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Changing the Consulting Model: How Kuma Pioneered a New Way of Working and Hiring 10 Years Ahead of the Curve

I’ve been in the consulting services industry for the past 25 years, supporting organizations both domestic and international, big and small – from huge businesses in the “big four” to brand-new startups and the highest levels of government. All of these experiences gave me an invaluable behind-the-scenes view of how the wheels turned to get things done most effectively and efficiently, and though I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time, I was also becoming keenly aware of what *didn’t* work. 

I think my passion for effective leadership and empowerment started even before that. I was one of those kids that didn’t kill it in the classroom, and focused on work experience over classroom experience. Although I do have a 4-year degree and multiple certifications, I didn’t take the traditional University route.  Instead:  

I lived at home. 

I worked full time.  

I went to a community college for my Freshman and Sophomore years, before transitioning to the University of Maryland. 

I continued working full-time. 

All of this hard work paid off, as it helped me land an incredible internship with Attorney General Janet Reno while she was blazing a new trail, looking to apply forensic science to the law enforcement community for the first time.  

And I – a kid with minimal credentials at the time, though I did have a deep interest in social reform and criminal and social justice – was a part of the team.  But why did it happen?    

A few things struck me in those early years of my professional journey:  

My educational path and courses weren’t really what landed my internship. It was relationships and hard work.  I put a lot of energy into showing up authentically, building mutually supportive connections, and proving that I was trustworthy, creative, and quick to pivot to address evolving needs. 

The second thing that struck me was that Janet Reno understood that it would take a small community of experts and real leaders to take on the sensitive vision she put in the hands of this committee.   

Not a large team, or multiple consultancies, but a small team of experts working well together.  

From there, I transitioned to other great jobs.  

One really interesting job focused on building warfare technologies for the DoD. Again, this was not based on my educational experience, but rather my work experience, relationships, and some core leadership characteristics that I wasn’t really even aware of at the time. At every step of the way, people saw something in me, and gave me a chance. And I worked hard to make the most of it. Which leads me to the third lesson I learned:  

These people who trusted me and brought me into their organizations didn’t fall back on the old traditional and convenient reasons not to hire me – maybe not the best grade point average, not an Ivy league school, not the right degree, not the right age, etc, etc. They looked past that, focused on the qualities I brought to the table, and my work experience and work ethic.  

Had this not happened, I have no idea where I would be today. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be running a global, multimillion dollar consulting company with an incredible company culture, or have founded an educational non-profit. These lessons around hard work, relationships, small effective teams, empowerment, and trust have turned me into the leader I am today and defined the qualities I seek to find in the people I surround myself with.  

When I see cultures built around heavy bureaucracy, unnecessary overhead, inefficient management, policies for the sake of policies (i.e. requisite educational background), it really eats at me because these are the types of cultures that PREVENT people from reaching their full potential, or worse . . . never offers them the chance to shine.  

By being given the opportunity to see the shimmering edges of what’s possible when we release our adherence to the old ways and move forward in alignment with our values, I knew that I would use what I’ve learned to build a company that could change the world for the better by doing things differently.  

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