Surviving the Pandemic

A Saint Mary’s alumna helps small businesses weather the storm

Saint Mary's alumna, Kathy DiseKathy Korhumel Dise ’75 runs a company that provides bookkeeping services to small businesses and nonprofits in Northeast Ohio. In 2020, Kathy’s role changed. As the CARES Act distributed money to companies across the country to help them stay afloat, Kathy and her team guided her clients through the application process, making sure they could take full advantage of the program. Through it all, Kathy made it her mission to calm her clients’ fears, providing the information they needed to file quickly. She soon channeled her advice into a weekly newsletter, focusing on what her clients and their families could do that week to stay physically and financially healthy. Kathy is a woman of action, intent upon easing the burdens of those who surround her. Now, many months into the pandemic, we asked Kathy about this extraordinary time. 

Saint Mary’s College: Kathy, you have the leadership qualities we talk about so much at Saint Mary’s. Where does this come from?
Kathy Dise:
I consider myself a servant leader. Saint Mary’s taught me that anything is possible, and that I can learn anything. Saint Mary’s also modeled treating others kindly, which has always been essential to my business and my leadership style. My employees’ and clients’ needs are my number one priority.

The core values of my business are “Having fun while getting things done” and “Better together.”  Saint Mary’s instilled these core values in me. Activities with friends in and out of the classroom were always fun, and “Better Together” is what Saint Mary’s was all about!!

SMC: We suspect that you’re seen as a counselor as much as a bookkeeper. Is that accurate?
 I consider myself a cheerleader for my clients. We celebrate their accomplishments. At Saint Mary’s I had a very rocky start with a dismal grade point average at the end of my freshman year (0.75!). Gail Mandel, the Dean of Student at the time, called me into her office and said ‘We are going to figure this out and make it through’. And we did.  

When a client struggles financially, they are often fearful or feel lost. I am always confident that we will figure it out, just like Gail helped me. Over and over again I have seen companies struggle with cash flow or losses, but in time with persistence and attention to detail they get back on track. We listen, we offer encouragement, we are optimistic, and we provide the data they need to make good decisions.

SMC: Have you always approached your business this way?
 Yes. My greatest joy is learning what businesses are doing. Where did the owner get their idea to start their business? What are their dreams for the business? Every day I get to learn about new businesses and help them realize their goals.

SMC: Have you noticed a shift in the way your small business clients are approaching their day-do-day?
 Small businesses are working harder than ever and many are not seeing the sales and profits they had in 2019, through no fault of their own. We have had to figure out how to be efficient working from home, how to communicate virtually, how to keep our team’s energy up, how to come back to the office safely, how to provide support for employees with children at home from school trying to keep up with virtual learning, and how to provide a service or product in a constantly changing ecosystem. We are all working hard!

SMC: It’s been more than eight months since the pandemic began to impact the nation’s economy, some non-profits have been hit especially hard. How are your clients doing?
 Like many for-profit organizations they are struggling financially. Non-profits are preparing cash forecasts and scenario planning like for-profit companies. Planning is hard in the current environment. A good cash forecast allows non-profits to make tough decisions about their programming and staffing. Fundraising is different, too. On the positive side, donors have been understanding.  

SMC: What is the best advice you’ve received over the course of the pandemic? 
“Never waste a good crisis” is attributed to Winston Churchill and has inspired me and keeps me optimistic during the pandemic. As a result, I am aggressively implementing new ways to grow my business. We have hired experts to help us better understand our clients and I am providing more educational opportunities for my team. 

SMC: What have you discovered about yourself over the years?
KD, laughs:
I won’t lose my keys if I always attach them to my purse. Seriously, when I take care of my health (for example, get enough sleep) I am more able to help my family, employees and clients. 

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