By Neal St. Anthony
Star Tribune (Minneapolis).
By late 2007, Laura Kelly, a managing director at national IT consulting-and-staffing firm Genesis10, was done as a road warrior.
The Iowa native, on her second national consulting firm, opened a Des Moines office for New York-based Genesis10, followed by a move in 2003 to open a Twin Cities office. Then it was off to Charlotte, N.C., to build a Genesis office.
Kelly and a Genesis colleague, Chandler Cayot, were temporarily living in Charlotte, as they built a Genesis practice to serve banks and health care firms. Despite a salary-bonus package of $250,000-plus, Kelly felt empty.
“I didn’t like my life,” Kelly recalled telling Cayot. “We were the entrepreneurs who built businesses and teams. Genesis 10 had stopped being a small company. And they needed managers.”
Kelly, who had left a larger firm, Cap Gemini, to join Genesis10 several years earlier, added: “I was tired of being on an airplane all the time and walking into a company office where I didn’t know anybody.”
Cayot agreed. He and Kelly resigned, remaining several months in Charlotte with Genesis10 to complete their work. They flew home to the Twin Cities, just in time for the Great Recession, with designs on starting their own consultancy.
Genesis10 has done just fine without them. And they are happy with progress of their own Oakdale-based business-and-technology consulting business, “Keyot,” a hybrid name of Kelly and Cayot. Keyot was born in Kelly’s Woodbury basement.
Kelly, 51, and Cayot, 46, joined by two female partners, were honored earlier this year for building one of the 50 fastest-growing women-owned businesses by the Women Presidents’ Organization. Keyot expects to gross about $19 million this year from the work of about 115 employees and consultants.
Anjie Cayot, 47, Kelly’s sister and a veteran business analyst and project manager and Cayot’s wife, is a third founder. The fourth partner is Iowa-based Cindy Rockwell, 51, who runs the Des Moines office. She has run her own software company, as well as served as a business-and-technology professional at Wells Fargo and Principal Financial in Iowa.
None of the owners is paid anything close to $250,000. In fact, the owners didn’t take salaries for the first two years.
Moreover, Kelly had to borrow $100,000 in 2010 from Bill Kelly, her supportive father, to make payroll for a few months in 2010. In the talent-renting business, you’ve got to pay your people a couple times a month while you wait for the clients to pay you within 60 or 90 days.
“Dad was our bank for about six months,” Laura Kelly recalled. “We paid him off within six months. We then secured a line of credit from MidCountry Bank. By 2011, the banks were starting to lend as the economy improved.”
Bill Kelly was known at Principal Financial, where he was a pension investment executive, as a manager who helped advance the careers of women. And he liked that his daughters, and Rockwell, who once worked for Bill Kelly as a programmer at Principal, were doing their own thing.
“It’s not about the last dollar,” said Rockwell, a southern Iowa farm girl and mother who went into business with a two-year degree in programing from an Iowa community college. “It’s about everyone having a life and making a difference for clients”
Keyot provides consulting and business analysts, technologists and managerial talent to such customers as Wells Fargo, Principal Financial, MoneyGram, Prime Therapeutics, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others. Its average bill rate is about $105 per hour, compared with the $250 per hour-plus charged by national-brand consulting firms.
“We have a business that’s the right size for us,” Kelly said. “And I like our small company. I love my life now.”
Kelly and her crew focus on two passions: building a more diverse workforce of business and technology experts, and charitable interests. Keyot in 2013 launched Crew212, a lower-cost subsidiary that focuses on less-experienced women and minorities whom Keyot trains, mentors and shares at a lower billing rate with partner clients.
A couple of years ago, Kelly was addressing participants at a meeting of the Minnesota chapter of Dress for Success, a Keyot-supported nonprofit that brings professional women together with disadvantaged women by volunteering and donating clothing.
She ended up mentoring Leila Paye, then a program assistant at Dress for Success. Paye now works as a project coordinator at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
“The staff at Keyot are very supportive at helping people grow and develop and become successful at the client site,” Paye said. “It’s definitely been a beneficial career change. And more financially lucrative. Keyot is my cheerleader. I’m thankful for them.”
Keyot’s leaders donate more than 10 percent of pretax profits to nonprofits such as the Minneapolis YWCA and Dress for Success.
Kelly sees a company with 150-plus employees and consultants and revenue of $25 million by 2020. Kelly, holder of a community college degree in computer programming and a B.A. from the University of Iowa, says the firm’s success lies more in purpose than “pedigree.”