Madeleine Driscoll, Erin Steinwachs, Joe Murk and Jim Somerville of KCI’s asset management practice recently wrote an article for Cityworks Magazine, which was published in the Spring 2019 issue.
When people learn how long I’ve been at KCI, many of them are shocked. They say it’s either because I’m too young (which is always nice to hear) to have worked somewhere for so long, or that employees making a life-long career with one company isn’t very common any more.
I started at KCI, then Kidde Consultants Inc., when I was 16 and still in high school. After a full day of academics, I would drive or walk down the street to the set of buildings that made up our headquarters at the time. We were much smaller then with offices mostly in the Mid-Atlantic. As a clerk, my job mostly consisted of making copies, filing and entering time sheets. Initially I worked two hours after school three days a week, but that quickly grew to every day, then Saturdays, then full-time summers.
When I graduated and decided to take some time off before further pursuing my education, I was happy that I’d found a great job at KCI. I could move into an apartment, eventually buy a car of my own, and basically feel like a grown up at 18. A year later, I set my sights back on college and KCI was there for me. Their tuition reimbursement program covered most of the costs to attend night school at Johns Hopkins University, where my major was IT. Personal computers were still pretty new back then, and I was interested in how a business could best take advantage of the changing technologies. While pursing my bachelor’s degree, I saw a need to support my division, which was Transportation at the time, with their marketing efforts. My boss was one of my biggest supports and not only welcomed any additional help, but encouraged me to learn as much as I could.
I enjoyed the challenge and quickly realized that it was something that I could make into a career move. As the company grew, so did my responsibilities, and eventually I transferred to a new department, reporting directly to CEO Terry Neimeyer. In the early 90s, he was the executive vice president in charge of multiple divisions, including transportation. Terry quickly became my mentor, offering me guidance, encouragement, and support. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He recognized in me capabilities I wasn’t aware I had, and helped me through challenges, learning how to navigate tough situations, deal with disappointment, and take advantage of lessons learned. I also worked with an amazing group of engineers, who would take me into the field to walk job sites and teach me the technical aspects of roadway design—alignment, traffic, pedestrians, drainage, stormwater management, even structures. I soaked it all in. That knowledge gave me a greater understanding of not only what the company did, but how we made a difference, and it helped me become a better marketing coordinator.
Years later, it was Terry who encouraged me to join our corporate communications department. I had been working for KCI part-time at home while taking care of my young son. During that time, my role had changed from proposals to focus on a variety of support marketing activities, including the research needed to convert existing transportation data into a new client relations management system, submitting our projects for industry awards, writing articles, and developing project descriptions. When my son was ready to go to school, I inquired about coming back to work in the office, although still with variable hours. Terry welcomed me back and asked me to help out the Corporate Communications department. Although my capabilities had expanded over the years, there was a lot of new territory for me to learn and a lot of opportunities to make an impact for KCI. It was just what I needed.
Corporate Communications is different from marketing in that we aren’t directly involved in the proposal process. Instead, our department is responsible for mass communication, including the media, web, intranet, newsletters, etc. Over the next few years, I learned all I could both from the KCI staff and from other industry leaders through professional associations.
I quickly found myself immersed in my job, loving the diversity of work, and the creative aspects of design and writing, which was something I never would have expected considering I wasn’t a big fan of English classes in school. After so many years here, telling KCI’s story is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. With 30 years behind me, this company is more than a job to me … it feels like home. I even met my husband here. His dad was the second employee the company ever hired back in 1955. We’ve jokingly told our son that he’ll probably have to work here at some point to keep up the family tradition.
But more than the family connection or how much I enjoy what I do, KCI feels like home because the firm let me set the course in this part of my life. When I needed a new challenge, my bosses helped me find or create one. I was an IT major in college, a marketing person as a young adult, and I’m a kind of cheerleader now. It wasn’t a direct path—there were lots of turns and diversions along the way. The company and our amazing team of employees have helped me mature and grow as a leader, a manager, a communicator, a co-worker, a parent, and a friend.