“For it is in giving that we receive.” — Francis of Assisi
I’m so thankful to have had an opportunity to share more about my mission and vision as not only the founder and CEO of Fenaroli & Associates, but as a corporate citizen of Kansas City. This is an amazing town and one I’m proud to give back to as often as possible and in any form.
Please join me as we blaze this trail together and endeavor to support one another in our personal and professional journeys. Happy Thanksgiving!
Newsmaker: Fenaroli says women in her family ‘taught me not to have any fear’
By Leslie Collins, November 16, 2017 | Kansas City Business Journal
Karen Fenaroli sat in the middle of Kansas City’s WeWork event space, surrounded by about 30 female business executives hailing from companies such as Sprint Corp., Dairy Farmers of America and Barkley.
She asked each to introduce herself and share her goal for Kansas City in the next year. The answers ranged from promoting diversity to getting more young women on nonprofit boards. They also heard the latest update on the KCI single-terminal campaign.
Fenaroli, CEO and founder of Kansas City-based executive search firm Fenaroli & Associates, calls this casual quarterly gathering “The Vibe.” It’s an avenue to share her network and bring leaders together to talk about cutting-edge topics.
“Networks are priceless,” she said. “When you have the honor of being part of networks that you appreciate, you have to share them.”
And Fenaroli’s network is vast. Earlier in her career, she was a senior manager at KPMG and a financial consultant in Coca-Cola’s mergers-and-acquisitions strategy group. She also founded Fenaroli for Regalia, a luxury and bridal accessories manufacturing business that included four boutiques offering everything but the wedding dress.
“Up until 1990, there was not a consolidated high-end accessories company in the U.S.,” she said. “So I created one, step by step, product by product.”
It became the largest bridal accessory company in the U.S., she said, and distributed to 200-plus North American retailers, including Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. She built the business through marketing avenues such as trend shows, princess parties, limited special merchandise and photo spreads in magazines.
“My biggest challenge was the growth push and then the need for perfectly executed product and delivery,” she said. “When you purchase the highest-quality products, the customers expect and should get perfection. It takes a balance to provide this quality, day to day, month to month. We did it – with lots of pace and a focus on the customer. I overcame the challenge by having and creating a great team. Business is all about the team.”
The Baltimore-area native comes from a family of powerful female role models. Her mother led a nuclear engineering firm, one of her grandmothers and an aunt launched a grocery store chain in Detroit, and the other grandmother owned farms in South Dakota.
“The women in my family taught me and encouraged me not to have any fear,” she said, adding that it gave her the courage to start Fenaroli for Regalia.
When her husband’s job brought them to Kansas City in 2007, she met another powerful influencer: civic leader Adele Hall.
Fenaroli wanted to start a local Women’s Leadership Council with the United Way of Greater Kansas City, and its CEO introduced her to Hall, who played an instrumental role in executing the initiative. The local council now has more than 400 members who donate nearly $2.5 million a year for initiatives such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
“What Adele Hall taught me is that the only thing that matters first is taking care of friends, taking care of your city, because if you do those two things first, business takes care of itself. Adele showed me that you can never out-give yourself. You must keep giving. … I want the Fenarolis to be givers and to be known for a legacy of giving.”
Building a network
“The best way to be a business friend is to be a supportive friend. I view networking as business support. In each friendship I have, I ask the question: ‘What can I do to support you?’”
That has ranged from business services to business advice to making introductions.
“I foster connections with genuine interest … I’m willing to lead with my chin occasionally and bubble up an ‘ugly idea’ just to get people and clients talking. Half the time, they are thinking the same thing – I just said it first.”
She has a knack for getting people to support her ideas, and a recent example is her Shark Tank-style pitch event, Pure Pitch Rally. She gathered entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors in one room and personally called 27 business leaders to pony up $1,000 each to the entrepreneur of their choice.
Now, she’s leveraging her network again for her next business venture – t.Brainery, a hybrid learning accelerator that aims to fill Kansas City’s tech talent pipeline by collaborating with multiple tech academies. She already recruited General Assembly for the initiative and is working to sign up others.
Accelerating education in Kansas City remains at the top of her list. It’s innovate or die, she said. And with Kansas City’s “powerful network,” she’s confident she can launch t.Brainery and make it thrive.
“Everything is possible from this city. It was the first crossroads of the whole Midwest, and it’s where I’m at now,” she said, referencing her office in the Crossroads Arts District. “It’s where my future is.”