Episode Twenty-Eight… The Human Side of Business with Kim Dinwiddie

Episode Description

Working at Empowered Ventures is more than an average job.

In fact, because of EV being an ESOP, you are a part owner with a stake in the success of the organization you work for.

In this episode of Empowered Owners, Kim Dinwiddie, Vice President of Human Resources at Empowered Ventures, shares her journey of transformation, growth, and the powerful narrative of employee ownership.

Kim explains the delicate dance of balancing compliance with compassion and how tailoring the HR approach to each unique environment within Empowered Ventures isn’t just policy—it’s a passion.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How strategic growth means knowing when to scale and adapt. As an Employee Owner, you play a significant role in this. Be proactive in identifying when it’s time for your team to take new approaches or tackle different challenges.
  • How the power of personalized, human-focused, HR practices demonstrates how integration and strategic thinking can enhance the employee experience.
  • How enhancing your understanding of the business side of things can lead to a more empowered role within the company. Consider taking courses, reading up on industry news, or obtaining certifications that will help you speak the language of business more fluently.

Jump into the conversation:

[02:49] Kim’s HR journey
[08:19] The misconceptions about HR
[10:36] Why Kim chose consulting
[21:45] How EV plans to handle future growth
[30:34] The true power of ESOP

How to Listen or Watch

Listen below or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Watch below or @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube.

Read the full transcript here or below the following media links.


Episode Transcript

Kim Dinwiddie: I think what I found that a lot of organizations, they’re okay with status quo, and I really wasn’t okay with status quo. And I wanted to be with groups that wanted to continually evolve, continually grow. And it’s really hard to find a company that has that mindset. Maybe they have it at the beginning and then again, status quo and they’re complacent, we’ll say. Or maybe it takes something major and dramatic to happen. But that’s really what drove me, is that I wanted to work with folks who wanted to always be moving forward.

Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures. On this episode of Empowered Owners, I’m excited to welcome Kim Dinwiddie to Empowered Ventures. Kim joined EV as Vice President of Human Resources in January 2024 and has already had a huge impact. She joined right as we started the acquisition process of what could be our next portfolio company. She hit the ground running and has done truly remarkable work on that as well as being an HR expert and business partner for us and our business leaders.I love how she thinks about the HR function and how a people-centric approach to HR can be a game changer for businesses. In addition to getting to know Kim, we talked about what we do at the EV holding company level, the functions and roles in our small team, and how we envision our approach for staffing going forward. I hope you enjoy this really fun conversation I had with Kim. Kim, welcome to Empowered Owners.

Kim Dinwiddie: Thank you. Excited to be here.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, it’s been honestly a lot of fun to work with you over these last few months. I’d met you a little bit previous to the last couple of months, but ever since you joined officially full time in January, you and I have gotten a chance to spend more time together, mostly remotely, but getting to know you and it’s just been a lot of fun. First off, just thank you for joining empowered Ventures as a company and thanks for what you’re already doing and thought it’d be fun for people to just have an opportunity to meet you over the podcast and on YouTube and stuff. So I guess to start off with why don’t you share just a little bit about you? Like, where are you from? Anything pertinent that you think might help people get to know?

Kim Dinwiddie: I am, I like to say a small town girl, grew up in Mooresville, Indiana, which is just south of Indianapolis, really between Indianapolis and Bloomington, but I am still here today. So I grew up here, went to college, met my husband, and then we have built and really raised family here, which is fun because our daughter went to the same elementary school that I did, graduated the same high school that I did, my cousins did, my parents did. So it’s fun. I am definitely a family oriented person for sure, and fell into HR randomly. I went to school thinking I was going to be a nurse and did a first clinical, and I was about two and a half years into that nursing school and decided, I can’t do that. So I had to make that phone call to my parents, who laughed about it because they’re like, yeah, we didn’t think that this would really be what you wanted to do.

Chris Fredericks: What was it about that I’m super curious, that kind of turned you off.

Kim Dinwiddie: In a senior living community? And it was just heartbreaking to me. And to be honest, I don’t even watch things on tv like Grey’s anatomy or anything like that surgery. I turned my head. So it was. Friends were doing it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at 18th, but then the point came, oh, my gosh, what am I going to do now? And so loved my psychology classes. So I decided, all right, I’ll do psychology. Then I got my degree, and then it was like, what in the world am I going to do with a psychology degree? I didn’t really want to continue going to school at that point, so decided just to, you know what? I’ll get a job. Figure it out. One of my friends let me know that they were hiring for an HR assistant position at their company. And so I went and had an interview, and I was very honest. I said, this is just a stepping stone for me. I’m not sure what I want to do. But the whole time the HR director was just smiling at me, nodding her head. She’s like, you’re exactly where you need to be.

Chris Fredericks: Oh, wow.

Kim Dinwiddie: And I was like, okay, whatever. But at that point, I think we had a little over 200 employees. Over seven years grew to over 700 employees. But then we were bought out by a large organization. But during that time, I was able to dabble in all things HR and just really think, what do I like? What do I don’t like fantastic opportunity. The downside, I was also one of the last people in that building. Literally, it was us and finance that were tagging things like, what are assets to be gone. So that was just a difficult experience. But what a, I don’t want to say a great experience, but it was because that really showed me the humanity aspect of being in an organization, those relationships you build and how to do things well even in those difficult situations. But at that point, then I paused and I’m like, okay, now what? I like HR, but what do I want to do? And then I knew consulting was probably going to be my path, and so I put together a plan to say, okay, how am I going to get there? And I knew I needed to get a lot of experience in different industries, in just different aspects of HR to make me the best consultant that I could be. And so I put that plan together, worked it through, and ended up doing that, started my own company, and then joined a larger consulting group, which is actually how we met. So that was really my path. It wasn’t a straight path at all. It had some pivots in it, but it gave me such a different perspective, I think, in business and those relationships that were important to it. And the other piece, throughout that point, I knew that HR was missing something. In my experience, I felt very strongly I needed to learn the business side of it. And so I did end up going back to school while I was working to get my MBA because I needed to know, how do I speak business? And that helped significantly do that.

Chris Fredericks: Fascinating. I have so many follow up questions before we pivot to talking more about current stuff, going all the way back. I’m super interested. What you think led that HR manager who is hiring you, what led that person to say, oh, you’re right, this is for you? How did they get that sense, do you think?

Kim Dinwiddie: It was interesting, because I think that was the first time I ever learned about behavioral based interviews. And again, granted, I’m like, I’m what, 21, 22 years old at this point. And so she was just asking me different questions, like, in this situation, how would you handle it? Or this happened, how do you think this was approached? And it was interesting because I really always focused on the people aspect of it, even if it’s a manager as that person, that aspect of it. And so later on, I actually did ask her that question, how did you know? And she said that I had linked the importance of the people aspect along with the business, how they have to work together. She was a mentor to me for many years. And it was interesting because I always thought of HR as, they’re the people who say, no, there’s a right way and wrong way to do everything, and they’re the ones that say that. And she was really the one shook my thinking, like, no, that’s not what it’s about.

Chris Fredericks: Let’s dig into that a little more, because I think that is a common kind of misconception or even an experience in some organizations of what HR can feel like at times. Knowing you, I know you have a much different view of what HR means and what the purpose of this function in a business is. So how would you describe this elevated idea of what a great HR kind of function ultimately is to people that haven’t experienced that before?

Kim Dinwiddie: So I think there’s definitely some compliance pieces that it is just what it is. There are laws that we have to all follow, but that’s really a small piece of the business. Running a business and collaborating with the people to drive the business forward is all about collaboration. And it’s talking through if someone wants to do something and you’re like, there’s a law around that, or there’s a compliance piece around that, tell me what the end result is going to be, and then let’s talk about how we can get there the right way. So I think it’s just not always automatically saying no, but truly listening, actively listening to people to see what, in the overall scheme of things, what are they talking about and where are they trying to go, what are they trying to accomplish? And then talking through that, having that conversation.

Chris Fredericks: I love that. Yeah. As you shared all that, I kept thinking it’s like connecting business results, performance, needs with people’s needs, results, wants. And the compliance piece, of course, but it’s more about helping people thrive in the business and the business continue to succeed, too. And really connecting all that together, helping the management team and everyone do that in an effective way.

Kim Dinwiddie: And it’s helping them understand the why, too. If there’s a certain path they want to go down to, it’s not just saying no, it’s explaining to them why. Because that then opens their mind more. It’s not just that person, that seat, telling them they can’t do something. Because what I’ve learned is that just puts up a ball, pretty much typically, but it’s explaining the why and then the but how can we.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Finding the solution, the win win, et cetera. That’s great. Okay. I also want to ask. You said it sounded like consulting. Just seemed like a supernatural next step to you. Obviously, you could have went and got a job in a different HR department of another company. Why did that consulting path appeal to you so much? How did you even know it was an option? Just, I’d love to learn more about why that ended up being such an obvious path for you at that point.

Kim Dinwiddie: Well, what I learned, I had worked with different consultants, even working with insurance brokers. I feel like they are a type of a consultant. They were always viewed very differently by the organization that I was in. And that always fascinated me, because as soon as you put that consultant title on, they thought you were absolutely the expert. And so that was always interesting to me. But I did want to be the expert. I’ll just be completely honest there. But I think it was just navigating the road with people. I think what I found that a lot of organizations, they’re okay with status quo, and I really wasn’t okay with status quo. And I wanted to be with groups that wanted to continually evolve, continually grow. And it’s really hard to find a company that does that, has that mindset. Maybe they have it at the beginning, and then again, status quo, and they’re complacent, we’ll say. Or maybe it takes something major and dramatic to happen. But that’s really what drove me, is that I wanted to work with folks who wanted to always be moving forward.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. And being a consultant, more likely than not, you’re getting opportunities to work with people that want some sort of change, so you’re getting to partner with them on that. And so I know you enjoyed your consulting career very much. From what I remember, as we’ve talked, you ended up leaving that and joining empower you mind. Would you be willing to share why that ended up being a decision you made?

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah, it was interesting. I feel like early on, I was talking with Emily (Bopp, EV chief of staff), and we were just talking about, okay, what would this role maybe look like? And so we were starting that conversation, and I said, this is the first time I have actually gotten excited and thought, maybe I want to be in that seat. It hadn’t happened. But here’s what really shifted that is because EV is that structure, that type of company that I was talking about, because I was brought in to say, okay, here’s how we’re doing things. Can it be done better? How can we set ourself up for growth? It was there. And as I was working with all of you, I learned very early on, that’s just your mentality, and it’s not because it’s an entrepreneur or a brand new company. That is the mindset. How can we be better? How can we grow? How can we pivot when we need to? How can we evolve? And that’s what really got me to decide, you know what? I want to be a part of that.

Chris Fredericks: That’s cool. I’m remembering, too, that one thing you shared early on was just your passion for impacting people. And that obviously almost sounds too obvious with it being an HR. But I’ve got a sense that it was much deeper than as an HR person, more so that almost a personal mission of yours is to just feel like you’re having a real impact on people’s lives.

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah, I even started just consulting. And of course, first thing you do as a consultant is you go find out what you can about a company. Look at their website, look at, review, whatever you can find. The very first thing I found was believing in the power of people. It kept coming up, and it also came up that changing that traditional dynamic between the employee and employer, and that just fell in line with exactly what I think about. And you and I have talked about just leading with dignity and treating people with dignity, and I think that’s such a powerful word, but how do you do that in business? How do you make it all mesh together? And that was definitely an exciting time. But the people have always been part of my life. I feel like I did end up getting my coaching certification because I think mentorship, I think coaching is critical in all areas of our life and business. But I would say even my family has always said something’s going on. I’m the one they want to talk to friends, and it’s very natural to me. But I think it’s because I listen, to be honest, and I truly believe people have the answers to things inside of them. It’s just my role to ask the questions, and they come to that answer themselves or the path themselves. But it’s definitely been part of me from early on, which is probably why that psychology degree, which is probably why that HR director was smiling like, you’re exactly where you need to be.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, I love that. And I love that way of describing what a great coach can do is help people find the answers inside themselves. And sounds like you do an incredible job of that. So you decide to join EV, which I’m super grateful for. I know our team’s super grateful for. It’s been a few months. You jumped into kind of a very busy time in a lot of good ways. What have your first impressions been of just the whole thing. Like the companies in our portfolio, the people that you get to work with in all of our businesses, and the employee ownership piece of it all. What have your first impressions been of everything?

Kim Dinwiddie: It’s interesting because I think whenever you start something new, I always say it may take you a while to see what’s behind the curtain. And I think I’ve even told you that before. I’m waiting to see what’s behind the curtain, but I truly feel like I have seen what’s behind the curtain and there is no curtain, which is exciting to see. But as I’ve interacted with the different groups, we have the employee owner summit, and there’s an energy, but there is a true ownership. It’s not just a phrase or a word or a program. You can see them living it. And that is so exciting. And just the way they think differently, looking at better ways to do things and knowing that they have a piece into this. And I think that’s huge. The other thing, one of the organizations still had the owner as part of it and the whole benefactor leaving a legacy. And EV helps them do that. And that is wonderful to see because other acquisition type of environments I’ve been with has not been that same type. Right. Usually they’re coming in and they’re going to hold them for a year or two maybe, and then they’re going to sell them or move on or do something, but completely different environment here. But again, that’s why I say there is no curtain, because it truly is a different way to look at that employee employer relationship, which is wonderful.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. I appreciate, it’s so cool to hear that all the good things that you’re experiencing and hoping would be here at empowered ventures. So that’s really fulfilling and validating. I also want to acknowledge that the whole reason we needed you to join is because we have a lot of room for improvement and we’re growing. We’re building this on the fly. I like to think of it as definitely building the ship while we’re sailing. So I guess what are you here to do and how do you see the potential for, especially our approach to HR and at the holding company level? Why did we bring you on board and what are you excited to accomplish in that function going forward?

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah, well, and I think early on it is building those relationships with the different HR groups and leaders at the organizations and building that relationship. So it’s not a. Oh, there’s the compliance or the person who’s going to say, you have to change everything. You’re doing to all get in line. It’s truly finding out what’s working for them because their environment is completely different from one another. But also we have to make sure that there are compliance pieces, but it circles back around to the why. And then how can we make it work in your particular environment? Because it may not work the same way here as another of our groups, but so just systems, processes, efficiencies, most of the groups run lean. And anything that I feel like I can do to help them improve that make things more efficient and even just taking a step back and mentoring, love being able to do that. We have a group that I feel like I am definitely doing that right now as each group is in a different maturity model that you have taught me about. It’s been fascinating. So I feel like there’s not just one or two certain functions that I do, but it really is kind of that consultant hat still to figure out how can we partner with you and be a resource to you. And obviously we have the benefits aspect. That is that consistent thing, but thinking outside the box there. Okay, here’s how benefits are currently, but what are we missing? How can we do things differently? So thinking two of that strategic level and Clifton Strengths are one of my passions. And so my number one and two are strategic and futuristic. And so that is a mindset going in to talking with these groups, too, but also just all the benefits of the EV level that we have to offer, or we don’t even know about yet, that maybe we have to offer.

Chris Fredericks: I love that you’re bringing a very strategic and long term approach to envisioning how the HR kind of support and guidance function at the holding company level can help our companies ultimately succeed and thrive, and the people thrive, too. It’s also very meta where you’re getting to model and work with the HR leaders of these companies in the way, as an HR person, in the way that hopefully they also can kind of, and I think they are doing the same for their folks. So it’s a really neat kind of approach, I think, that you’re taking to this function where it’s not top down, it’s not telling everyone, it’s not about just the compliance and creating some sort of system that everyone just follows. It’s more tailored to what their actual real life is.

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s making sure that obviously the leaders know how important the people are. That’s part of everyone’s vision, but it’s being sure not to lose sight of that and what that can mean and the opportunities that are there. That’s an exciting piece of it.

Chris Fredericks: I love that. Kim, this has been fun to dig into your background. Thank you for sharing so much.

Kim Dinwiddie: Absolutely. Yeah, I am curious. So this position, the HR position was newly created. I feel like brought me on a consultant and quickly, I think, realized, oh, we need this in house. The EV team started as one, two and has grown. But how are you going to handle that growth, that evolving, moving forward as we all continue to grow?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, I love that. And to your point, I guess I’ll step back. So, at the holding company level, we think of that as like a new business we’re building. We started it in 2020. The business at the holding company level is to grow through acquisition, buying other companies, and then stewarding and supporting those companies so that they thrive long into the future. So that’s like our business at the holding company. Whereas each of the businesses that are part of our family do their thing, textiles or manufacturing of different sorts at this point. So our business of buying companies, overseeing them, helping them thrive, we’ve put a fair amount of thought into what are like departments. We don’t really have departments because we’re a lean, very small team. But if we had departments or functions, we call them functions, what are the things we actually need to do? Well, at the holding company level, so we’ve come up with a few. Like acquiring is one, binding the companies and buying them is one important function. Another is what we call portfolio operations, which it’s not the best term, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. But another way, we refer to it as kind of stewardship of our companies. So that function is how we actually support and even oversee, hold them to standards and performance and growing and helping them. Ultimately, that’s an entire focus that Mike Algrim is doing for our company these days. And then we’ve got a bunch of other functions that all fit into supporting them in key kind of areas that are compliance to some degree, but also very important business partners. And that would be things like HR. It the typical back office stuff, but very important from our level at the holding company, just exactly what you’re now doing for HR. We need to do that as a partner in each of those kind of key functions while holding true to our ethos, which is to stay hands off and empower them to do what they do, even the accounting people and the HR people and the IT people. So those are functions that we also, over time, we’re going to need to continue to slowly build and invest in when the time is right. So back to kind of HR. I knew at some point on our roadmap we would need a great HR executive to come in and take ownership of that function. When you start something, you have no idea when things are really going to make sense. So I had in my mind that was out a few years, but it just became apparent that it’s such an important part of the business. Issues and opportunities for growth around that function of HR just kept popping up consistently, that it elevated the need much faster than I thought. So that’s part of building this is we’re somewhat opportunistic and decide when to bring on the right people when we feel the need. It’s not just that we’re following some simple playbook. And then I’ll just add a couple more functions. And then I’m curious what other thoughts you have about this as you’ve gotten to know our business model. The other functions would be in the area of marketing and communications and governance. So those kind of outline and show all the functions of our business. But marketing and communications is so important. I think of it as storytelling, internal and external. We’re doing something here that is pretty different. And also, we think has a lot of really amazing potential. And we want everyone that’s part of this to really understand that. So that’s internal communications. And then we want other people outside to understand that maybe business owners who might want to consider selling to us or people that might want to consider joining us or one of our companies. So that communications piece is a big function ultimately for us. And then governance. So governance is another one of those kind of corporate words. But what it really means is that being an ESop company, we’re owned by an ESOP. We have a serious approach to the oversight of the business overall. So we have a board of directors, we have a trustee who oversees the ESOP, and ultimately I, and we are all accountable to those folks to make sure what we’re doing is really good for the business and really good for all the employee owners. That kind of covers, I think, the spectrum of functions that we have gotten more clear about at the holding company over these first few years. And as time goes on, we’ll keep identifying when the time is right to bring on a person or two and empower them to own functions. But today our small team is doing a great job of kind of filling a lot of those and tag teaming on some people, owning some in full today. But it’s been fun. It’s definitely been building something from nothing over these last few years.

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah. And I think what you said about not having necessarily a time frame, and obviously, I know we have a strategic plan, we’re going to continue to have strategic plans, but it’s not something that is date or time specific. And I think that says a lot, though, just to that mindset of pivoting and growing when it’s the right time, not just because we said it was going to be the right time. And I think that is one thing I’ve picked up on the team, is just that change management, everyone pivots really quickly and we’ve talked about it. We can all be very busy, maybe a little stressed, but there’s still a smile and we talk through that. But I think that is important in today’s world, and not all businesses do it well. But I think just by you talking through that, that really just embodies the EV.

Chris Fredericks: There is some sort of feeling of security when you have a plan and you’re like, okay, now we just go step by step and do the plan. But then the real world happens and you learn that those steps weren’t in the right order and the timing was off. And being willing to just accept that’s part of it. It’s something that’s important for us and probably for everyone, too. That’s part of our companies to remember that plans are important, but ultimately we have to also be willing to pivot when it makes sense to.

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah, I think the other piece that I think is important that you’ve mentioned was about just bringing the right people on board, but then also being ready to do that when we need to do that. And I know we’ve talked a lot about just filling that pipeline. Emily has coined it our orbit, really, those networking, that relationship building. And you talked about the marketing and branding, so people know who we are and they get excited to hear about us. So in this world, how do you see that communication and branding happening out there?

Chris Fredericks: That’s a great question. It’s something we’ve been, I think, getting better at telling our story, but still so much opportunity there. I think continuing to create pieces of content that are compelling that because they’re highlighting our actual employee owners, ultimately, I think that for me is the secret sauce. It’s never going to be just me or people at the holding company talking about how great we are. That’s why on this podcast even, it’s mostly the other employee owners from our companies coming on and us giving them a chance to share what’s so cool about them and their job and their life and who they are, because it’s the impact on those employee owners, ultimately, that this is all about. And I think if we can do a great job, and I’m not saying we’re there yet at all, but if we can do a great job of making them the stars of our storytelling, because it’s truly life changing for people to stay part of our business for a long time with the ESOP and the life changing financial outcomes it can create if we tell that story, their story, I believe that will be inspiring for a lot of people out there. So that’s what I’m aspiring for us to do.

Kim Dinwiddie: Yeah, I love that. And a few weeks ago, I went to my first ESOP conference. I laughed because this was the first non hr conference I’ve been to. But what was awesome about it was this. At breakfast, sitting at a table, I didn’t know anyone. And just getting to know the people there and the person sitting next to me was just, you could tell they were flustered. And she said, I forgot to bring my notebook. And then she paused and she said, I don’t need to write anything down. This is the last one of these I’m going to be at. And I’m like, what? She said, yeah, I’m retiring early and that’s what the ESOp did for me. And right then I’m like, what a story to just have and to tell people. And so that just, yeah, then great conversation around the table. As soon as she said, yeah, just it is. And those stories are within our company, so I’m very excited to hear more of those. That’s for sure.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome, Kim, this has been just fantastic. So thank you for joining this episode of Empowered owners and hopefully at some point we can have you back on.

Kim Dinwiddie: I would love that.

Chris Fredericks: I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Kim. If it sparked any questions or ideas, please be sure to send them our way. Thank you, Kim, for joining me and Emily Bopp and Share Your Genius for producing this episode. Remember, we want to hear from you. To reach us, send an email to [email protected]. Thanks for tuning in.

Tags: Podcast
Episode Twenty-Seven… Let’s Chat: Exploring the History of EV with Chris and Emily
Episode Twenty-Nine… Learning Organization Leadership with Lori Atone