Choctaw Founder of ‘We The People’ Talks Developing Leaders & Growing Small Businesses
Kendra Wilson-Clements (Choctaw) charted her career path “in reverse,” she explains, starting at Fortune 100 and 500 companies in the transportation industry as a human resources professional. From large organizations, she moved to mid-size businesses in the technology industry. Eventually, she left the corporate world to stoke her entrepreneurial spirit by starting her own small business, We The People Consulting, LLC.
Clements counts 20 years of experience in human resources (HR) and operations across sectors— transportation, entertainment, technology, manufacturing, aerospace and defense, and private equity. In one of her latest roles prior to launching We The People, Clements served as the vice president of global HR and the HR lead for the mergers and acquisitions division of an Oklahoma City-based private equity firm, managing approximately 15 portfolio companies. “During that six-year time frame, I did a lot of international travelling—buying, selling, and turning companies around,” Clements told Native Business Magazine. “We were focused on acquiring companies who were working in the government contracting, services, and manufacturing sectors. The majority of our portfolio companies did a lot of work with the Department of Defense. We helped small businesses to transition to medium-sized business, to hit revenue goals, improve their value, and position themselves for growth and change—inevitable with the sale of any business.”
While with the private equity firm, Clements fell in love with entrepreneurs and small businesses. “Small businesses are really the heart of America. They drive so much of our economy and create so many jobs. It took me back to my roots,” said Clements, the daughter of an enterprising Choctaw businessman.
Those experiences advising small business owners inspired Clements to found We The People in 2015. Her business solutions consulting firm focuses its energy and expertise on developing entrepreneurs and senior leaders, and growing small businesses and non-profit organizations. Specializing in mergers, acquisitions and turnarounds, We The People works with companies positioned for high growth. The Choctaw, woman-owned company has a passion for Indian Country and working with tribes, tribal enterprises and Native-owned small businesses.
Providing C-level solutions is the firm’s bread-and-butter. “A medium-sized or large-sized organization has the capacity and the financial resources to hire CEOs, COOs, or Chief Marketing Officers, or Chief Financial Officers. Small businesses don’t necessarily have that capacity, nor do they have the financial resources to enable them to do that,” Clements explained. “One of the services that my firm offers is that we have CFO-for-hire services; we have a CHRO [Chief Human Resources Officer]-for-hire; our COOs help clients build their operations; and we also have CEOs-for-hire.”
If the entrepreneur wants to become the CEO, the CEO-for-hire plays somewhat of a mentoring role, Clements explained.
Clements serves as president of We The People. Seven partners with very specific areas of
expertise help meet clients’ needs. For instance, one of her partners is a CFO and a CPA by trade. “She oversees bookkeeping and all levels of finance and accounting projects, depending on what an organization needs,” Clements said.
A consistent theme or trend that Clements has identified among entrepreneurs and business owners is a fear or disdain for all things finance and accounting. “I want to teach entrepreneurs and small business owners the importance of the numbers. The numbers tell a story,” Clements said.
We The People also boasts internal and external human resources consultants and professionals. “We have marketing, PR and communications [teams]. I’ve got a holistic consulting firm that really fills every functional area of the business,” Clements continued. “Strategic planning, operational execution, and mission, vision and values is our strength.”
Her firm begins each client engagement with a half-day assessment of the business, product, service, and existing staff. “Then we get intimate about the owner, founder, entrepreneur, or whoever is running that business. I really want to understand who they are and what their mission or values are. Then we pick it apart further and look at their culture—what kind of culture do they have or what kind of culture are they trying to build? All of those answers will help me identify what type of leadership training is needed,” Clements explained.
Many of the services that Clements’ firm offers are “a la carte” and tailored specifically to the organization. “Leadership theory is leadership theory, but not all of it applies to a particular business. It’s not really a ‘one size fits all.’ I like to tailor leadership development programs to the business that I’m working with,” Clements continued.
When Clements isn’t helping Native-owned businesses expand, she’s strategizing ways to help create sustainable companies and jobs in Indian Country. For instance, she’s currently working with a non-Native client who is interested in doing business in Indian Country. Clements shared: “He has called on my firm to help him do business with the tribes. I am serving as a liaison between those two worlds, non-Native business and tribes, which requires me to intimately understand his business model, his product, who he is, and where he might be best served in terms of working with a tribe. I’m targeting tribes that have a commitment to economic development—and specifically tribes that have a really high unemployment rate. I really want to bring businesses to tribes and help them create jobs and stimulate their economies.”
Clements underscored her concern about the scarcity of jobs on reservations. “People are getting a high school degree and they’re leaving. People who go to tech schools are not sticking around the reservations, because job opportunities are scarce. I want to partner with tribes, tribal enterprises, Native-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to help create an atmosphere where the money is being made on the reservation, jobs are being created, and employment conditions are improving. Strategy, attraction and retention is the name of the game,” she said.
Beyond her consulting business, Clements is a co-founder of a nonprofit organization called Matriarch. This organization cultivates a deeper relationship with Indian Country. Matriarch advocates for Native women and children. The three-year-old nonprofit provides direct services and resources for indigenous women. The organization offers a 9-month program with specific curriculum with courses being led 100 percent by Native women. The organization now has chapters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and is currently expanding.
When Clements envisions the future, she sees herself further entrenched in helping Indian Country. “I live for the betterment and improvement of Indian Country. I live to serve my people, and protect our culture, language and traditions,” she said.
Clements also plans to grow We The People, so that she can serve more. Her greatest mission is to empower Indian Country. “I want to continue to impact and positively affect the living conditions and economic conditions of our tribes and small businesses,” she said.
Kendra Wilson-Clements (Choctaw), President of We The People Consulting, LLC, a Native-owned management consulting firm, will give one of her trademark impactful speeches during The 2018 Master of Ceremonies at The Gathering 2018 Business Summit, the fifth annual summit hosted by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma, October 7-9, 2018, at Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma. (Read Native Business Magazine’s article “AICCO: 25 Years of Building an Entrepreneurial Community in Oklahoma.”)