Collaborating with others to create a positive ripple effect
Photography by Sonshine Portrait Design
I grew up living in Kickapoo and going to Dunlap for school. On Saturdays, I would go to soccer/basketball/volleyball practice, and then go to work with my family on whatever project we were working on. I learned how to lay shingles, pour concrete foundations, use a nail gun, lay out walls… You name it—I learned it working alongside my family. I learned how to draft in high school, and I started to lay out floor plans and site plans for developments during my summers and holiday breaks.
While my dad was teaching me trade skills, my mom was teaching me the office side of the business. She would take me to meetings with clients and let me listen to how they would discuss the floor plan and the flow of the space. She would also include me on conversations about financial planning, which piqued my interest in saving and investing for the future. I have been told that I think a lot like my grandpa, Tommy Horan, the brainchild behind Pioneer Industrial Park, Joanne Manor and Joanne Hills (Grandma was Joanne). My great-grandmother, Marie Horan, instilled in me a love for religion and integrity early on.
What inspired your early interest in computer science and technology?
In high school, I was in advanced math and I was good at science. Everyone told me that I needed to go pre-med, which I did; however, after two years, I decided I was not passionate about it. My mother encouraged me to take a semester of general education courses as well as a computer science course, since I loved the programming class I took in high school (which actually led to me starting my own website design business in high school). So I did, and the rest is history.
Upon graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in computer science, I went to work for Accenture Technology Labs, which took me to China, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, London, and all over the U.S. While at Accenture, I obtained my master’s degree in computer information systems. It was hard to go back to school while traveling for work, but I took it one class at a time and made it. I think learning how to put a building together helped my programming skills, as there is a logical order to the process and without each step done properly, the structure—whether a building or computer program—does not work.
How did you transition into real estate and development? What led you to form The Kim Group?
After graduating from the University of Iowa, I moved to Chicago. At this time, my family sold one of their farms, which enabled me to have some money to do whatever I wanted. I asked myself what my grandfather would want me to do… and decided he would want me to invest in real estate. I started looking at condos and ended up purchasing my first condo in Chicago in 2002. Then I purchased another condo a couple years later with my fiancé at the time, Charles.
I was hooked at this point. I loved how I could take some of my savings, leverage it to purchase a property for a greater value, and make more money than I was making in the bank—plus have the depreciation and interest tax benefits. I was starting to see firsthand the benefits of investing in real estate.
I kept working for Accenture and investing in real estate on the side. I obtained my Realtor’s license and we started The Kim Group in Chicago. In 2006, I decided that I wanted to travel less. I was flying out Monday morning and flying back home Friday night, so I only had two days a week with my husband. I then left Accenture and went to work for a small startup company, Endeca, which was later bought by Oracle.
After a couple of years, my parents inquired if I had an interest in taking over the family business. I had not thought about it, but my husband and I talked it over and prayed about it. We decided to leave our jobs in technology and enter into the construction industry full-time. So we moved back to Peoria and started working for the family company.
I soon realized my passion was not in the day-to-day management of construction projects, but in helping clients put together the deals. There were many times a client would come into our office and say, “If I expand my workforce, I can afford the bigger space, but without the bigger space, we cannot expand.” This was frustrating to me. I was always told there are incentives and programs to help small businesses expand, but when we would direct our clients to these programs, they often came back more confused.
After a lot of prayer and support from my family, I decided to relaunch The Kim Group with a professional service division to help companies and individuals put together their development projects. This incorporated the strategic implementation and business planning skills I learned at Accenture, along with my passion for development and construction.
For the Trefzger’s Bakery Development, our professional services included: creating a strategic business plan and financial structure; obtaining the financial sources; initiating the creation of a TIF district, Business Development District and Special Service Area to get the financials to work; obtaining historic tax credits; designing the floor plan and site plan with the project team; overseeing design/pre-construction/construction/close-out; and asset management. Each project is different. Sometimes we work with a client to restructure existing debt into better terms and save them money, which they can re-invest in their company. They may never build anything, but we love helping them get to a healthier financial state.
What philosophy drives your work as a developer?
“Be the change you seek!” is a big one for me. With every project I work on, I start with the questions: “Why do you want to do this project?”, “What difference will it make in your life?” and “How can we create a positive ripple effect?” I start by listening to what my clients want to achieve. I need to discover why they are passionate about the project and how it will make a positive impact. Once I fully understand their why, I can go to work on helping them get there. It provides me a roadmap for the project.
I believe one project can change the perception of an area and create a positive ripple effect of confidence. For example, Trefzger’s Bakery brought life into a building that would have been torn down, and inspired people that our history is worth preserving! Since then, the Cohen building has been purchased and transformed by Sherman’s; Heritage Square was purchased by Kevin Shields and is being transformed; the development of 4500 Prospect is well underway; Larry Herman started his luxury apartment buildings; and The Kim Group is working on a townhome project along Samuel Avenue. Trefzger’s Bakery was the catalyst for over $15 million of development in Peoria Heights within the past two years—and more is coming!
I have coined the phrase “pollinated collisions.” It’s when you run into someone and share an idea, thought, energy, experience, etc., and there may be an opportunity right then and there to share a contact or connection to take their idea to the next level—or maybe they put an idea in your head and days later you run into someone and connect them. We need more pollinated collisions in our community. We need to collaborate with each other more often and dream about what we could do and could be—because this is where the magic and growth happens.
Please reflect upon your major accomplishments of recent years.
Obtaining my master’s degree and CCIM [Certified Commercial Investment Member] designation really inspired me to take control of my education. I wanted to learn how others put together investment deals. The CCIM designation put me in contact with great professionals who have helped foster my further education and connected me with others who have helped me put deals together.
Working on the Madison Theater project helped me recognize my spirit for restoration projects and my ability to take on a tough project. While this project has not happened at this point in time, please do not give up on it. Never say die! It was an honor to have our Cooperage 214 project recognized among hundreds of applicants for the distinguished Richard H. Driehaus Award. We were among many amazing restoration projects in Chicago and throughout Illinois that embraced the history and architecture of the building.
The Women of Influence designation is also very special, as I always look forward to reading about these amazing women, how they break through the glass ceiling and are rocking it. It is inspiring to see how they all come from different backgrounds and are making a difference within our community.
What inspires you?
Everything—literally, everything. Traveling is one passion of mine. I believe when you experience other cultures, it changes the way you see things. Also: talking with someone about an idea they have for starting a business; having lunch with someone; and playing nerf gun wars with my boys.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Why?
Dead: my great-grandmother, Marie Horan. She taught me so many life lessons. I wish I could just sit and play Old Maid with her. Of course, we would be having Mickey Mouse pancakes and cinnamon toast. Alive: my husband. It is always an adventure to eat with Charles. I truly love having dinner with him, talking about the day and exchanging ideas.
As a child, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
In fourth grade, I wanted to be the first woman President of the United States.
Tell us about your current involvement in the community and nonprofit sectors.
Hult Center for Healthy Living, board member. I believe we need to learn how to eat healthy in order to power our minds, body and soul to do His work.
CEO Council, chairwoman. This goes back to my “pollinated collisions” mindset. At the end of our meetings, we go around the room and tell what is going on in our businesses, and at the end of each meeting, I have a list of people to share with or connect with people. There are so many great things going on within our community—you just have to get engaged. Alignment Peoria, Career Readiness team. I am new to this group and I’m super-excited to start inviting people in the community to help solve a problem or concern within Peoria Public Schools. This is the real power of Alignment Peoria: letting the community engage in the education of our students. It is going to make a huge impact.
Landmarks Illinois, board member. This is the first board position I had to interview for, and I am excited to be part of an impactful group that is helping preserve our history. I have realized that in looking at our past, we can empower our future, and I look forward to bringing the expertise of this group into our community for its betterment.
Women United, Heart of Illinois United Way. I am also new to this group, as we are working to create its mission and structure. It has been a pleasure to get to know these influential women who are making an impact within their careers and community. I look forward to seeing where we take this group.
What is your leadership style or philosophy?
With every client, I strive to teach them how to look at their project (whether a real estate investment or a simple restructure) from all angles. I always tell them if I can teach you how to run, we can run. Otherwise, all we can do is walk—and that is slower than running.
I once worked for someone who said, “We don’t normally teach people this because if they knew how to do it they would probably quit and go to work for someone else.” I thought this was the stupidest thing I had ever heard! I responded, “So, you are holding your people back? What if you teach them and they stay and take your company to the next level? What if you do not teach them and they stay?”
What was the most pivotal point in your career?
When I started listening to my clients. I mean really listening to them: where they want to go, what drives them, and why they are doing what they are doing. Once I know this, I can look at the tools I have to work with and figure out the best plan of attack for their project.
Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
Many! My mom, my dad, my grandmother, my grandfather (although he passed at an early age, through stories about how he impacted others, I know I want to leave that kind of legacy), my teachers, my coaches for never letting me go halfway, my friends who held me accountable, my teammates who constantly pushed me, my business coach, my prayer group, my coworkers for pushing me to be more…
What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve had to learn?
Not all people are created equal. While you may be someone of integrity, others may not be; do not let this define who you are. You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. So choose the high road and you never have to regret your decision.
What advice would you give to young female professionals?
Seek out a mentor and board of advisors. This may seem daunting, but if you put it out into the universe, they will come. Women who have been where you are want to help you realize how to be the best you, and they will help you. If they don’t, you don’t want their help anyway.
Put together an education plan—do not stop growing! Figure out what you want to learn, get a library card, and start reading and listening. Always challenge yourself to be more. Knowledge is power and no one can ever take it away from you!
Figure out your passion and go for it. Do not let anyone define you! You are the average of the five people that you surround yourself with, so look around and if you don’t like what you see, surround yourself with new people. iBi