Ep 15 – Designing for Success in Engineering



Growing up on Chicago’s South side, Kimberly Moore had always been a fan of tinkering. Lovingly known to her family as ‘Ms. Fix It’, even at a young age she was able to focus on creative ways to solve problems. Moore received her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Northern Illinois University, playing D1 basketball for the NIU Huskies while an undergraduate.

After landing a job at a nuclear power plant, Moore soon gave in to the call of secondary education, pursuing her Master’s in Sound Engineering at NIU as well. After graduation, Moore worked in a few other positions before her entrepreneurial spirit ultimately drove her to pursue her dream of starting her own engineering firm.

In 2008, Moore created KDM Engineering to provide consulting services on engineering projects. Unfortunately, the effects of the recession, coupled with Moore’s father falling ill, resulted in the temporary closure of KDM while she went to care for him full-time. After his untimely death in 2011, Moore returned more determined than ever to build KDM into the successful company she had envisioned. Under Moore’s guiding hand and unique leadership style, KDM has become a proven leader in the industry, growing to over 100 employees and successfully completing work on thousands of projects.

Being among the first few Black women to graduate from NIU with an electrical engineering degree, Moore knows firsthand what it’s like to be the only person in the room who looks and talks like her. She has made it her mission  to change that. Deeply committed to assembling a uniquely diverse team, KDM is proof of the unquestionable advantages to ensuring diversity in background, thought, and experience. Moore strongly believes that having different perspectives when solving complex issues will have a positive impact on our infrastructure well into the future.

A fierce supporter of women and minorities in STEM, Moore also created Calculated Genius, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping underrepresented youth explore and connect to engineering. Focusing on giving back to the local community, Calculated Genius funds a summer STEM and entrepreneurship program for local high school  students and provides scholarships to women pursuing STEM-related degrees at the collegiate level.

Moore sits on the NIU Alumni Association Board and the City of Chicago Affirmative Action Advisory Board. She has received several awards recognizing her success in building KDM Engineering into the thriving company it is today, including:

    • Enterprising Women of the Year, 2018
    • Engineering News-Record’s 40 Under 40 Midwest, 2018
    • Engineering News-Record’s 20 Under 40 National, 2018
    • Consulting Specifying Engineer’s 40 Under 40, 2018
    • Crain’s Chicago Business 40 Under 40, 2019
    • Chicago Council on Science & Technology (C2ST) Young Professional Award, 2019
    • ATHENA Emerging Leader Award, 2019
    • U.S. Small Business Administration’s Illinois Rising Star Small Business of the Year 2020
    • Crain’s Chicago Business Notable Women in STEM 2020
    • EY Entrepreneur of the Year Midwest 2020 Winner
    • NIU Office of Academic Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion’s Richard A. Flournory Engagement Award,2020
    • NAWBO Chicago Woman Business Owner of the Year, 2021
    • Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Entrepreneur of the Year, 2021


If you’re a woman in STEM trying to establish yourself, it can feel almost impossible to get your foot in the door. Double that if you’re also a person of color. And once you’re in the door, you’re only starting – you still have to deliver, get paid, get new business, find and keep great people, and have the means to pay them.

Feels like an impossible task, that is, unless you’re Kimberly Moore, founder of KDM Engineering

In this episode, Kimberly talks about how she crafted a path successfully as one of the few African American woman managing electrical engineering design for very large utilities, how she cracked the problem of finding and keeping qualified people, and still manages to give back to the community in very deep and meaningful ways.

Here’s Kimberly, with her story of inspiration, hard-headed business acumen and a big heart for giving back

Episode highlights

  1. How to uncover your hidden genius when you don’t even know it exists
  2. What they don’t tech you about starting out on your own, and how to get up to speed quickly
  3. How to leverage your personal brand to build business credibility quickly
  4. How to hire top talent when you can’t afford to pay top dollar
  5. How to do business development in industries with really long sales cycles
  6. The one asset you should always keep building
  7. How to get smart about finances when you have no one to turn to
  8. How to finance your growth when financing isn’t available
  9. How to manage inflation when your costs rise but prices don’t
  10. How to use financial transparency with employees to gain  competitive advantage
  11. How to give back by leveraging the core strengths of your business
  12. The surprising rewards from treating people right

Links and resources

KDM Engineering – the heavy engineering design firm that Kimberly Moore founded and runs

Calculated Genius – the 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Kimberly to mentor, promote and support the advancement of girls and women in STEM

QuickBooks – Industry-leading accounting and reporting software used by many small businesses

10,000 Small Businesses – an initiative by financial services leader Goldman Sachs to support small businesses

Interview transcript

Shubha Chakravarthy: Good afternoon, Kimberly, we’re delighted to have you here. Thank you for joining us today!

Kimberly Moore: Thank you very much for having me.

Shubha Chakravarthy: So, you have a really interesting background. You have a very strong STEM background. You’re pursuing a PhD. Tell us a little bit more about you and how you ended up on the entrepreneurial path.

Kimberly Moore: I’ve always been really good at math and science, so I knew whatever I was going to do was going to be in that realm. I did not know what engineering was when I was growing up. I was introduced to that in my senior year at Whitney Young High School. I had an AP science teacher who told me what engineering was.

So, I decided to pursue that path and go ahead and apply for that at NIU. When I was at NIU, I had some really good counsellors and they were able to direct me in the path of electrical, which is where I stayed. After that I pretty much stayed on the engineering side through my career. I went back to NIU and pursued my masters and when I came out I went to the consulting side of power whereas I was on the utility side before. When I came back on the consulting side, I really took a liking to distribution and power and how fast that really moved as opposed to where I was.

I pretty much hit a ceiling at my last place and decided that maybe entrepreneurship would be better. I had always done my own business of some sort, just not in engineering. But none of those really succeeded because I either got bored or there was a change in plans or whatever but I decided to go ahead and experiment with entrepreneurship in engineering and is where I am now.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Give us a taste. What kind of other entrepreneurial ventures did you pursue before you landed on engineering?

Kimberly Moore: There was so much. I was just a hustler. I used to buy broken motorcycles from Craigslist when that was a thing. I would fix those up in my garage and resell those. I built computers for schools for a while until all of the big names started doing low priced all-in-one computers. So, you name it and I have tried it.

Shubha Chakravarthy: That is inspiring! Tell us about KDM engineering. What does the firm do?

Kimberly Moore: KDM is a diverse-owned electrical and civil engineering company. We perform design engineering work for utilities and telecommunication company. So, the, AT&Ts and T-Mobiles of the world, and the ComEd and Nicor’s of the world, that’s where we kind of have our niche market.

Shubha Chakravarthy: And for those of us like me who don’t know exactly what that is, can you give us a bird’s view of what a project might look like?

Kimberly Moore: Absolutely. Our projects have a range but basically whenever you go to your kitchen and when you open your refrigerator it has power. We have to make sure that you have the power that goes into your home that allows that to occur. So, if you think about all the poles that you see outside, or the big green transformer boxes that you might have in your front or your back lawn, those are designs that KDM would’ve touched.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Is that why you’re pursuing a PhD? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Kimberly Moore: I was pursuing that because eventually I want to go back and teach. I do a lot with my nonprofit now in terms of talking, but I want to be able to also teach. I think the easiest route is when you can just fall right into teaching after pursuing your doctoral program.

I wanted to really give back in terms of teaching the underrepresented youth and for me to be taken seriously in the industry, I think that’s one of the things you need to have.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Hold that thought because that’s fascinating. So, now coming back to KDM, you knew you hit a wall, you knew you want to do something entrepreneurial. What happens next? What’s the idea? What did you do first? How did that whole thing play out?

Kimberly Moore: There’s a lot that they don’t teach you right when you’re just an employer or an employee rather and I had gotten to what I thought was a pretty high level at my prior job. I developed rates. I was reviewing contracts. I brought over my clients and built that whole business – basically a mini KDM underneath the umbrella of another company.

So, I was allowed grace to succeed or fail or do better, and then try again underneath their umbrella. That was great and I thought I knew everything I needed to know about running a business until I started to run my own business.

That’s when you learn more about HR and you learn more about IT needs and you learn more about employees or people in general and contracts in terms of relationships because I will say the one piece of advice that I was given from my first client who was ComEd was before they would give me business.

They said, “Hey, listen, we know who Kimberly Moore is. We know your reputation as an engineer on your own but you’re not going to be the one doing these designs. We don’t know who KDM is. You have to establish yourself as a business before we can trust that you could do work for us.”

That really hit home for me because that was my whole idea. My idea was predicated on going out on my reputation. I had great reputation and I had great relationships with people but that’s not all it depends on.

They also want to know because they’re right, I’m not the one doing designs today. They have to trust in our training process and our hiring process and everything else to be confident in giving us the opportunities that they had given us this far to be able to help us continue to grow.

Shubha Chakravarthy: What did that look like? What were the top two or three things that you had to establish so that someone would now come and trust KDM versus trusting Kimberly Moore?

Kimberly Moore: So, they gave me something like a roadmap. They told me, “Hey, work as a sub for some of our existing primes, get acclimated, build your bench, build your backlog, and continue to do this work. We can always come back and look at opportunities that we can give you directly.”

That’s exactly what I did. I went to one of their primes. I was a sub for them for about a year and a half. Then after a year and a half of me organically growing because it wasn’t like I got some kind of investment I had one person. That one person turned into five people after a year and then that five turned into 15 the next year and then onwards from there.

It was developing myself and my ability to do work as KDM as a sub first, making sure we had competent hires because just like today the market is crazy, then it was getting crazy as well. You also have to make sure you have people that fit with what you’re trying to do.

Even if you are small, they have to fit with what you’re trying to do and mold within the culture that you’re trying to develop because you can’t develop the culture if you had the wrong people from the start.

So it was about developing people or getting the right people, getting the opportunities, and then performing. See, you have to perform. They’re not going to give you a second if you have all of this built up and you cannot perform.

Shubha Chakravarthy: That is a great segue. The work you’re doing is knowledge work, it’s professional services. So, hiring is key. As you just mentioned, what did you do to hire those first few key people because your whole reputation was going to ride on those?

Kimberly Moore: So, the first couple of people were all word-of-mouth referrals from my prior client from ComEd. During that time in 2014, we were coming out of a recession and there were a lot of people available at the time, opposite of today. But at that time there were a lot of good people out there and it was word of mouth. It was like, “Hey, we used to work with John Doe. He has since been laid off over the recession or he took a break over the recession. If you could get him back, I think he would be a great hire for you.”

So, I did have some friends that still worked at the utility that were able to direct me in the right path to find people, to help me get started. The following year after I had my base set, I got college graduates and we just did a lot of training and those college grads stayed with me.

Shubha Chakravarthy: One little sidebar on that. One of the key things that entrepreneurs have to deal with is setting compensation – things that impact your financials. Did you have help? It seems like a new and foreign area. How did you tackle the whole question of setting compensation and getting used to that part of running a business?

Kimberly Moore: For us, we focused a lot because I wasn’t able to hire a lot of the people that were available and the ones that were still working. There were those that were still working, looking to move up, but then there were those that retired or there were those that had taken a break from the industry during that recession.

I was able to convince them based off of what we were and our goals to come over and set lower than what would’ve been top of line salaries at the time by offering different things culturally like, “Hey, here’s additional PTO” or “Hey, here’s what I’m thinking a bonus structure might look like”.

The fact that we were small – it was just a split. It was just like, “Hey, this is what we got. Let’s just split it. Thanks for taking a risk of being with KDM” because it was just myself and then we added one person at a time for a year.

So, to take a chance on a firm that had nobody and then was adding one at a time was a big risk. I had to choose individuals that understood that risk but saw the opportunity and those individuals understood at the time that they might not get as much as if they were to come out of retirement and go directly back to the utility.

But it’s not about the money, it’s about affecting things and having a good reputation, doing good design work, not being stressed, having a lot of PTO, and eventually being a part of something that we know is going to be greater.

Shubha Chakravarthy: The other part of coming out of another firm and going out to do something that’s pretty much the same thing, in that situation many people in your situation might find themselves in a non-compete. Did you ever have that issue? And if so, how did you deal with it?

Kimberly Moore: I didn’t have that issue. Again, the firm that I had I worked in before KDM was also a small firm when I got there. So, they weren’t as small as KDM – small in terms of like five people, but they probably had a hundred people.

It started to grow when I brought over energy work and then we had all these different departments and the other departments grew but they were able to make good profit on revenue on the energy side, which allowed them to grow in other areas as well.

So, they began to grow but we pretty much knew everybody at the company. When you were working there and you spent a lot of late nights, you went out together, you got on the train together, and everything like that.

So, I was really graciously brought over by my prior supervisor and the owner of the company. There was a very big, trust factor there and it was great. I had a great time.

As a matter of fact, I don’t think that had the recession happened and had my father who got sick during that time, had he not gotten sick, I probably would still be there. We were having a good time.

It wasn’t like I was saying, “This is the worst place ever. I’m looking for the first opportunity out.” We were having a good time. So, I appreciate them, and I still talk to them. We, as a matter of fact, do business together. I talked to the previous CEO and the new CEO all the time and I’m like, “Thank you.”

Shubha Chakravarthy: The best possible scenario that you can imagine for, for this work. That’s awesome. It sounds like you work with very large clients. Did you have a funding need? I would imagine that there’s long delays before you get paid. So, did you have a big funding need even though you were a professional services offering? And if so, how did you tackle that challenge?

Kimberly Moore: I don’t want to definitely act like this is the easiest thing and this is how we accomplished these things. I had a lot of challenges when we first started and as a matter of fact, one of the last things that propelled me and made me continue my journey was the passing of a few of my family members.

My dad passed one year, and my older brother passed the following year from cancer, all of them were cancer related. Then my grandma passed around Christmas of 2013 and I was just like, “Holy crap. What am I going to do?” because I felt like I was going to give up.

But the one thing was that I promised each and every one of them that I was going to continue and that KDM was doing well.

So, in 2014, how we were able to actually make payroll is my grandma had a life insurance policy that she left to us. I had to use the life insurance policy money and start my payroll. So, that’s like one of those one off situations where I’m like, “Where am I going to get this money to pay these people?” I had to use that life insurance money to do that and that gave me a bridge enough to wait the 45 to 60 days to get funded from our invoicing.

Then we get to the whole matter of the banking system is there for when you don’t need them, they’re not there for you when you do. I was always told that and never understood that because I was like, “All right. We want to grow. We want to grow faster. How do we grow faster?”

Nobody would really touch us because we were a so new and at the very beginning it’s always easier to grow at an exponential rate, as opposed to when you’re in the millions. We were able to grow super-fast and everyone kept saying. “Well, I’ll wait until you begin to even out and when you even out we can look at your finances.”

We didn’t even out until the pandemic. So, from 2014 until the pandemic, we were just on this skyrocket, this exponential growth pattern. That part was amazing but that also meant that banks were like, “Well, when is she going to equal out so we can take a look because we don’t know how to lend to her? Is it based on last year? Is it based on right now?”

So, we always had a problem getting funding because nobody wanted to take that risk on us and try to assist us with that financial need that we had.

Shubha Chakravarthy: So how did you overcome that?

Kimberly Moore: Luckily, we were just in a place that we really didn’t need that. I mean, I kept fighting for it and I fought for it until I got it based off of a relationship.

I’m going to always stress on relationships because they’re very important. One person from NIU, he’s a fellow Husky and he was a senior lender at a bank. He had my back to the point where they were just like, “Okay, we believe it. Here’s, here’s a line of credit.”

For a long time, I didn’t even use it because I just wanted to stick it to him. I was like, “I didn’t even need it. I just wanted to have it and here’s my proof that I don’t need you. I just want to have it just in case for growth opportunities and the like.” We did it at that point to make sure that we had a facility in case we needed it, of course we did during pandemic.

But before then we didn’t need it. I just wanted to have it just in case, but it was tough just to get it. But like I said, relationships and that senior lender was able to get us through a door that most diverse businesses have a problem getting to.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Has that situation improved over time, given the fact that you’re a diverse owner or is this it better now or worse or the same?

Kimberly Moore: It’s about the same. It has not really improved, and I think we’re not the only sector that went through a pandemic. The whole world went through a pandemic but during that time banks also got squeezed and they were like, “Okay, we don’t want to lend out as much money.”

So, I don’t really think it necessarily got better. I would say for us, it stayed the same but during a challenging time like this, if you were to go out right now and try to re-establish yourself or try to look for lending today, it’s going to be even harder because they expect you to show that you have not gone through a pandemic.

Shubha Chakravarthy: That’s fascinating and unexpected.

Kimberly Moore: Yes. You would think that would be the opposite. But if you on your books show that you’ve experienced some turmoil over 2021 and 2022, they want to see that you turned the corner before they can assist you and that is a direct quote for my prior lender. I’m still there.

I still have my relationship but for us to try to grow today, they expect more than they did before the pandemic so that they feel more comfortable about lending of dollars out to small businesses and that’s just not always going to be the case.

Shubha Chakravarthy: It’s a complicated calculation from being in banking. I can tell you that, but I certainly appreciate where you’re coming from.

So, moving to the other important piece of any successful business, which is getting customers and getting orders. Sounds like you started off really well because you had an established base, you had this sterling reputation with your future clients.

Once you had to get past that, how did you then think about acquiring new clients and how was that process working out? What were your learnings from that?

Kimberly Moore: That’s a good question. So, for us, it was challenging for us during the pandemic because one thing that we have to do is that we usually go to conferences. We usually take clients out to dinner. We travel to see them. So, we had to learn a whole new world of business development and trying to establish relationships.

But secondarily to that, I would say that the other issue that we did have was the fact that besides the pandemic being that choke point in utility, I’m only speaking for the utility part for utility contracts come out once every three to five years.

So, your business developing years in advance of the opportunity because once the opportunity is present again, you’re on the forefront and you’re going to be invited at least to the table to be able to put your best foot forward and try to establish relationships and get a contract.

So, we did that during the pandemic, and then when we came out, it was, “Hey, can you do this for us? We remember you used to do X, Y, and Z,” and we’re like, “Holy crap.” We put the irons in the pot, and they all got hot and it’s a champagne problem, right?

So, you’re like, great, but you don’t have the people to do the work because the people are what’s missing and that’s what’s needed for professional service businesses. It’s definitely challenging from a small business perspective because now you saw that Biden just approved that bill and a lot of money is going to pump into a lot of different areas, infrastructure, utilities, renewables, and all that. That’s my space. So, we have a lot of big companies now that are coming into my space, that weren’t in my space before.

It’s going to be a body of work that everybody can get a piece of and sit at the table and eat. It’s just a matter of who is going to develop the talent and keep the talent. It’s always a matter right now in today’s generation of keeping the talent and who is going to be able to be repetitive, come back and do great work, maintain great quality, great safety, and be competitive and repetitive in the market.

I want to say it’s positive because we all get a chance to eat and it’s not just like the big five or whatever can do something, but that the big five are coming in and they are definitely making their presence felt. I will say that.

Shubha Chakravarthy: So, you mentioned this fact about being competitive which brings up an interesting point. You face these bid opportunities every three to five years. Now clearly inflation is super high and then you’re locked into rates.

Can you talk a little bit about how you approach pricing without disclosing anything proprietary, just a philosophy and an approach to how you smart the price you’re offering?

Kimberly Moore: So, the one thing I’m going back to when I first started, the one thing I did not understand as an employee, was what was baked into the rate that my company had for me.

I didn’t understand that until I started my own business, and I was like, “Wait, you guys think I’m making all this money. I’m not paying you $50 an hour and I’m charging out a hundred. I don’t make 50. There are your benefits. There’s your insurance, there is the rent, the lights, the computers that you use, the software, that’s all this stuff that gets baked into this overhead rate.”

Most companies only have 10% profit and that’s not a lot. That means for every $50 that a hundred bucks that I charge out, you make 50, I make 10. So, it’s not as bad now. It’s different. Obviously, I’m not going to say every company is like that but I know about the situation here and I can only speak for here.

We have those conversations and we try to show our employees everything transparently and say, “Hey, this is how much this is. This is how much it costs for you to be here and then this is how much we’re going to get. So, if you go back and you do something wrong on the project and have to work more then we can’t charge the client to that, and the little bit of profit just went away. If you have to do it a third time, hopefully you don’t, but if you do, then now I’m in the negative.”

So, we have those discussions and those meetings, and we show the employees because we want them to know this is not a situation where you make 50 and I make 50. This is not how that works.

What we try to do is that every time there is a major adjustment in terms of a market, where we are in the market right now I approach my clients and say, “I know we negotiated an increase for standard cost but you guys are experiencing the same pain that we are. This is not going to be your standard 3% every year, look at where things are.”

So, we’ve been able to go back and talk to our clients. We’re not trying to price out either. We’re also very transparent about our books and showing where we are and what we’re paying our folks today and how we’re trying to keep them, because we have other things that are built into our overhead, that a lot of companies don’t necessarily do. Where they are cost cutting, we’re spending money.

We have somebody 40 hours a week downstairs. You make an appointment, and you can go talk to her about your career or your personal issues. If work is driving you insane to the point where you haven’t shared with anybody, but you have four projects and you don’t know how those four projects are going to get done and it’s weighing on you then go talk to her.

She has her own set of books and her own server. I can’t go into her files and say, “I wonder what this employee said to her during this period.” I can’t do that. This is totally secret and up to you if you share what you want to share and then you can give her permission to share what you want her to share with us.

It was during the pandemic that I felt that that was important. We even have people who have used her and left the company. They used her to get through a mental hard time and say, “Thank you. I now have the courage to leave the state and go try something different.” Kudos to you. That’s totally fine and that is what it’s here for, in terms of what she’s supposed to be here to do for our employees.

Shubha Chakravarthy: I love what you said about financial transparency, which brings me to another key part of being an entrepreneur, which is managing the finances. How equipped did you feel going in to manage the finances?

What learning did you have to accomplish and what was that bridge from there to mastering it yourself, to deciding how and what to share with your employees in terms of the financial performance?

Kimberly Moore: I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew when I first started. That’s a different level of math and science. When you’re talking about your profitability, your margins, your A/R, and your A/P, it’s a totally different thing.

So, when I first started, I got QuickBooks and I tried to look at the free videos and it was a bit of a mess. But I have a degree from Google University, I’m telling you. Google saved me and there are a lot of free courses on YouTube. There are a lot of free courses from different universities and I think a lot of the universities now have free business courses available online as their way to give back to the business community.

So just learning where to find those courses and how to sign up for them and how to review them and take notes and testing it out on my own and things like that is how I was able to figure out the numbers and then in turn we grew and now I have an accounting manager and things like that.

But from the transparency standpoint, I just knew what I wanted to know as an employee. Granted, I’m not going to get all the way down to the weeds about how much my rent costs and how much the professional liability insurance is renewable and all.

But in terms of just having a little transparency to let them know that we aren’t out here splitting a rate down the middle and saying, “You take this, and we’ll take that.” There are actual other things that need to be considered.

I also feel that today’s generation of workers are asking these questions because they want to know and it’s not that they want to know so that they can all go out and start their own business. They want to know because they want to see how we companies are valuing them and to know that there is room for an increase if they are performing well on this job. They want to know, “Am I meeting expectations, or do I have work to do for my career growth and expectation setting?”

I feel that extra transparency lets employees know about the health of the company as well. A lot not only want to work for a company that has a great social impact or social calls, but they also want to know, “Is my job going to be here tomorrow?”

You hear that Groupon laid off five hundred, Go Health laid off a thousand, and some other company is laying off too. We all see that, and I get little messages that say, “Hey, just wondering if you’ve seen how things are right now in the eco-world of Chicago. What do you think that means for us?”

I know exactly what they’re asking, “Are we next? Is KDM in a position that will let move forward?” So, I think that financial transparency also helps them make job decisions in terms of, “I like it here but are we laying off people tomorrow?” It also helps them with those decisions.

Shubha Chakravarthy: To build on that, when you talk about financial transparency, you did mention that it was at a high level that you share. Do you share cash? Do you share the forward-looking order book? What are the big blocks of things you talk about with your employees?

Kimberly Moore: So, we get down to the rate structure and how we do that, but we also share new business, and we also share the efficiency of the projects that we have. What we don’t want to do is have people know who works on what projects.

So, if I have specific projects up that say these four did not make money, but these three did then they’d know who worked on those projects. So that’s embarrassing as well, and we don’t want to do that here at our firm.

We share how we did overall on a book of business. Let’s to say we are talking about ComEd because Exxon’s broken up. So, let’s say here’s how we did on the ComEd book of business. Here’s how we’re doing in Baltimore. Here’s how we are doing in Philly. Here’s how we’re doing with American Electric Power.

So, we break it down into groups like that, and then even further we’ll break it down in segments. We have electrical here, we have telecommunication here and we also have civil. So, it is like, “Hey, out of AEP here was what we did in telecom.”

So, we are able to break that down and show how well or not so well we are able to do in certain segments so that they get a feeling and then we show them the potential book of business that can occur if we become more efficient or if we’re already efficient, if we have more people.

As a new area, there’s always some opportunity for them to be able to move around because that’s the other thing they want – opportunity. They don’t want to say, “Okay, I work for a company that just works in Chicago.”

They want to say, “Hey, do you have aspirations of getting to Texas soon?” And we’re like, “Hey, this is an opportunity where a lot of you are looking, we’ll look in that area.”

But I think that’s helpful for them as well because they can just let us know that as opposed to a bigger company where if they want to work in Texas and you need to tell your CEO that you want to go be in Texas and they aren’t in Texas then they’re not going to say, “Sure. We’ll look into it.”

Shubha Chakravarthy: That is an excellent example of the benefits of how you do business. Is there any other example that pops in your mind where something happened that is very positive, that would’ve been unexpected in a different environment, but it occurred as a result of being that transparent and that proactive about educating your employees on the financial performance?

Kimberly Moore: I would say I have been able to save a few people from leaving the firm due to the transparency that we have given, and I’ve gotten a lot of volunteers in terms of our non-profit in being open and sharing those opportunities here at KDM as well.

That helps people stay as well. People who know we have a non-profit will say, “Can we talk to the kids? Can we do whatever?” And we say, “Absolutely! let me share with you what it is that we are doing over here on this side, and you can fill in wherever you want to fill in. That transparency has had some people say, “Oh, I love talking to individuals and kids and so on.”

So, those are two things that I would think popped up, but the number one would be saving people from leaving.

Shubha Chakravarthy:. So, that’s a fantastic segue into Calculated Genius. I know you have a huge non-profit involvement. Can you talk to us about what you do there, what the aspiration is and what the organization does?

Kimberly Moore: Calculated genius, I’ll refer to it as CG. We do three things. We provide a bridge in terms of programming.

CPS (Chicago Public Schools), they have budget shortfalls, and when they do a lot of programs get cut. So, one of the things that we are really interested in is STEM. We try to bridge that gap in programming by offering a six-week summer program course to CPS students, high school students that are interested and want to sign up for that course.

The course comprises of a lot of different volunteers from a lot of different companies. Companies still around that STEM area such as Motorola, Facebook, KPMG, etc. and they come in and they discuss the different branches of engineering.

Some of them have examples and toys and little activities that some of these teenagers get a chance to do like participating in making bridges out of spaghetti noodles and other things like that.

Then we also focus on the entrepreneurial mind frame, and I think that is what separates our summer program from others because we’re not saying everybody has to go out and build a business. But you can be an entrepreneur within the organizations that you work for. You can control your career within the organizations that you work for.

So, we just make sure that that mindset is there, that they don’t have to be complacent just being this person who sits here every single day for 30 years, you can do something different.

We combine STEM programming and teaching and volunteers, along with entrepreneurial topics over the summer and the next tier is that we give scholarships to women going to college in computer science or engineering of any kind and computer science.

We have a whole program application. We, as a board, we review every single application and decide who is going to get what size scholarship. They range from $500 up to $5,000 and we’re also trying to do more fundraising because we want to get to a point where we have renewable scholarships that will occur every year that they’re in school. That’s the second arm.

Then, the third arm is more of a mentorship arm and that’s because there is an attrition rate there for women in underrepresented youth that go to college that are sometimes first generation and if they want to pick a dorm who are they going to talk to? If they want to pick classes or they have some challenges figuring out what type of engineering they want to get, who are they going to talk to?

So, we’ve developed a mentorship arm that volunteers to donate one to two hours a month and they have a mentee and basically that’s what that time is spent doing. It is spent helping them with everything college-related or even just to vent sometimes.

We have to make sure we monitor that attrition rate because I know a lot of young individuals that had went to school for engineering and they’re not doing engineering today. They didn’t graduate in engineering.

They loved engineering, but when they graduated, and they spent a year in it, and they didn’t feel welcome where they were. So, they got out and went to go do something different. They did not feel like they could overcome the challenge.

I know one of the women that worked for a prior company that I worked alongside with and she was out with some colleagues, they were civil engineers and they were out in the field and they were surrounded by a bunch of guys that were working on the same project and the jokes they made were, “Your husband let you out” or “Hey, are you not intimidated being the only one here with a bunch of us?” Give me a break.

There are a lot of women, for whatever reason, that don’t have a lot of support or if they do then those people might not know how to support them because they’re not in that role or had never been in that role and a lot of women and underrepresented youth get out of the field and they don’t have to.

They shouldn’t have to; it shouldn’t be a thing, but it is. We can’t save the world from that thing. Some of that stuff is going to happen but we want to provide support so that if it does happen, you can turn around and say, “Oh, I’m not worried about being here with you all. You have to be worried about being here with me.”

Shubha Chakravarthy: I love it. I’m a lifelong fan of what you’re doing.

Kimberly Moore: Thank you so much.

Shubha Chakravarthy: How did you start this? What gave you the idea? It’s not like you weren’t busy in your own firm. How did that idea come about?

Kimberly Moore: What I was doing when I first started was that I was still going to high schools and speaking but it was just me speaking because I wanted to do that and I said, “Man, I really want to be able to give back.”

We weren’t making a lot of money, but I wanted to be able to like to give back somehow. So, the whole line of thinking was, “All right, how do I give back? I want to be able to give more. I have to start at a nonprofit. How do I do that? I need a board. Oh, crap. Who’s going to be on my board?”

So, I was asking family and friends that were in the industry and outside of the industry who were professional women. I was like, “Hey, you want to be on this board? I’m starting this non-profit. I want to be able to do this.”

Then I went to another few friends and I said, “I got scholarships when I was in school. I can’t tell you who I got scholarships from though.” And I said, “Man, I don’t want to be that organization that just blindly gives out scholarships and nobody comes back and helps us do anything else.”

We had to do something else, and somebody was like, programming, and then we were like, “Okay. We’re going to do programming. How do we do programming?”

That’s kind of like the trajectory of how this all started. It started just as an idea and me talking in high schools and then saying, “I want to do more than just speak. I don’t have any money. How do I do more?”

That is where the role just spiraled from. We thought that we have got to fundraise, but I couldn’t fundraise as KDM. I have to fundraise as a 501(c)(3) and we have to get that established and talk to my legal team. They did all of the paperwork.

Then we had to form a board and now we have a board. I went to this 10,000 small businesses program with Goldman Sachs a while ago and half the people that were on the board, I met from the Goldman Sachs program.

They were either mentors, teachers, or speakers at some of these Goldman Sachs events. That was a great program just from a networking standpoint. That was awesome, but there is so little plug to them.

So, that’s kind of how it all started, and it was very organic. Even to this day we have an executive director and he’s planning all kinds of fundraising events. We just got through with the feminist event, which is just a big event we put on here at the KDM auditorium. We brought in the students, their guardians or parents and we provided them food and beverages, water, and we presented all the scholarships, and they walked up and got their scholarship paper, and it was balloons and flowers and parents crying and I was crying because their parents were crying. That was a great event.

Then we followed up with the summer school program and I think we’re going to continue the program throughout the fall, but just with one and two types of classes at a time, not like a full six-week thing. Just every so often we’ll have a topic, and we’ll invite CPS kids to join.

Shubha Chakravarthy: That is truly inspiring. I wish you every success.

So, kind of taking a big step back now, you had and continued to have an amazing journey and a really inspiring vision.

What have been some of the biggest external challenges you’ve faced as an African American woman, particularly in an extremely intensive STEM field, going out on your own?

Kimberly Moore: I would say that the main thing that I have faced, and I have been very fortunate in being in the right place at the right time and just really being blessed in terms of the opportunities because if you really looked at the opportunities and how they came about for us it just doesn’t make sense.

When I first started, we were a sub to a prime that was working on the system and that prime just decided to quit and go back home to the east coast and we took over. I said, “Well, we’re doing all the work anyway. So, can we take over the rest of the prime contract?” And they were like, “Absolutely!”

I took it over for the remaining year and a half and then when it was time to renew, they renewed us because we were doing well. But how many times does that happen where prime just says, “You know what? I don’t want to do this anymore. You can have it.” That just does not occur often, and I recognize that.

So, I recognize that some walls were blown away for me before I even got there. But there are still some challenges that we face, which include being that diverse firm because a lot of people now want to work for the big company.

They want to work for a big company that’s global and one that will give them travel opportunities. The ones that can pay them a lot more money but may not have the culture, but it depends on the person. Some people really appreciate being at market but having great culture and some are like, “Screw the culture. I have a financial goal and I have got to get there.” So, it’s understandable.

People are different for that reason and that’s fine, but financial assistance has always been a challenge for KDM in terms of having assistance from banks. It is a challenge to us to this day because every year we are growing faster than the prior years and they always want to lend based on the prior year’s tax returns, but I’ve already surpassed that and it’s March, so I need you to fast forward and look at what we’re doing but again, thankfully we weren’t in a position prior to the pandemic to really need it, so we have been very fortunate there, but our pathway has definitely been a different type of pathway to get to this point because we are still, I believe the only black woman owned engineering firm, that’s a prime for Exxon.

We also believe we were the youngest firm that they had ever brought on to their system back in 2014. They took a huge risk on us being prime and luckily we have performed.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Not surprised, but great to hear. Clearly there have been external challenges. Have there been dark moments where you internally felt, “How can I pull through this?” or you had to really dig deep into yourself and if so, what were those and what did you? How did you get over those?

Kimberly Moore: This pandemic affected everybody. So, I don’t think I stand alone in that, but at the same time, I can only speak for me. This past year from the summer of this year to summer from last year has been a rollercoaster.

We were on the way up of this rollercoaster for years and now we’re finally having our first market correction. We’ve never had a market correction. We’ve just continued to go up and up.

This is the first market correction that KDM has ever seen and because of that it does give me some pause and it does give me times of reflection where I’m like, “Did we do something wrong? What did I do? What did I say? Where did I turn?”

There was a fork in the road somewhere, and I took a wrong turn and maybe I went straight. I’m not sure, but I’m in that now and I don’t have a response in terms of, what I did to get out because we’re still trying to get out. Instead of the bigger companies, seeing the opportunity in power saying, “You know what, now is the time to groom fresh grads coming out of school so that they will be ready, and we will be ready to take on all the additional work.”

They said, “No, screw this. We’re just going to grab people from other small businesses”, and that’s what they did and we being the smallest and the youngest on the system, when you grab 30 people from KDM, you’re grabbing my entire workforce.

Everybody that knew how to work on the system of that frame of five to eight years old in terms of how long they’ve been and that we trained and groomed, they were all swept.

That’s where there was the dark space. I was like, “What did I do? What did I say? What didn’t we provide?” But in our exit interviews and based on the fact that I still talk to a lot of them, it wasn’t about KDM. It was about the different opportunities.

Being able to work in Hawaii, being able to be in Georgia, Texas, Florida, places where we are not currently and working in different areas of engineering, not just distribution, because all KDM does is empower distribution.

So, not having those additional opportunities really enticed a lot of our older staff to say, “All right, I’ve done this for 5-7 years. Let’s try something different.”

It didn’t matter in terms of the big companies. It didn’t matter for them where they got the talent. It’s one of the talents they can take on this work now.

So, it’s a business move, nothing personal. It’s a business move, but it’s personal for me because obviously I had these individuals from when they graduated until now.

So, for me to see them all begin to go during 2021, you’re like, “What’s happening? Where are you leaving for? Why are you leaving me?” But they’re not leaving me. They’re leaving KDM and as a business owner, sometimes it gets a little hard to delineate between the two.

I would say that is that the pandemic because 2020 was our best year ever. It was in 2021 that people started to migrate to these bigger companies and bigger opportunities and they left us. So now we’re in a rebuilding phase and now I’m beginning to bring on more people.

We are on that trajectory to go right back to where we were. But that was a dark time period for me because I really took it personally and then when I stopped taking it personally, I basically allowed myself grace to say, “Whatever you did, let’s think about it. Let’s write it down. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again, in this way. I mean, who knew about the pandemic, but let’s make sure we have some lessons learned there. Now it’s time to move. Now it’s time to continue to go. You can’t just be here and feel bad for yourself. Stuff happens. They did what they did. People left so congratulations to them. I still talk to a lot of them. We have to keep going. We can’t sit here.”

Shubha Chakravarthy: It also sounds like your natural desire to mentor, to help people grow, stood you and stands you in good stead, because that is the core of professional services. It is being able to keep that churn, being able to attract the people. I wish you all luck yeah in that endeavor.

One of the things they always say is that when you’re in dark times, look back on what you’ve accomplished. Is there anything that stands out and that says this was the proudest moment and it really stands out in your mind?

Kimberly Moore: I have a few. The individuals that have left, I had some bonds with them. I was able to travel with them. I was invited to weddings in different countries. I was invited to meet their families. So, I was able to literally watch them grow from graduation all the way through marriage and kids and everything else. I don’t know what it is about that, but I love that.

I love seeing people and seeing how they are able to do what they want to do in life because of an opportunity that you may have provided to them right now. They could obviously have a job anywhere, but they chose KDM and they chose me to be in their lives and they invited me not only into their professional life but into their personal and family lives as well.

I probably wouldn’t have gone to Northern India ever and I’m in the middle of Jaipur just going, “Wow, look at this infrastructure. Is that in the middle of a river? What is going on?” I’m looking at things that I probably wouldn’t for no other reason.

So, that allows me to expand and think about other areas of travel that I want to now see. I want to now see different places because I was able to do that with my employees who are also some of my good friends.

I would love to go back to Beijing with one of my employees and meet their family again and everything else. So, just those experiences that I never would have had if I did not pursue this.

I would say that those are probably some of the highlights. Then I got my name on a building and I think that’s another one?

Shubha Chakravarthy: I love it. I love everything you’ve said. Jaipur is awesome. Funnily enough, I haven’t seen it yet. So, it’s on my bucket list now!

What is the thing that keeps you going through all of this? What is that spark? What is that motivation that keeps you going?

Kimberly Moore: For me, it’s the people. We set goals every year and we hit those goals, which is great. The goal is a goal, but it’s the people for me, it’s being able to see how many lives we can affect positively.

How many of them I can convince to stay with me on the CG opportunities and reaching out. When I go to a high school, I want to go with a squad. I want to go in there and say, “Look at all of these women that are with me that are all in positions of power now through my organization because we all started here with you just like you. Look at where we are, no matter what the challenge because we all have challenges.”

At my first job, I didn’t even have a women’s bathroom. I had to go into the power plant to everyday. So, look at the challenges that we all face and look at where we are right now. I love that. I think that’s motivation for me to continue going.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Awesome. What advice would you give to conclude to those who are listening, who may be further behind than you and want to follow in the same?

Kimberly Moore: I would just say again that you should continue to build your relationships. You never know who you’re going to run into. I am not a fan of burning bridges, no matter whom I’ve been done wrong by. You know what? You write it down.

That’s a lesson learned and then you move on because they might ask you to do something in the future. But now, you know what happened in the past and you can make a smart decision on whether you want to continue that relationship.

If that relationship and doing that project gets you notoriety to somebody else that you don’t have to know then you no longer have to go through this person or this company. Now you can be direct to this person.

So, maintaining your relationships and taking time to give yourself grace, when things don’t go the way you think they’re supposed to go and the timing that you think they’re supposed to be done in is important.

Shubha Chakravarthy: Wise words and I’m sure I can use them myself.

Thank you, Kimberly. This has been truly one of the most fascinating conversations and one of the most inspiring. I really appreciate the time, the wisdom, and the insights that you’ve shared, and I wish you and KDM all the very best and CG as well.

Kimberly Moore: Thank you for the opportunity. I really appreciate this talk today!