are great. You know, sometimes you think, “I'm already a good leader. I don't need to get better.”

I always say you can always get better. I'm one of those I'm always learning. Take advantage of organizations that have leadership programs. You'd be surprised.

 One night I typed in women's leadership programs in DC. I never knew the Washington women's leadership initiative existed. And I joined. Again, another networking opportunity, another opportunity to improve my leadership skills in terms of what I'm learning and what I'm coming at.  So for me, that is what I tended to do. 

I think the other thing is, again, mentors can help you become better leaders and sometimes those mentors can see things in you that you don't see to help you be that much better. And so I've had one who I just love dearly, Rosie Allen Herring. She's a part of why I'm a business owner and she will tell you she fought three or four years before I started. She would tell me, “I don't want to hear it anymore. I just want you to do it.” And she would literally call me up, "Now's the time!"

And so you need someone sometimes, especially when I was tepid, to really say to you, "I know you can do it, I see it in you, you got this." So I think you're never too old to have mentors. And so I would say to me, that's what I feel that has helped me.

And I think everything is observing and learning. You sit in meetings and you watch people and you watch how they interact. You watch how they hold themselves, what they say, how they handle difficult situations. And you say, you know what? The next time this happens. That's great. I will tell somebody, "I'm copying what you did at the beat." 

I just want you to know, somebody says, Jim did the same thing. "I'm copying what you did. I'm copying how you started the media. I'm copying how you ended the meeting." So I think that the other thing is observing.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's great advice. Kim. And, I know you mentioned Rosie. Every time I interact with Rosie, I feel bigger and taller and I learned more by trying to do what she has done, because she is a beautiful leader as are you. And I truly appreciate you sharing some of your leadership journey and insights with the partnering leadership community.

Thank you so much for joining this conversation. 

Kim Alfonso: 

And thank you so much Mahan. I really have enjoyed the time as well. So thank you.