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Two Business Entrepreneurs Who Champion Diversity to Speak at Next Master Class Series

October 18, 2013

Two business entrepreneurs known for championing diversity will share their success stories at the Master Class Series Nov. 13 at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park.

Carmen Jacob, president of NextGen, an information technology business, and Michael Kennedy, president of KAI Design and Build, will be the guest speakers in the acclaimed program, now entering its third year.

The session is scheduled 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. in the Mildred E. Bastian Center for the Performing Arts on campus, 5600 Oakland Ave. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.

After their presentations, they will respond during a question-and-answer period.

The Forest Park Business Club and St. Louis Business Journal are cosponsors of the series, which began in spring 2011 to provide students with an opportunity to learn from successful people, who candidly relate their life lessons.

Jacob grew up in Guatemala and came to the United States in 1972 when her husband, Chris, completed his service in the U.S. Army. She obtained both business and nursing degrees from her native Guatemala. Her early business experience included healthcare and banking, sales and recruitment. She also was the executive assistant to the Guatemala Minister of Public Health.

Living in the United States, Jacob worked as a collateral analyst with Continental Bank in Houston, learning the intricacies of banking and finance. From there, Emerson Electric sent the Jacobs to work in South America and Mexico as business managers to provide management and training.

Eight years in Latin America gave them the opportunity to manage operations and become involved in information technology, which proved to be a turning point in Jacob’s professional life. 

A return to the United States brought the family to St. Louis. Recognizing that there was a need for IT staffing for Fortune 500 companies, Jacob helped establish NextGen in 1997.

As a woman pioneer in the industry that was dominated by men, Jacob was still inspired to start her own business.

"It was a dream - only in America is this possible," she said.

Throughout the years, NextGen’s president has been completely dedicated to diversity. The firm is a Certified Woman-Owned Enterprise and a Certified Minority-Owned Enterprise. Carmen Jacob, personally, and her company have been recognized by DiversityBusiness.com, the St. Louis Business Journal and Inc. Magazine throughout the years for a continued commitment to diversity in the work place.

A community activist, Jacob is involved in numerous charitable organizations. When she is not networking, attending civic events or working, she can be found volunteering for her church.

Kennedy’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit has helped make KAI a technology front-runner through the early adoption of building information modeling. A second-generation leader, Mike works closely with his father, Michael Sr., KAI’s chairman and CEO, to position KAI for future success.

Kennedy spends most of his time leading KAI’s strategic vision in expanding into new markets and developing new clients. He travels to major cities, transforming urban distressed markets.

KAI was established in 1980 in St. Louis, and over the years, has listened to clients and learned what would most benefit the company. As a result, services, technology, quality control procedures and management tools were added to deliver quality, value-driven results.

To better serve clients, KAI provides single-source design and build services including program/project management, architecture, interior design, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection engineering, and construction management services.

In June 2011, Kennedy started three new businesses: Power Up, Square Up and Keep Up. In this venture, he acquired Crown Electrical Contractors and did an asset purchase of Behlman Builders.

This made Power Up and Square Up instant market players in the electrical and carpentry industry that serve the St Louis market. This fully integrated approach enhanced the client experience to new levels and took all their companies to new levels with the ability to share resources across the board.

The Master Class Series features stories from business leaders about their professional achievements and failures, as well as personal triumphs and disappointments. Every business leader has a story, and there is something to be learned from every experience.

This collaborative and creative effort won the STLCC district’s Innovation of the Year Award last spring. The genuine student interest in extracting life lessons from local business leaders has been pivotal to its success.

For more information regarding the Master Class Series, contact Angelic Cole, associate professor of business administration, at 314-644-9771 or acole56@stlcc.edu.

Carmen Jacob webMichael Kennedy web