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20 Questions with Chekesha Kidd, MBA/MHSA ’01

By Nicholle Cardinal

Chekesha Kidd, MBA/MHSA ’01, is the founder and CEO of Kinumi, a company that supports active older adults and the people who care for them.

Kinumi aims to help these older adults improve their health and quality of life and live independently with the assistance of licensed health professionals. Often, this means helping them navigate the healthcare system and maintain their lifestyles. As a result, Kinumi helps to prevent burnout in family members or loved ones who would otherwise fall into full-time caretaker roles.

While Kidd didn’t envision herself as an entrepreneur while in business school, she has found fulfillment in taking an idea and turning it into a viable business model that helps people in the real world.

Before founding Kinumi, Kidd worked in investment banking and in the health-care industry, gaining valuable experience with companies including UBS, Aetna, and The Hartford. These experiences, and her Michigan Ross education, helped to prepare her for a successful career as an entrepreneur.

Outside of her work, Kidd stays active with the Michigan Ross community through her role on the Recruiting and Membership Committee for the Alumni Board of Governors. In that capacity, she works to continually improve alumni representation and ensure that the board is maximizing its reach.

To learn more about Kidd’s background, entrepreneurial career, and role with ABOG, we asked her to answer our 20 questions.

How did you come to found Kinumi?

The “why” behind Kinumi is actually a very personal story for me. I had recently been promoted and was living in the Northeast when I got the call my father had passed away and my mom found herself living alone for the first time in her life in her mid 70s. While she is physically fit, she did find that she needed help coordinating her healthcare and finding help to maintain the household. She had grown accustomed to making decisions with her partner of 53 years and she needed support. I became that go-to person for her, but it was becoming overwhelming for us both, especially living so far apart with her in Florida. I started talking to my friends about the situation and quickly found out I was not alone. I was one of over 40 million unpaid family caregivers supporting older adult loved ones, and services for active older adults are in short supply. I looked around for services to help our family, and simply couldn’t find what we needed. So we created Kinumi to fill that gap.

There will be 73 million older adults in the U.S. by 2030 and they want to remain independent but are often frustrated and confused with the complexity of the healthcare system as well as find it increasingly difficult to simply maintain the lifestyle that they have known all of their lives without becoming socially isolated and disengaged. 

Kinumi’s mission is to partner with active older adults to realize their vision of successful aging. We provide dedicated concierge services from a licensed health professional allowing loved ones peace of mind, while providing employers a comprehensive and trusted resource for their employees to get the support they need.

What has been the biggest challenge for you thus far as an entrepreneur?

Pushing forward through the challenging times and not allowing myself to fall into the trap of believing I am in this alone. We have a great team that has really come together to propel our company and strategy forward. Knowing when to lean on them has been what has allowed us to thrive in these early stages and what has kept me sane throughout this journey.

What’s the best part of your job as the founder and CEO of Kinumi?

The best part of my job as CEO of Kinumi — and really any leadership role I have had over the years — has been the opportunity to work with people, focus on talent development, and build a culture that promotes growth among the team. I truly believe that having the right people in the right roles, understanding their goals, and aligning them to the company goals creates a win-win for everyone. I’ve amassed valuable experience, knowledge, and relationships throughout my career and it’s been a rewarding time to share that with those who also believe in and work toward Kinumi’s mission and growth. Sitting down with team members to help them explore how they can leverage their strengths and interests to create a fulfilling career for themselves and then seeing them grow with new opportunities is, and always will be, the best part of the job.

How did you come to be involved with the Alumni Board of Governors?

I grew up as a Wolverine. My father pursued his graduate studies at U-M, taught on campus, and served in the administration before I was born, and our house was always a Michigan house. So when it was time for me to attend graduate school, U-M was my top choice and I have always been a supporter of the school over the years. I was approached by the Alumni Engagement team about being a part of ABOG and I jumped at the opportunity to serve. Any time I can give back to U-M, I will do whatever I can to help.

What does being a part of the Alumni Board of Governors mean to you?

I am very proud to be able to serve and represent a segment of our alumni population on the Alumni Board of Governors. I was fortunate to have served as president of the Black Business Students Association while in school and have done my best to stay connected to our BBSA and Black Business Alumni Association community over the years. Ensuring that perspective is represented as part of ABOG is important to me. The diversity and inclusion of Ross is an integral part of the school’s rich offering, and preserving and expanding that will be critical to future success.

Do you have any mentors in your professional life?

I have had some of the most amazing mentors throughout my career that are more like family to me now. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve half of what I have accomplished in my career without them, including taking the risk of stepping away from my corporate career to become an entrepreneur. They have coached me on business decisions, my personal life, and how to navigate organizational barriers in complex matrixed environments. They have taught me the difference between mentors and sponsors and how to identify who is who, and they have also modeled how I am as a mentor myself.

Who inspires you?

I get inspiration from all types of sources, but if I had to pick one person I would have to say my father. His story was one of sheer perseverance and determination that I hope to model. He had a challenging home environment as a child, but with support he figured out early on that he had an opportunity to leverage education as a path forward. He earned a scholarship for college and was one of very few Black students at what was then Case Institute of Technology in the 1950s, but the challenge that presented didn’t deter him at all. He had a vision for the life he wanted to create and that included a wife and family, an Air Force career, and graduate studies, earning two master’s degrees and a PhD from U-M ahead of a long career in higher education. He accomplished all of that while prioritizing and providing for his family. His life was inspirational to not just me, but to the countless students, faculty, and staff he served over the years, and I was lucky enough to be able to call him dad.

First album/CD you bought?

I grew up in a house full of music. From my parents blasting James Brown and Motown classics on the weekends while we cleaned the house, to my older brothers playing Prince, DeBarge, or other ’80s pop songs as we danced in front of the hallway mirror. But, it was always music other members of my family owned. So, it was a big deal when I bought the very first album of my own. A Salt with a Deadly Pepa by Salt-N-Pepa. I was so excited and I played that album nonstop all of my eighth grade year.

Most-cherished Ross experience?

I had so many great experiences while I was at U-M, it’s hard to pick just one, but I think my most cherished experience was actually the summer after graduation. I had always wanted to have an international experience, but because I was pursuing a dual degree program with the School of Public Health, I didn’t have room in my schedule to do it. Dr. Brent Chrite helped me find a way. At the time, he was leading the William Davidson Institute and I had recently completed his class on business strategies for sub-Saharan Africa. I had expressed interest in working abroad before starting my new investment banking role and the business school was co-sponsoring an economic development conference in Namibia. Dr. Chrite assigned me, and an incoming MBA who had lived in the region, the opportunity to help coordinate the conference in Windhoek, Namibia, for the summer. It was a cultural immersion that was absolutely amazing and we had the opportunity to meet and work with some great people who have become lifelong connections.

The thing you learned in business school that you’ll never forget?

One of the best lessons I learned in business school was actually not inside the classroom. It was from the interactions I had with other students, faculty, and alumni while I was a student. Understanding the motivations of others and learning to align their needs with those of your organization is how you can effectively get things done and create sustainable change. I have taken that lesson into my career and figured out a way to navigate difficult situations, especially in matrixed organizations.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in entrepreneurship?

Have a clear understanding of what you are getting yourself into with regards to the toll entrepreneurship can take. It's a tough process, but if you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and why, it helps keep you on the right path. It also helps to have a strong support network to keep spirits up when things get tough.

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

I have recently picked up tennis again after a long hiatus. I used to play in high school and college, but let life get in the way. I love it because it's a sport you can play for a lifetime.

Business or charity you wish more people knew about?

The work Bryan Stevenson has done at the Equal Justice Initiative is phenomenal and needs more attention and support. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges that have helped rectify many injustices in our criminal justice system. The organization has also initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in America. We often like to avoid tough topics that are part of American history, but ignoring the past will only lead us to repeating the same mistakes in the future.

What is your pet peeve?

I don’t have a ton of pet peeves, but one that comes to mind is passive aggressiveness. I am generally a very direct person and feel that open communication is key to healthy relationships, both business and personal. So, when I come across passive aggressive behavior it can be a bit tiresome because it often simply leads to unnecessary stress.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I have always had a love of science and medicine, and when I was a kid I wanted to be a pediatrician. I loved my doctor, Lionel Henry, and the fact that he could figure out what was making me sick and generally “fix it” was fascinating to me as a kid. I was actually pre-med in college, but found a passion for health policy and strategy and switched majors to health care management… after a long conversation with my parents, of course.

What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

Ten years ago I was in a transition period after my father passed away and I was facing the challenge of how to balance career and family. If I could give myself advice back then, it would be to stand confidently in my decision to prioritize my family and not second guess myself.

Something you are especially proud of?

I have a large extended family with a ton of nieces and nephews. I am proud of the fact that I have always been there to support my family in both challenging times and times of celebration. “Truth-telling Auntie” is a title I cherish.

What was your best business decision?

My best business decision was shifting from investment banking to profit and loss leadership. I wasn’t so sure about the opportunity when it was first presented to me, but it was the best decision I have made in my career.

What’s a book you’ve read recently? How was it?

I most recently read Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis. Her story is riveting and inspirational. The strength of her character is clear and I am even more of a fan now than ever before. I am simply in awe of her ability to not only survive, but to thrive in the face of such adversity. On the podcast Making Space with Hoda Kotb, Viola talked about a time when she crashed in the midst of great career success and what prompted her to shift her perspective and stated it was “because I stopped at success and not at significance.” This quote really provides insight into her unique perspective on life that really should serve as a path forward for us all.

Most influential Ross professor?

Professor Alfred L. Edwards. Personally, I can unequivocally state that Dr. Edwards is the reason I got into business school, and his support and guidance really helped shape my early career. However, my story is just one of many stories about Dr. Edwards’ legacy at U-M. He drove the strategy and execution of our foundational diversity initiatives and helped position our school as a top program. In addition to his work with the Black Business Student Association, he was also a well-regarded economist and thought leader. He is missed but never forgotten.

 

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