What started 14 years ago as a female-led, minority-owned consulting business for corporate and ministerial clients, Omaha-based K Watson Group has grown to an industry leader that is serving large-scale government, educational institutions and corporate clients.
“Our work is project based and, in some cases, for private clients we continue to provide back office supportive services,” said President Karen Watson. “In 2019, seeking to expand our business model further, we acquired a manufacturing corporation specializing in the heavy-duty air filtration market.”
In 2020, that business, the International Filter Manufacturing Corp., developed a four-layer, surgical-grade face mask, becoming, Watson said, one of the few companies in the U.S. making personal protective equipment.
Endorsed by Omaha-based wound care physician, Dr. Douglas Weedman, the product was sold at the Hy-Vee Peony Park location and placed on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus and rail terminals in Illinois for passengers and employees alike.
“Today we operate our businesses in Nebraska and Illinois,” Watson said. “We are expecting continued growth in both locations.”
More recently, in early May K Watson Group announced that it was recently awarded a sole-source 8(a) professional services contract by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide insights into the administration of the Food and Progress Program, specifically related to the monetization of commodities in foreign markets.
Desire to Do Good
Established in 1985, the USDA’s FFP helps developing countries and emerging democracies to modernize and strengthen their ag sectors. K Watson Group is partnering with Burlington Capital affiliate, Cantera Partners, to provide recommendations that will improve the monetization of commodities in foreign markets.
“I am just honored to be in this arena and [to] learn from each other,” Watson said, adding that she had no knowledge of Cantera until they vetted each other as potential project partners. “Putting on my due diligence hat, I met Mike Jung and his colleagues, and I was thoroughly impressed with the passion that they have for this work.”
In its 20-plus years, Cantera has reportedly successfully monetized more than $345 million of USDA and USAID allocated commodities worldwide.
For her part, Watson formerly worked in the federal government (both defense and health and human services). Her pursuit of the project was motivated by the opportunity to “make positive change.”
“Food is a basic need that is often taken for granted when you have access and seemingly an abundance,” Watson added. “The global COVID experience has shown the world how quickly commodities can become scarce and basic needs can easily not be met.”
In travels abroad and domestically, she has seen the disparities firsthand.
“The USDA contract was an opportunity to be a part of shaping the future of the monetization of food commodities, to ensure the integrity of the program remains intact,” she said.
Born to Lead
Watson comes from a family of entrepreneurs. She recalled carrying a “baby doll and a briefcase” at the same time.
“This love for doing [business] comes from all of my experiences,” she said. “I wanted it to be more than just a hobby. This is bigger than I am. I do not limit myself out of fear.”
As part of a corporate reorganization, the Watson family moved to Omaha. She would go on to parlay her formal corporate finance and accounting education and training into work with several industry groups and disciplines — financial, marketing, purchasing and ops, and in consumer beverage, defense, health care and transportation segments.
“I never worried about the title of the job I held,” Watson said. “I was more focused on what I would contribute and what I would learn from each experience.”
In 2008, when confronted with relocation yet again, Watson took a leap of faith.
“I was not opposed to the move,” she explained. “I had relocated several times before, which is how I arrived in Omaha, but this time I just did not feel a move was right.”
Watson followed her instincts, and pursued more of what she loved by founding the consulting firm that bears her name. In the beginning, most of Watson’s clients came from speaking engagements and satisfied customers. Now, she is known within the industry, acquiring notable projects and contracts. In fact, other major (and national) collaborations are in the works at the time of this writing.
“I listen to [clients] and get to the heart of their issue, problem and concern, and with empathy,” she said. “I can create creative solutions. I think fast and quick. I am compassionate … there is no problem that anyone would ever face that I have not experienced in some way personally, or by helping another client excel.”