June 14, 2018
C-Suite Awards 2018

Hawkins helps small business dreams come true

HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever

Kim Hawkins

CATEGORY: CHIEF FINANCIAL/OPERATING/ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER, LESS THAN 100 EMPLOYEES

Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, HEDCO Inc.

Size of organization: 12 full-time employees; $3.5 million budget

Highest education: Bachelor's degree, Tuskegee University

Previous job(s): Manager of family's construction company; Director of HEDCO's Business Resource Center

It may be the lovely view of Bushnell Park outside her window; surely it's the people who walk in and out of HEDCO's downtown Hartford headquarters on Lewis Street who inspire Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kim Hawkins to help the city thrive.

Those who come to the nonprofit HEDCO for business assistance and microloans are "resilient and determined," she explains.

"I get to be a part of someone else's dream and desire to leave a legacy for their children and family," she said of the small businesses and entrepreneurs who use HEDCO's services, which include business advisory and technical assistance as well as low-interest loans.

For a while, Hawkins worked at her own family's construction business after graduating from Tuskegee University. In 2006 she joined HEDCO as director, becoming chief operating officer three years ago.

"My father taught me that foundation is the key to everything. You can build anything from there," she says.

That mantra has helped Hawkins build not only her own career, but the careers of others, especially minority entrepreneurs, as they create new businesses in Hartford.

"You first lay the playing field and then create avenues to be successful," Hawkins said. "It comes down to business and family and community, and it enriches everyone."

HEDCO issued $2.5 million in loans and $98,000 in grants in 2017, yet, according to Hawkins, "There's more to this than just loans."

Her desire to not only help fund new businesses but increase their odds of success led to the development of the Business Resource Center in 2006. The free service offers coaching so clients learn to land and manage public and private contracts, write business plans, read spreadsheets, attend to bookkeeping and marketing, among other skills.

HEDCO also has an incubation space for small businesses to work through their ideas with six to 12 months of assistance.

"That's the beauty of this," explains Hawkins. "You can come off the street and say 'I have an idea' and not only do we work with you and the business plan, now we put you in a position to apply for a loan from us and now we become partners."

Entrepreneurs that use HEDCO's services run the gamut from graphic designers to beauty salons to a family that makes all the tortilla chips for the University of Connecticut.

Hawkins says on average 500 to 600 people use HEDCO's services annually, with the nonprofit dispensing about 85 loans a year.

HEDCO also recently established a partnership with Travelers Cos., which is providing bonding funds to smaller contractors to insure large building projects.

"With $20 million we can support minority contractors so they can get larger contracts," Hawkins says. "If you don't have bonding, it's a barrier to participation."

HEDCO also worked with the state of Connecticut on a $25 million loan pool open to existing businesses.

Hawkins' plan is to continue to make HEDCO loans and programs accessible statewide.

She also keeps an eye on developing industries or changes in Hartford communities in order to find synergies where small businesses can fill in gaps or create opportunities.

Fernando Rosa, president and chief executive officer of HEDCO, points to that community knowledge as one of Hawkins' biggest strengths.

"Knowing the players is an extremely important part of achieving the successes we've had," he adds.

Hawkins has two children and two grandchildren.

"My family is my backbone," she says. "They've been supportive of me and proud, but it's all really because of them."

On the job

Guiding business principle: Service is the price we pay for the space we occupy on earth!

Best way to keep your competitive edge: 1. Keep a finger on the pulse of what's happening in my sector of business. 2. Commit to some form of personal professional development. 3. Continue to professionally develop the people that I lead in the organization. 4. Drive measurable organizational movement and accomplishment on a monthly basis.

Best business decision: To make the conscious decision to invest in the people of our organization and empower them to succeed.

Worst business decision: Early in my leadership career, I had to learn to get over "the young leader's" tendency to micromanage, instead of tapping into the potential of our managers and then empowering and trusting them to lead and perform their jobs.

Biggest missed opportunity: Early opportunities to capture specific strategic feedback and data (that we now collect and track) from the thousands of people that we have previously served.

Goal yet to be achieved: Have an active operating base in every major city in the state of Connecticut.

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