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7 Questions with Kipenzi Chidinma

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Kipenzi Chidinma

Name: Kipenzi Chidinma

Current title: Chief Executive Officer

Current organisation: LINĒIJ™

Kipenzi Chidinma is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of LINĒIJ™. Kipenzi received her B.S. in Criminal Justice, with a minor in Biology from California State University, Los Angeles. She started her career as a research scientist, studying DNA sequences and immunoassays. After spending more than ten years in the science field, Kipenzi decided to pursue another career. She earned her M.B.A. in international business and fashion marketing from Woodbury University. During her time at Woodbury, she participated in a study abroad program in Turkey which ignited her creative passion and led to her founding LINĒIJ™. Kipenzi made history by becoming the first African-American and Afro-Caribbean woman-owned, sustainably sourced luxury executive gift and accessory company. After starting her business in 2015, she later bought her manufacturing in Istanbul, Turkey in 2018. LINĒIJ™ manufactures various luxury apparel, private label items, personal protective equipment, bespoke executive/promotional gifts, and shoes for adults/children. Under her leadership, LINĒIJ™ has offices in New Orleans, Istanbul, and Los Angeles. She earns great recognition for her creativity and business acumen. Kipenzi has been featured in prominent publications including Essence Magazine, DFW Style, and Rolling Out Magazine. Kipenzi was a finalist for the 2020 Design Excellence Award from The Accessory Council, and has been nominated for a Rising Star Award, presented by Fashion Group International New York.

Kipenzi’s goal is to unite functionality, luxury, and sustainability through her brand. In addition to her business endeavors, Kipenzi is an advocate for those affected with Huntington’s Disease (HD). Having lost her mother in December 2019 to complications related to HD, she became more steadfast in finding a cure. Presently, 100% of the profits from LINĒIJ™’s HDSA collection is donated to HDSA to find a cure. As a board member for the Huntington’s Disease Society Of America, Los Angeles Chapter (HDSA, www.hdsa.org), her mission is to educate, empower and advocate for those with HD. Kipenzi hopes she inspires those she encounters to reach their full potential, and leave the world better than she found it.

7 Questions with Kipenzi Chidinma

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

I have encountered several challenging instances in my career as a leader - from having access to funding, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, having a culturally diverse team, to hiring the right team members. But my biggest challenge is lack of time. I wish I had more hours in the day.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My journey to being a CEO is a mix of a lifelong dream and necessity meeting opportunity. I studied abroad in Turkey for my M.B.A. program and crossed paths with countless amazing people. I began a friendship with a local business owner who offered his assistance once I was ready to start my business. When I returned home, my mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, which is like having Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS all together - I knew that I would need to work independently to care for her. I started working remotely at my corporate position, then reached out to my Turkish contacts to start my brand.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

When I wake up I pray, meditate, and enjoy at least 20 minutes of being still before getting out of bed. Around 8am I look at my gym clothes rollover, (Since we've been in lockdown that's all I do for now LOL. Until my trainer Irene calls me and says let's go.), curse the sun because it seems like I only slept 4 hours, check emails on my phone, social media, talk to my sister, and then COFFEE!

Aside from that my routine is that I don't have a routine work schedule since I have offices in three different time zones - Istanbul, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. My days are very long because I am juggling a myriad of responsibilities which include working with my manufacturing/admin team, implementing short and long-term projects, participating in community service events, and curating speaking engagements.

Around 7pm I cook/ have dinner, relax watching Bridgeton, or one of my favorite British shows, then at 10pm I call my team in Istanbul, do one last check of my calendar, and then I get to bed around 12am so I can do it all over again...and I LOVE IT! I know it may sound crazy but I love my life and everyone one it. I wouldn't have it any other way..

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Planned flexibility. When I started my company one of my goals was to enter the corporate gifting arena in ten years, once the retail arm of the company was established. But then COVID-19 happened, and life changed instantly.

I was on my way to my first trade show of the year, and while I was waiting to board the plane I got a cancelation email - followed by several others. In an instant, I went from a projected sales year of just under 789k to uncertainty. All of a sudden I was grieving the loss of my Mama, trade shows were being canceled, the pandemic, and I was numb. A few weeks went by, and as we learned what was happening I vented to a mentor and shared my fears. All I could think is I'm responsible not only for my own livelihood - but those of my team, and vendors I work with. I was terrified! Once I was finished venting Domonique asked if I thought about offering corporate gifts. After one more day of my pity party, I went back to my plan. A friend helped me add a new page to my website, and I started reaching out to new clients. Because of "planned flexibility" I've been able to keep my entire team and expand into another market.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

"Ethical Leadership: Progress with a Moral Compass"

By Dr. Joan Marques. Oftentimes when you enter the corporate space, or start a new company ethics, and empathy aren't traits associated with leadership. But Joan introduces readers to the moral dilemmas associated with business decisions, so you understand the moral and ethical considerations leaders face in the workplace, and providing a framework for balancing business demands with doing the right thing - and being profitable.

One of the points the book helped me is the distinction of working with a company and for one. As I've hired one of my main points is that I'm looking for people to work with me to achieve shared goals. As a leader, my purpose is to give my team the tools they need to be successful, support them so they have a stake in the results, and give them a sense of ownership.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

To build leadership in a large enterprise, or any size organization for that matter - it takes mutual respect, grace, humility, and shared goals.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

Traditionally this would be the part where I share how I got my first corporate account from a legacy automobile company. Or how we successfully secured a huge partnership collaboration - (both have happened) but it's not...my most "meaningful story". My story involves my family. My sister and I surprised our Mama with a trip to the Bahamas to visit our family for her 60th. Anyone who knows her knows she'll strike up a conversation with anyone. When my sister and I went to get drinks, she started talking to a couple in our area. They must've asked what brought her to the resort, and she's giving the story. My Mama tells the ladies "Oh my daughters spoil me. My youngest is a director and Assistant Director at university, and my eldest daughter owns her own company. Yes...she's the CEO, and she has three offices. The bag I'm carrying is hers. You should take her card." Next thing you know my Mama is passing out my cards all weekend, and telling people that "we summer" in the Bahamas. Granted we go every summer but still. That's my story.