- Chief Operating Officer, Voalte
“Show you’re willing to get in there and start shoveling. Make smart choices, be generous, and be diplomatic – but speak your mind…If you can apply common sense to problems and solve them calmly, you’ll get noticed. I promise.” – Kenda West
Driven by the passion and success of her high school field hockey coach, Kenda West was molded at an early age to have discipline and always dig deep in the pursuit of her goals. Landing in the health care IT space just three days after her last exam in college, Kenda first entered health care in 1983. This year, Kenda joined Voalte, a company specializing in mobile smartphone applications that caregivers use, as its Chief Operating Officer.
WZ: When you first launched into the professional world, what career paths were you considering and how did you end up where you are?
I’d like to say I planned a career in Health care IT or Strategy and Business Development. The truth is, I was barely 21 when I was hired by a hospital in Salisbury, Maryland, that believed in investing in early technology. My aunt worked at the hospital as a nurse and told me they were going to start putting in some “computer systems.”
It was 1983. The economy wasn’t great, so I was just happy to have a job. I started with a Business/Information Systems degree, a half-tank of gas and $6. I took my last exam on a Thursday and started at work the following Monday. I grew up in the area, so I was able to “sponge” off of my family until I got my first paycheck.
I knew nothing about health care, but I was quickly launched into managing people and fairly large projects. My most applicable training at that point was having been the responsible first-born child in my family and developing customer service skills waiting tables during the summers.
Over the next decade, I got to be a fly on the wall in each department of the hospital as we implemented every system available at the time. It was the best training program ever. I had wandered into Health care IT, and had no idea how the industry would take off or where it would lead me.
WZ: How do you invest in developing leadership and confidence among other women
As a leader and manager, I don’t distinguish or think about developing one gender over the other. It’s my job to manage, coach, and guide everyone. Even though I’m frequently the only female “in the room,” I don’t spend much time thinking about gender.
I believe people learn by watching. That’s how I learned—by emulating the qualities I like and respect in both men and women leaders. I find leaders who are disciplined, tough but fair, and in possession of a big sense of humor and a small ego very appealing.
If I were to give advice it would be:
Step up. Be resourceful. Try to find solutions for your own problems. Show you’re willing to get in there and start shoveling. Make smart choices, be generous, and be diplomatic – but speak your mind. That’s what we all get paid to do. If you can apply common sense to problems and solve them calmly, you’ll get noticed. I promise.
WZ: What person motivates your imagination and dreams?
I had a coach in high school named Bonnie Bryan, who has since passed away. She built winning field hockey programs at a tiny rural high school year after year, with no money and less talent than any other program in the state. She was extremely tough on her players, feared by players at other schools, and wildly successful for decades. They watched her “handling” of us with amazement and wondered why anyone would ever play for her.
Interestingly, Coach Bryan never even played field hockey. She wasn’t up on the latest strategies or coaching techniques. But she made sure we were the best-conditioned, disciplined, confident, and unselfish teammates that ever stepped on a field. We wore out better-skilled teams in the first half of the game and wiped the field with them in the second half.
She was a passionate, disciplined leader and taught us powerful life lessons at an early age: Dig down when you’re tired, sometimes you have to play hurt, and “stars” don’t win games—teams do. She positively impacted the lives of women for 30 years. To this day, former players from different decades share a bond because they endured and succeeded in her program.
I’m humbled by the fact that whatever I do in my career, I will probably never make as profound a difference in people’s lives as she did. I have a huge print of her in my office, and I’m still inspired when I reflect on her drive, passion, success, and the hundreds of young women she molded and loved.
WZ: How do you pursue creatively flexing your leadership talents?
One way to flex is to put yourself in a new situation, which is what I’ve done by joining Voalte as COO. Leadership talents should be transferable, but throw in new people, a young company, the challenge of a developing mHealth market, and voilà—I have an amazing opportunity to “flex” my leadership talents!
WZ: What do you do to stay inspired?
It may sound boring, but successfully bringing a project to closure inspires me. That moment when you decide what to tackle or explore next is refreshing and rewarding. Every time you get a chance to start a fresh topic or project, it’s a clean slate. There’s a little bit of renewal in that moment.
Disruptive Women in Health Care proudly recognizes Kenda West as one of its 2014 Women to Watch.
- Lisa Shufro: Woman to Watch 2014
- Beth Toner: Woman to Watch 2014
- Kavita Patel: Woman to Watch 2014
- Nancy Green: Woman to Watch 2014
- Jen Hyatt: Woman to Watch 2014
- Cathy Polley: Woman to Watch 2014
- Jeanne Pinder: Woman to Watch 2014
- Pam Cipriano: Woman to Watch 2014
- Kenda West: Woman to Watch 2014
- Rebecca Mitchell Coelius: Woman to Watch 2014