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The Business Elite: CEO of the Year - New York

July 28, 2016

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The New York Grant Company, an award-winning woman-owned, private consulting business founded in 2002 and specialized in helping businesses, not-for-profits, and entire communities obtain grants and other economic incentives primarily from government. 

Ann Kayman, CEO, has been at the helm since the company’s inception 14 years ago.

“As CEO, owner, and founder of the company, I am responsible for overall leadership, vision, and management,” she begins. “I determine and guide the company's direction and serve as the primary voice and face of the business. 

“Our niche is highly specialized. Not a lot of people do what we do. As such, our business by its own nature is highly innovative:  we navigate the maze of economic incentives available to for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises.  These include grants, tax breaks, energy discounts and rebates, loans, and other forms of benefits designed to stimulate economic growth. We navigate federal, state, county, and local programs, bundling these wherever possible to maximize our clients' rewards while minimizing their hassle. We handle the process of winning these awards from beginning to end -- from initial research and pre-screening, collection of documents and data, preparation of applications, negotiation of awards contracts, and compliance with ongoing program reporting and requirements to keep benefits flowing.  The better we are able to master each step, and the more programs we are able to master in every jurisdiction, the more successful and valuable we become as a service to our clients and as a business overall.”

The firm is small and Ann works hand-in-hand with her staff daily matters, as well as handling important client assignments, serving on various Boards and working committees as part of the company's public role, and making critical decisions for the company, including financial decisions, significant hiring and HR decisions, matters of compensation, and public relations. 

“Over time, as we have evolved and matured, I have been able to delegate more and more responsibilities to my executive team and managers.  I took on the role of CEO from day one and I aspired to be an entrepreneur when I started the business - I am still learning and growing to this day.” 

Ann began her career in 1985 as a lawyer in New York City, working for a mid-sized international boutique law firm which represented primarily Japanese companies entering the US market.  She worked as a commercial litigator - the only female litigator in the New York office for many years, before moving to another firm in the City, again practicing corporate litigation for large, primarily international clients. 

“It was great, challenging work,” she enthuses. “I learned a lot and got to work alongside some of the best minds in the country.  In 1998, I was invited to serve in the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as Senior VP for economic development at the NYC Economic Development Corporation.  My job was to recruit businesses to the City from all around the world, and it was both an honor and a labor of love.  After 9/11, I worked at NYCEDC to help direct aid to more than 20,000 businesses affected by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  In 2002, I left public service to forge my own path as an entrepreneur, while staying closely tied to the world of economic development, working this time on the client side.  So in a way, my role as advocate came full circle.”  Today, Ann’s work integrates all of her professional experiences - as lawyer, activist, advocate, and economic developer. 

As CEO, Ann manages her staff in terms of providing direction, vision, and guidance without micro-managing.  “I troubleshoot issues as they arise. I also manage some key client relationships and keep ‘my hands dirty’ by handling actual files, although the vast majority of our client matters are handled directly by my team.”

Ann describes her team as outstanding, and claims they make it possible to handle a great volume of work with exceptional skill and client service.  “We have key principles, these being:  1) The client comes first. 2) The team is everything in terms of doing our work. We honour, support, and respect each other in all that we do. 3) We stay hungry and curious. We are constantly learning and adapting. 4) We grow organically and strategically at every step.  5) We take joy in what we do. 6)  We maintain a good sense of humour and humility, not taking ourselves or anyone else too seriously!”

For Ann to dive off the proverbial cliff and become an entrepreneur at the ripe age of 42 was a big deal.  “I had no clue what to expect, and there was no manual to follow!” she laughs. “I had to take it on faith that I would be able to make it work, and every six months when I would look back over my shoulder, I would think, "Hey, I guess it's working so far!" 

As can be expected, there were countless bumps along the way, but Ann can now appreciate these as rites of passage.  “Even now, 14 years later, I am still learning, making mistakes, changing course upon lessons learned, and searching for that damn manual! (Note to self: write entrepreneurial manual.)” 

Ann states her key strengths are her drive and her passion. “When I take on a task, I want to achieve the best results possible, to excel for the client, for my team, and for myself, and to prove that I am up to the job at all costs!” This kind of determination often requires dauntless energy, zeal, and stick-to-it-ness.  “It's a fire in the belly that's hard to describe,” she ponders. “I am also patient and loyal, and I totally get that as much as I think I know, there's so much more that I don't. A good sense of humour is also important for me. It keeps me grounded and sane, plus it makes life a lot more fun!”

As well as a good sense of humour, it is crucial for Ann to have a breadth and depth of understanding in her field, and it comes in very handy when meeting prospects and generating new business.  She always has our eyes out on competitors and keeps a database of them just to keep tabs and assess where her firm is relative to any competition.

“As Guy Kawasaki advises, I "eat like a bird," consuming as much information and gathering as much market intelligence as I can on a constant basis,” says Ann. “This includes intelligence on the market and the economy in general, down to specific projects, such as developments in Long Island City and movements of particular clients.”

Ann stays motivated by constantly learning new things and taking on bigger tasks with greater challenges. “We set the bar higher for ourselves every year, and the drive to get there acts as a strong motivator. We can do it!”

She is also highly motivated by the people around her particularly her staff who she states are highly professional. “We surround ourselves with enlightened and inspiring mentors, many of whom I have known since the early days of my career. Our clients are also strong motivators, because they set challenges for us on a daily basis and entrust in us such great work that we have to meet and exceed expectations at all times.” 

Despite her overwhelming success to date, Ann still firmly believes she has at least two or three careers ahead of her. “I want to write books and teach.  I will continue to mentor young people, entrepreneurs, and women.  I will continue to serve my community and pay it forward. I am also striving to build up capacity among my team to take over the work and leave a legacy. I see this as highly doable, and at this phase of life, one of my biggest jobs is empowering others.”

And Ann’s final pearls of wisdom to ensure better sales revenue and continued success?

“Practice, practice, practice!

“Learn through doing in terms of vetting prospects, setting fees, negotiating contracts.  Learn my true value proposition and be able to sell it with great enthusiasm and confidence.  Take on more services and more complex assignments with higher fees attached. 

“Keep clients forever!  This was a huge and driving principle and philosophy of my first law firm - a reflection of Japanese culture - and it has stayed with me indelibly to this day as an abiding business principle.”