Cindy Rockwell
Chief information officer and managing partner, Keyot LLC, West Des Moines
Current city: Carlisle
Hometown: Albia

Talk a little about Keyot.

Keyot is a certified women's business enterprise consulting company founded in 2008 and based in St. Paul, Minn. We currently have three locations in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Des Moines and Dallas/Fort Worth, and we are launching a fourth office in Charlotte/Raleigh, N.C. We work to identify and secure business and information technology professionals to work with our clients to support their business goals, with a key focus on the insurance and financial services industries.

Keyot's founders, Laura Kelly-Gorman and Anjie Cayot, are sisters. Both have been in the consulting business for many years. I met the women through their father, Bill Kelly, retired chief information officer and vice president with Principal Financial Group Inc., who was my first mentor and employer after college. We have known each other for over 25 years and consider ourselves "sisters from a different mother."

How big is the business's footprint?  

Keyot operates as a boutique firm in each market with a goal of 50-75 consultants. Our ability to maintain the "high-touch" model with our consultants -- especially those we are mentoring -- is key to our success, so we are careful not to grow too big in any one market. Keyot revenue will top $21,000,000 in 2016.

If you were to explain what Keyot does to someone not familiar with your industry or business model, how would you describe it? What sets it apart from other women-owned businesses?  

Keyot is like a dating service except instead of romance, we're focused on professional excellence. We help make "great matches" for professionals and companies. Our hope is that the result is a "good relationship" or perhaps a "great marriage." Keyot operates in a very male-dominated industry of technical staffing. The community of female technology professionals is growing, but slowly. We pride ourselves in highlighting the fantastic careers that are available in technology and the incredible mentors that helped shape our careers.

Tell us about the new training center in West Des Moines.
The Keyot training center is a 1,200-square-foot addition we felt was key to our ongoing passion around training for all of our consultants. The space is used for our Crew212 Boot Camp held in Des Moines (with our recent college hires) at least twice per year. It's also used for monthly lunch and learns, discussing current trends in the industry, sharpening skills, hosting industry speakers and more.

Why did you go into a STEM field?
My high school math teacher started a BASIC programming class for advanced students, and I loved it. I applied to attend Indian Hills in Ottumwa and was on a waiting list for their IT Development track. Meanwhile, I headed to Northwest Missouri State University (now Truman) for an accounting degree, but three days before leaving for Missouri, I received a call from Indian Hills that I was moved up from their wait list. I started the following week at Indian Hills instead of Missouri.

Why does Iowa have such a shortage of women in STEM fields?
We do not promote STEM hard enough in our educational system, and specifically speaking to technology. We need to embrace the fact that Iowa has a really good public educational system and bring technology to the junior high and high school levels as required curriculum under math credits in today's technology age.  

What challenges did the company's leaders encounter as women trying to start a STEM-based business? 
The biggest challenge was arranging financing. When sisters Anjie and Laura originally went to the bank to arrange for financing to start the business, the banker asked if their dad would co-sign the loan. They were dumbfounded. Needless to say, they walked out of that bank and worked with a bank that was eager to work with three successful technology professionals regardless of our gender. As Keyot moves forward, our biggest challenge is getting more young people interested in a career in technology. We work hard to model to all of our young people, especially young women, what a fantastic career we have had. 

What advice do you have for other female business owners or entrepreneurs?  
Be persistent and confident in your ability to deliver on your business vision. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Surround yourself with an informal group of advisers, including business, legal, financial and sales. The ability to talk through your idea with trusted advisers is key. And find a banker who believes in you.  

Do you have any advice on handling growth or overcoming challenges?
It's an ongoing challenge to manage our growth and success, along with our personal values, but having great partners and a highly effective team makes our success work! Growth takes cash flow, so plan carefully and accordingly. If you don't have a good accountant who can project your cash flow forward, get one. Decide the 8-10 metrics you are going to measure and have your accountant send those to you regularly. Remember, you can't manage what you can't measure. There is always a solution to every challenge. This is when having your informal board of advisers is so important.

How else do you spend your time?

I am part of the executive leadership team for Go Red for Women, Technology Association of Iowa, Million Women Mentors-Iowa, Make-a-Wish of Iowa, and the St. Elizabeth Seton Capital Campaign.