Christopher Black is the CEO of KB Resource Group, Inc based in Washington, DC. Chris has more than 25 years of business and human resource operations and consulting experience. He began his career as an HR consultant and HR director with GE. He also served as an HR business partner and HR manager for Nokia and Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN). His consulting clients have included Raytheon, Applied Materials, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Ritz Carlton, Deloitte Consulting, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Chris holds an MBA degree from the University of Virginia, Darden Graduate School of Business, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the College of William & Mary. He serves on several non profit boards and volunteers actively in the DC area.
How did you get started in your career?
The foundation for my professional career was formed from my very early work experiences. Although I didn’t necessarily need to, I always wanted to work to earn my own money. My first ‘job’ was in the fifth grade where I managed my own paper route. My family lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the time — one of many stops growing up as a military brat — and lake effect snow made a paper route particularly challenging. I had to interview and apply for this role yet it was also like purchasing a franchise because even though I got paid, I also had to invest in it. It was my first lesson in appreciating customer service, being an entrepreneur and all the facets of purchasing -even as a fifth grader.
During my undergraduate studies, I took a job as a bank teller working with over 200 customers a day and learning how to handle money. It came with invaluable customer service training that cemented the basics of always closing with a thank you and listening well to all of a customer’s objections.
This experience led me to pursue a role with a Wall Street bank as my first job out of college. All of my early jobs -and there were many more – also helped me learn what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want to do and unearthed my value for working hard while also really enjoying what I do.
To what do you credit your success from your background or work or life experiences?
Many things. I had a formative grounding in HR while on a Human Resource Leadership Development Program at General Electric. That, combined with the network I built during those years, served me well as I later pursued an entrepreneurial career path and launched and grew my own business.
Living a military life, we moved every two to three years. That helped ingrain in me a change orientation and an ability to be comfortable being ‘different’ and a ‘foreigner.’ We lived in Milwaukee; Lincoln, Nebraska; Heidelberg, Germany; and Washington, DC to name a few. Today, that agility and cultural appreciation is so essential.
I also had an aunt who was a great role model who I learned so much from. She was an entrepreneur who had to get past many barriers in the 1940s and 50s as an African American woman building and running her own real estate business – and she thrived. She was intelligent and savvy and really knew how to work with people. She was only 5 feet tall but had such a strong presence and confidence.
Any philosophies on work, life or the balance of work and life?
I don’t usually dwell on the past or overly think about what I might do differently. I look ahead from where I am. We all make mistakes, but in retrospect, there is always learning in those choices knowing that they were our own choices to make.
I’m a big believer in working hard AND taking breaks.It’s so important to schedule breaks and give them equal priority and make sure they happen. I treat exercise, meals and breaks in my busy schedule as I would any other meeting with myself as the priority. We all have the power to calendar ourselves as a first priority. So many people are risking real burnout today which is serious. Balancing life, work and health are essential skills for success in life today. We have to be responsible to ourselves first.
What’s still on your career bucket list that you would intend to do someday?
I’d like to do more non-profit and service work. I don’t think I fully knew the value of it until the pandemic. I have been delivering food to about eight families each Friday now for several months, and it gives me the chance to interact with people who are in great need and are so thankful. These are people in tough neighborhoods, some with disabilities or tough situations and it has changed my values.
I am no longer interested in fancy titles and the financials. I want to continue to be customer facing and interact with and solve customer’s problems. I want to do what I like and am most passionate about so that I get up every day and I am excited. I don’t want to wait until later in life for that; I want to do it now! I no longer want to live to work, I want to work so that I can live.
What are some bits of advice would you give someone regarding work or career?
I learned a lot from my father, a Military Colonel, regarding leadership skills and the importance of understanding the impact of your words and actions on others. It’s really all the basics–be respectful, think before you speak, have empathy and give eye contact. This is easy to understand but harder to consistently put into practice.
Also, really get to know your core values -what matters most to you -which can take a journey of trial and error. Then you can explore the ways in which you can tie those values to make a living, leading to true fulfillment.
Along the way, we all have to take better care of ourselves. Understand that we may not be 100% all of the time in life. Mental health, managing stress, anxiety and depression are more important than ever and not enough on our radar. There isn’t a way to forge a great life and career unless we are healthy and resilient.