Kelly Kinahan grew up and went to school in Liverpool, NY where she graduated in 1991. While growing up she took after her father and enjoyed drawing, which would ultimately lead to her love for design and began architectural design classes as early as 11th grade. After high school she would attend Philadelphia University for 2 years before returning home to Central New York where she went to work and had her daughter, Alyssa. When she was ready to go back to school, Kinahan continued to follow her passion for interior design and enrolled at Onondaga Community College (OCC) in 1997. “OCC was great for me because I was balancing work, a family and finances, and I knew that if I wanted to advance myself in the industry I needed at least an associate’s degree,” she said.
While in the Interior Design program, Kinahan was part of a collective mix of both traditional and non-traditional aged students who would end up coming together and collaborate often. “We learned from each other,” she said, “any stigma of being an older student was gone by the first class because we were all there to support one another and learn.” In addition to the strong student connection, the faculty within the department also would become an important component to the success of the students not only during their time at the College, but in their professional careers as well. “The faculty were so supportive and encouraged this tight-knit family style classroom structure,” Kinahan said, “Ken Bobis in particular was instrumental in getting me excited about the work, new ideas and the creative elements involved.”
Upon graduating from OCC in 2000, she and her family would move to Boston where she worked at Creative Office Pavilion (a Herman Miller dealer) specializing in their HealthCare line. She was getting along well enough when she was laid off due to cutbacks following the tragic events of September 11. Facing a tough job market due to a declining economy, she would reach back out to a familiar face for some advice on what to do next. “I called Ken to discuss my options and to see what he recommended,” Kinahan said. The result of their discussion would have her going back to school for her bachelor’s at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, which had accepted several OCC architecture and interior design grads in the past. All of her credits from OCC would be accepted, so she would start as a full-time junior and major in Facilities Planning and Management. “That was an intense time,” Kinahan said, “however, my motivation was my daughter [Alyssa], who would sometimes have to go to class with me, and I would work weekends to help pay bills, but I wanted to complete my Bachelor of Science within 2 years.”
After graduating from Wentworth, she was hired at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and worked on the renovations of science and research labs. Little did she know at the time, but this work would end up being the foundation and passion for the years ahead. “I loved it,” she said, “I was utilizing my two degrees each day, which gave me a feeling of maximizing my investment.” Two years later a recruiter provided an opportunity at a biotechnology start-up that needed to be relocated to a larger space, which she completed successfully and stayed on with the company for an additional two years as Director of Operations. After that, the company was looking to move out West, which Kinahan knew she could not do, but she instead saw an opportunity and established herself as a private consultant who would handle company moves and renovations, which turned out to be quite profitable. It was 2008 and at the time there was no urge or even a thought of another possible move since she was beginning to make a name for herself and establish contacts throughout New England. Unbeknownst to her a chance encounter would lead to just that.
“I was home on a visit with my daughter and during a conversation with an acquaintance they had asked me if I had given any thought to moving home to spend more time with family” she said. The comment would have lasting effects on her and it was not long after that she found herself emailing Syracuse University (SU) and what once was the Metropolitan Development Agency looking to build her network and establish her consulting expertise to this area. After getting a contract with SU, her and her daughter moved back home to her parents place in Liverpool, which happened to be the same house she grew up in. They would stay there for the next 3 years. “There were many times where I almost moved back to Boston,” she said, “starting over was tough, but I wanted to make this work for me and my daughter.” After several years consulting, Kinahan would find some relief in 2011 when she was hired by SUNY Upstate Medical University to work in Facility Design Services, which allowed her to get back on her feet and get a place of her own, but her success was short lived when she lost her job due to budget cuts in 2013. Unrelenting, she took a buy out as part of her exit from Upstate and invested the money into her consultant business, Kinahan Associates LLC, updated her website and most importantly re-obtained Women Business Enterprise (WBE) Certification from New York State so she could market herself better to area businesses.
Her business was moving along with various projects, when another chance encounter the following year would create an opportunity she did not see coming. She was a one woman shop at the time and was not able to bring on any staff, when she was in a local boutique at the checkout counter. “The associate there saw my business card and started to ask questions” she said, “I told her I did not have the funds to hire staff, but she indicated all she needed was an internship credit for her MBA class and from there it was history.” The boutique associate was Gabrielle “Gabby” Lustrinelli, who after reviewing Kinahan’s website was intrigued and took on a six month internship from October 2014 – March 2015. As it turned out the timing of this unexpected partnership came just at the right time.
In February of that year Kinahan received a call from Union College who was experiencing major flooding due to a pipe burst, so they were in need of major moves and renovation to four floors of laboratories and classrooms. “That was one of our larger jobs to date so Gabby came on just at the right time,” Kinahan said, “I entrusted her with a lot of responsibility very quickly and she performed very well and each day on the project I felt so appreciative I had her assistance.” The two soon discovered they worked very well together and as additional projects developed Gabby had to manage the Union project independently. As a result, in December of 2015, she was promoted to Assistant Project Manager and the two continue to network, submitted proposals and bring in new business. When working on these new ventures Kinahan often goes back to her time at OCC and lessons of the faculty there. “Looking back, the biggest thing I take away from my time at OCC was the importance of communication,” she said, “you must listen, research, team, plan and execute in order understand the needs of your client and contribute to a project’s success”
Sitting in her office and having an opportunity to think of her story Kinahan cannot help but smile. “Despite all the sacrifice, hardships and setbacks I wouldn’t change anything,” Kinahan said, “for a time we had 4 generations of women living in the same house for an extended period and I am so grateful for that now.” In addition to the family connection, the move home also allowed Kinahan to be able to follow through on a dream of hers, which was obviously important to her on a professional level, but this achievement was more significant as she looked to set a positive example for her daughter, Alyssa. “She made this journey with me and the whole way I wanted to show her that despite what life throws at you, you can still achieve what you want to do as long you put in the effort,” she said. Alyssa, who is starting her second semester freshmen year at a college back in Boston ironically, interned for her mom over the winter break this past year and the experience was something Kinahan will never forget. “I had her report to Gabby for obvious reasons,” she said laughing, “but once she caught on with what we were doing the energy and interest she brought everyday was tremendous, and it was really a special moment I will always cherish.”