SMPS Member Kim Pipkin

August 17, 2021

In our member spotlight, Kim Pipkin takes time out of her busy day to chat with SMPS. Kim is founder/principal of Black Kite Consulting and president-elect of SMPS San Francisco, and sits on the SMPS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. In this spotlight, Kim shares the rewards of her career and the benefits of being an SMPS member.

How did you decide to have a career in the A/E/C industries? I wanted to be an architect and attended UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design Graduate program. However, I decided instead to focus on marketing and business development. This was due to having worked closely with a design firm principal (prior to grad school) who mentored me in marketing and client relations. I realized I preferred business, money, strategy, negotiations, competition, and working with people. Sitting at the drafting table wasn’t for me.

How would you describe your role/job? I’ve been in every position possible, from a marketing assistant to the director.

What’s your favorite part of the job? Strategic business and pursuit planning are my ministry. I especially love client retention and development because it involves engagement with people from all walks of life. I was born for selling in all its facets.

What have been the challenges and rewards of your career? When I started my career, I was one of two Black women (my boss Gwen Powell Todd and me) doing marketing and business development. I had to overachieve and work harder to be taken seriously … despite my successes. I had two advanced degrees, and was most often one of the smartest people in the room. However, I was compensated the least and considered overhead even though my contributions were a priority. Frequently, I felt voiceless and expendable.

Another challenge is working for firms that don’t value marketing and treat it as a support function. It’s difficult to do your best when marketing isn’t funded properly or needed resources are overlooked.

Despite the challenges, the rewards of my career are many. I’ve been able to make a good living, hone specific skills, develop new interests, and establish an amazing network of like-minded colleagues and many personal friends. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my career has been the ability to mentor, coach, and advocate for those entering the profession.

What has been your most meaningful project? It’s true that I feel a degree of pride seeing certain projects I’ve pursued be designed and ultimately, built. That said, identifying new opportunities and clients are what matter most to me because it involves strategy, partnerships, collaboration, focus, and bit of magical thinking. Meaningfulness for me is human-centered. Additionally, I’ve worked for several small, local, women and minority-owned firms. Stewarding these organizations and positioning them to win new work and compete with larger firms is priceless.

Why is membership in SMPS important to you and how has it helped you to advance your firm and your career? I began my career years ago as a marketing assistant at a blue chip architecture firm in San Francisco. I learned about SMPS through a new career opportunity to become a marketing coordinator. My boss Gwen was president of SMPS San Francisco, so I helped with a range of SMPS activities, including setting up events, making follow-up calls, and preparing and sending out documents.

I’m here today, 25 years later, crediting SMPS with my career journey. I’m putting a bow on things by becoming president-elect of SMPS San Francisco in September 2021.

What has contributed to your success? Contributions to my success include having a great education, personal drive, and the opportunity to work at a variety of firms across all disciplines. It’s always been about learning for me. I’m grateful for having a few key mentors (and some adversaries) who ignited my career and helped shape my character.

What advice would you give someone about to enter marketing or business development? Be bold. Take risks. Do everything. Raise your hand. Focus. Gain clarity. Roll up your sleeves. Speak out. Push yourself. Know your worth. Ask for help. Bring someone along. Discover your passion. Take on leadership roles. Seek out mentors and coaches. Be of service to others.

What’s the best advice you’ve received regarding your career or working in A/E/C? The advice I’ve received hasn’t been verbal but through the action of others. My top four are: Don’t worry about making mistakes, because the value of what you learn is immeasurable. Chase purpose, not money by being exemplary in everything you do. Stand your ground on the things you know are right. You belong in the room where important conversations happen.

What’s the best career advice you’ve given? Believe in yourself and surround yourself with the best and brightest people possible. Establish lofty goals and make them happen.

What’s on your bucket list? Redeem the airline ticket to Canada that I couldn’t use due to COVID-19 (Quebec City).  Travel to Japan. Become a real estate investor and philanthropist. Own a nice property with a beautiful home designed by me with an amazing garden. Get a Ph.D or Ed.D and become a multi-millionaire by the age of 70.

Guilty pleasure: What can you not live without?

  • Amazing bed linens. I love high-quality sheets. I don’t, however, like a bunch of decorative pillows, shams, and frilly bed skirts.
  • Bath/shower with high water pressure.
  • Beautiful, well-made clothes and shoes.
  • Giant sticky notes for scribing and colored markers
  • My fancy journal, books, podcasts, audiobooks, and music.
  • The ability to cook fresh food and share it with others.
  • My labradoodle and daughter.