Ever wonder how you can be your authentic self and not wreck your career? Curious about how to negotiate your total compensation? Want to know how to recover from (or avoid) a big f’ing mistake?
Let’s fill these cups up and get started! Ricky and Keith came up with C-CRETS while sitting at Keith’s kitchen counter sipping on vodka and cranberry and talking about their struggles climbing the corporate ladder over their 20+ year careers. After a couple drinks we started thinking, “We should record this”! We’ve dealt with tons of career dilemmas and know others face them too; we’ve been called on for years for career advice; and we’ve been brainstorming for a while about how we could share our experiences at scale. And C-CRETS was born! Join us as we dig into serious roadblocks and questions faced by underrepresented employees in their careers and offer C-CRETS on how to break through. Cheers!
Keith Powell (aka “KP”) has consistently overcome the odds from an early age.
Keith rose from humble beginnings to the top rungs of Corporate America – in a field with very few people of color. He first had the experience of being “the only” as a young child, integrating his elementary school classes in the late 1970’s. By the time he reached high school, KP was a multi-sport athlete, a student leader and honor roll student. He accumulated many accolades including “Best Dressed” and was a finalist for Virginia and U.S. Future Business Leader of the Year awards in his senior year. Building on this success, Keith double-majored in Finance and Business Management and held numerous student leadership positions during his four years at Virginia Tech. During his senior year, Keith was inducted into various honor societies and was a finalist for the Pamplin School of Business Male Student of the Year and the Virginia Tech Male Student of the Year. KP was 1 of 3 classmates in his MBA class at top-10 ranked Indiana University to go straight from undergrad into business school. At Indiana, Keith continued his tradition of pursuing student leadership positions while achieving academic success, including serving as the graduate student representative on the IU Student Government Council.
Following his academic career, Keith landed into his first job as a Financial Analyst – and an “experiment” – at a Fortune 500 Tier 1 automotive supplier (AlliedSignal) in Detroit. His company had never hired a freshly minted MBA graduate into a global role. These roles were usually reserved for managers with 5-7 years of experience at the company. KP served as an analyst for a portfolio of $2 billion in revenue. After 15 months, he was promoted and relocated to Ohio, where Keith got his hands “dirty” in manufacturing – getting deeply ingrained in lean manufacturing and continuous improvement principles. After a fateful call from a headhunter 15 months later, Keith relocated to Delaware and made a leap into the industrial chemical industry at a mid-sized chemical manufacturing company (General Chemical) as a Senior Financial Analyst. KP quickly gained a reputation for spotting efficiency and cost saving opportunities as well as crisp, polished reports and presentations. After 15 months, Keith was promoted to his first managerial role at the ripe old age of 27. He was named Plant Controller for a small sulfuric acid plant in Washington state. Keith was the only African-American at the plant and managed a team twice his age. This was also his first time managing HR, IT and Procurement functions. A little less than two years later, KP was promoted to a larger Plant Controller role, relocated to Canada, and settled in as “the only” and “the first” yet again. In Canada, Keith discovered his love of managing and mentoring teams. Many of his direct reports went on to become Managers, Controllers, and Directors.
After 2 years in Canada, Keith was recruited away to join Kodak as a Global Finance Director. Keith’s predecessor had been with the company since before KP was born, and it was tradition for people with 25+ years experience to have this role. During his time in this role, Keith served as the Finance leader for several divisions within the Global Manufacturing operations including: Kodak’s worldwide manufacturing of consumer, professional, motion picture, commercial, government, and document imaging films and traditional and one-time use consumer cameras (~$2B manufacturing operation), Kodak’s worldwide manufacturing of consumer, professional, commercial, health, and document imaging equipment (~$1B manufacturing operation), and Kodak’s worldwide chemical manufacturing (~$1B manufacturing operation). He coached a global staff of over 100 team members with direct reports in the U.S., Mexico, France, China, UK, and India. Keeping with his reputation, Keith led teams to reduce manufacturing costs by over $500 Million while being a voice for change, diversity, and inclusion. While in this role, Keith was promoted to an executive salary band and awarded the Chairman’s Leadership Award. He mentored and sponsored dozens of colleagues and direct reports – helping them climb the career ladder along the way. Many of his mentees have gone on to Director and VP roles – and a couple have even landed in the C-Suite.
Following his time in the global finance role, Keith was named Chief of Staff to the CEO at Kodak. This was his true first look into the ivory tower and to see how the “sausage” was made. Keith was able to attend every meeting with the CEO; travel the globe with him; represent him in meetings and in the community; have access to nearly any information desired. Keith’s first assignment was to design and lead the transition of CEOs at Kodak and develop a 100-Day plan for the new CEO under very tight confidentiality. Taking the Chief of Staff role also led to a very personal change for Keith at the urging of the CEO – he came out. Throughout his career, Keith was out to a small cluster of people, but never fully out. It was game-changing. Quickly afterwards, Keith was named by Out Magazine as one of the 40 LGBT Executives to Watch; invitations for speaking engagements and non-profit boards opened up; and relationships with work colleagues improved immensely. Keith used his platform as Chief of Staff to advocate for the hiring and promotion of underrepresented groups; advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives across the company; establishing more frequent and transparent communication; and of course – pushing continuous improvement initiatives. Keith was also recognized for his work in the community – receiving the Out and Visible Leadership Award from Kodak and the NY State Community Leader Award from the Empire State Pride Agenda.
After 8 years in Rochester, NY, Keith desired a change – in location and role. He was promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Kodak’s e-commerce business and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. This was Keith’s first operating role, and he was responsible for global Manufacturing, Finance, Accounting, Supply Chain, Customer Service, Purchasing, and Facilities Management. Keith helped guide the business through some turbulent times as the Great Recession hit right after he joined and then Kodak filed for Chapter 11 four years later which led to the sale of the business. Instead of returning to Rochester, Keith decided to leave Kodak and pursue the Bay Area dream of working in tech.
Keith joined Nortek as CFO for its Technology Solutions Group. This Group included 5 separate global companies serving a wide-range of markets including smart home technology, security systems, access control, personal emergency response systems, residential and commercial speakers, power supply, home automation, gate controls, and professional audio-visual equipment with manufacturing operations in China, the UK, and the U.S. During his time as CFO, sales tripled (half organic, half through acquisition) and profits improved by 35%, all while overhauling the entire Finance team and leading business restructuring efforts across the group. This is also when KP met his podcast co-host, Ricky Robinson.
After getting a taste of the top of Corporate America, KP clocked out a few years ago to recharge and assess the next chapter of his career. He joined a start-up private equity firm, took a shot at an e-commerce start-up, and began advising entrepreneurs, including working with the family of Golden State Warriors legend, Al Attles, on various philanthropic and business ventures. These latest adventures have provided Keith with access to many C-Suites in a wide variety of industries.
And despite no longer being engrossed in the daily corporate grind, Keith continues to mentor people trying to make it to the top. His words to live by “Don’t just do well… Strive to EXCEL!!”
Ricky D. Robinson is a 25+ year Human Resources Executive that has achieved successes throughout his career.
He is skilled in hiring and developing talent, deepening employee engagement and global and local leadership. But developing those skillsets did not come without their fair share of challenges.
As a premature baby born 3 months early, Ricky (aka “PR”) had to overcome adversity and play the hand that he was dealt from the start. With no excuses, he has used the blessing of life as his foundation to achieve tremendous success in Corporate America. As a young child he and his family moved from Oklahoma to Southern California. It was his elementary and high school years that he began understanding what it was like to be the “Sole Brother” in the spotlight at schools where there was a consistent lack of ethnic and socio-economic diversity. His determination not to validate any racial stereotypes as the underachieving black kid from his white classmates, fueled him to become a standout scholar athlete which yielded an accumulation of accolades including student government leader, honor roll, several trophies and awards in both football and track.
Despite his high school achievements and his growing sports popularity, he recalls a conversation with his college guidance counselor, who tried to discourage Ricky from pursuing college with a statement of, “College is not for everyone. Perhaps you should consider joining the military.” Well it is safe to say that Ricky did not give those words much thought as he was able to attend college and play sports during his first two years in West Virginia and Santa Ana Junior College prior to transferring to San Francisco State University (SFSU). At SFSU, he earned an undergraduate degree in Speech and Communications and a Masters in Organizational Communications. During this time, he also became a member of the first Black Greek letter organization, the prestigious Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Post college, Ricky remained in the SF Bay Area and began his 25-year journey in Human Resources with various roles in the non-profit sector with HR Assistant and HR Training roles. This is where he began to understand the value of mastering many functions within HR to become a well-rounded leader.
After roughly four years in the non-profit sector, Ricky landed his first Fortune 500 role as a recruiter for Pizza Hut/PepsiCo. He credits this experience and the leaders that he observed daily with his ability to become a talent scout while also building his corporate work ethic that he continues to display today. In this role, he had multi-site responsibilities that required him to “roll up his sleeves” and get the job done whenever it was required. At the age of 26, PR’s leadership skills were quickly tested with his first people leader role at Office Depot as an HR Business Partner. He refers to his time at Office Depot as “Swimming in the ocean currents without a life jacket!” where he honed his skills at employee relations, increasing employee engagement and improving operational agility.
The skills he acquired at Office Depot were just a primer for his next role with Gap, Inc. when he relocated to Nashville, TN to be the HR Leader for a three shift, 24-hour distribution center. In this role he had to build his transformational culture skills along with his innovative accountability to influence sustainable change on the campus. About two years later, he was rewarded with his first global assignment, as an HR Integration Leader that brought him back to the Bay Area to the Gap, Inc. Headquarters. This assignment provided him with an opportunity to travel throughout Asia to partner with the manufacturing and design business units for the organization. With the economic crash in the mid-2000’s and the retail industry taking a huge set back, Ricky’s role was eliminated causing him to assess his next career opportunity. That evaluation led him to Anixter International, a worldwide leader in fiber optic cabling as their Regional HR Business Partner. Although the industry may not have been familiar to him at that time, managing human capital was still his sweet spot. In addition to his HR responsibilities, he spent the next 7 years developing his skills with Due Diligence, Mergers & Acquisitions and Platform Integrations. Now for some professionals in Corporate America, this could have been a great sunset for their careers, but Ricky had a different plan for his career… “The C-Suite!”
Ricky joined Nortek (a company fresh out of bankruptcy) as the VP, HR for its Technology Solutions Group. This Group included 5 separate global companies serving a wide-range of markets including smart home technology, security systems, access control, personal emergency response systems, residential and commercial speakers, power supply, home automation, gate controls, and professional audio-visual equipment with manufacturing operations in China, Europe, and the U.S. During his time as VP, HR he was a key partner in executing the business restructuring efforts across the group, while implementing HR Shared Services environment, a scaled applicant tracking system, a human capital management system, a new benefits and compensation model. His efforts were instrumental in priming Nortek for their eventual acquisition while also providing intentionality with his next career venture. As Ricky recalls his first “C-Suite” level role at Nortek, “I used my results to prove that I deserved to be at the table!” This is also when PR met his podcast co-host and close friend, Keith Powell.
Since his experience with Nortek, Ricky has spent the last four years as a VP, HR for a $35B leader in the Medical Device industry. As an Executive and a believer in leveling the playing field for underrepresented groups, PR challenges diversity, equity and inclusion issues within his community and abroad. He also advocates for several philanthropic causes with Board service at Attles Center for Excellence (ACE), Ability Now Bay Area and the Mary Valle Foundation.
Today, Ricky stays busy driving business results, growing his influence and supporting his numerous mentees as they strive to get their “piece of the pie” in Corporate America. And he famously reminds them, His words to live by “If someone else is able to get it, YOU CAN TOO!”