‘Pay It Forward’ is Mission of Oakdale Business Consulting Firm

Reprinted from Pioneer Press: By David Fondler – dfondler@pioneerpress.com

Laura Kelly has some interesting anecdotes about the clash of generations in business. During a training session for a group of 20-something prospective consultants, someone asked if they could use their phones instead of laptops to do online research.

When the answer was yes, everybody in the class whipped out their smartphones and started working.

In another instance, Kelly said, a client expressed doubts about a junior consultant “who was on Facebook all the time.” It turned out the young man didn’t even have a Facebook account — again, he was using his phone to do the work.

Such is life on the cutting edge as the millennial generation enters the business world. It’s a place Kelly and her sister Anjie Cayot know well.

As co-founders of Keyot, an Oakdale-based business consulting firm, Kelly and Cayot have given themselves a dual mission: One is providing high-revenue client companies like Wells Fargo, Prime Therapeutics, MoneyGram and Blue Cross Blue Shield with “Rent-a-leader” services — consultants who come in to manage specific difficult projects; the other mission is training the next generation of those leaders through Keyot’s Crew212 program.

“It’s interesting. Raising the next generation of leaders is something everybody will give their time to, no matter whether they’re a client or consultant,” Cayot said. “It’s the pay-it-forward concept; most people really believe in it.

Crew212, run out of Des Moines, Iowa, by a third Keyot partner, Cindy Rockwell, recruits prospects through contacts at 34 colleges and universities several Midwestern states and Texas. The junior consultants become Keyot salaried employees, are put through a boot camp and then thrown into the field with a mentor. They are then expected to move on — typically by getting offered jobs at one of the client companies.

“Pay it forward” was also a life lesson for the sisters themselves, who in 2010, during a recession cash-flow crunch, needed a loan from their father to keep the business alive. They paid him back six months later, and the business grew from there, expanding from Minnesota to Iowa and then Texas.

Rockwell, who is chief information officer, entered the business three years ago with a leadership background in technology. But she’s known the sisters for 25 years; their father was her mentor in her first job, at Principal Financial Group in Iowa.

This year, Keyot expects revenue of $19 million; $23 million is projected by 2017. And it’s eyeing a fourth market, North Carolina.

In separate interviews, Kelly, Cayot and Rockwell discussed their business and its mission. Their answers have been edited for context and clarity.

First, can you describe what Keyot does for its clients?

Cayot: “We are a consulting firm, boutique in nature, in that we focus on financial services and health care.

“We focus primarily on project-oriented work, so when our clients have large-scale projects that they need to implement, they can’t afford to take one of their leaders off of an operational activity, so they rent someone from Keyot to run the project, soup-to-nuts.

“Our business is based on very long term relationships with our clients, so projects and needs for rent-a-leader usually aren’t predicted far in advance, they’re ‘I need somebody now.’ ”

Rockwell: There are two sides to our business: one is our senior consultant base, which is five-plus years of experience up to 25-plus years depending on what that need might be with our clients. And then we run a second piece to our business called Crew212, which was actually started about six years ago, and that is our college hire program.”

Kelly: “Keyot was founded in 2008. But Anjie and I have been consulting since 1993, so many of the relationships with clients were started in the past 20-some years and have continued to foster. And over many years, our consultants may have converted to full-time leadership jobs at our clients, and that’s something we encourage.”

That seems unusual. Aren’t you afraid you’ll lose quality consultants if they take another job?

Kelly: “Our take on it is we might lose a consultant, but we might gain a client. Our network is built off us taking the position of ‘let’s find the right spot for you, we’ll find a way to work together one way or the other.’ Either you’re a consultant or you’re a client. There’s lots of ways for us to collaborate. And that approach has delivered a lot of client and consultant loyalty.”

What are some of the projects your people are tackling?

Cayot: “I’d say at least 50 percent of the work we do is compliance-related. So government compliance in the financial services and the health care industries has gotten so much bigger, and being able to interpret and being able to execute against that and help our clients is key to how we’ve grown.

What about Crew212, how did that start?

Cayot: “Crew212 was born out of a passion for ‘let’s find people.’

“I am who I am because I had incredible mentors in my career. And … in our market, where training dollars are so short, we just don’t have that in corporate America anymore, and that’s really where our passion for growing young people came from.”

Rockwell: “The majority of kids that come into our program are directly out of college. We do take people that have up to two years of (work) experience, they’ve gone to college, and they’ve decided to do a career change.”

Do you look for specific majors, GPAs?

Rockwell: It’s a rigorous three-step interview process. It doesn’t matter if you went for industrial engineering, IT, if you went for teaching, if you went for music, we take all kinds of degrees. But the criteria that we look at is, do you have a 3.4 grade point average or above? Do you have really good communication skills? And did you work during college, and work could mean that you balanced multiple activities.

“Second tier is a phone screen, and we call you.

“Third, we bring you into a group interview, and it’s eight-to-twelve potential junior consultants, it’s a half-day session, so it’s four hours, and we put you on teams and have you, within that team, develop a company.

“You need to be able to walk into a team, not knowing anyone around the table, you need to immediately get up to speed and be effective, you need to be able to communicate, you need to convince people of a decision and you need to be able to present those ideas.

“We normally make about zero-to- three offers out of each group.

“We bring them all to Iowa and we go through a two week intensive training program, and we call it a boot camp. We do one week of soft skill training and one week of hard skill training; then on week three, we basically place them at one of our clients.”

And how much do the recruits get paid?

Rockwell: “We range in salary from $50,000-$70,000 (with full benefits) depending on the skill level, and depending on which of the job categories they might be going into with us.”

And at the end, you encourage them to move on to new jobs.

Rockwell: “If they get a job offer, that’s their performance appraisal from the client. If there’s a job available, through the client, then that’s what we want you shooting for, because that’s your report card, in a way, back to us.

“We believe, through our work with our clients, that we are helping our clients build their next generation of leaders.”