Koch Industries VP Jenny Kim: “If I could inspire one thing, it would be to think about criminal justice reform as people truly helping people. Recidivism happens when inmates released from prison enter a world that they no longer know; Let’s find a way to reintegrate from day one”
My passion for reforming our criminal justice system has truly been the cornerstone of my career. It is sobering to know that one in three Americans has a criminal record. Every single person has a story. It is important for all of us to sit down, share, listen, and learn from others. I spend my weeks traveling to communities across America, speaking with people who have criminal records, learning about overcoming adversity and the struggle to find redemption. I have met countless individuals along the way that have fallen on hard times, faced addiction, or turned to crime because they knew nothing else, or living life had started to hurt too much, and no one was around to listen. If I could inspire one thing, it would be to think about criminal justice reform not in a vacuum or as a means to an end, but as people truly helping people. Recidivism happens when inmates released from prison enter a world that they no longer know, with a society that is unwilling to know them. If we can start from the ground up, begin to reintegrate from day one of incarceration, show individuals in the criminal system that there is a life outside of the prison cell — a job, a home, a community, a second chance for those who want it — we may have an opportunity to not just implement meaningful reform but reform our hearts and minds as well.
As part of my series about individuals and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Kim. Jenny is the Deputy General Counsel, Political Law & Vice President of Public Policy for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, which provides services to Koch Industries, Inc. and its affiliates. Kim leads and oversees political law compliance for the United States, including federal and state, as well as Canada and the European Union. She also manages public policy issues, including running the criminal justice reform portfolio. She serves as a board member of Due Process Institute, Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), and as an advisor to Safe Streets & Second Chances reentry initiative, and the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section’s Plea Bargaining Taskforce. In 2018, DCA LIVE named her as Top Corporate Counsel in the DC area. Before joining Koch in 2008, Ms. Kim was a senior associate at Miller & Chevalier Chartered, and an associate with Crowell & Moring, LLP. Previously, she was a Presidential Management Fellow at The White House Office of Counsel to the President and Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. Ms. Kim earned a juris doctorate from Boston College Law School and a bachelor’s degree from New York University. She is a member of the bar in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Jenny! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
You may not believe it but failure to understand second semester physics and dolls brought me to this specific career path as an attorney.
From an early age, I have been fascinated by human genetics, the inner workings of the human mind, and how this all impacts our hearts and responses to our environment. Instead of playing with dolls, I dissected them. I wanted to figure out how the anatomy worked and what made humans tick. You can imagine my disappointment when I was met with hollow plastic parts. It was then I knew, I wanted to become a neurosurgeon.
With that passion, I set off to college. By my second semester, I met physics, electricity, and the laws of thermodynamics. No matter how hard I tried, I could not comprehend these subjects. And in an instant, poof, went my dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.
But my interest in that peculiar intersection of the human mind and heart and how they combine to form our responses and reactions to our environment did not cease.
As I thought about my future, I examined professions that could help me understand the human mind. I recalibrated my dreams and decided to become an attorney. In retrospect, it was not such a far-fetched dream and one that was close to my family. My great-grandfather had been the first Chief Justice of the Korean Supreme Court when South Korea has become a republic after the end of Japanese occupation. The story of my great-grandfather and the hardships he had to endure — losing a wife to war, developing uncharted civil and criminal codes, and building a new nation — inspired me to work hard, give it my all, and become a lawyer he would be proud of.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the highlights of my career has been my work on promoting meaningful criminal justice reform. My efforts, with the full backing of Koch, have helped lead to the successful passage of the First Step Act, which focuses on giving opportunity to thousands of inmates across the country.
Recently, I attended a White House Second Chance Hiring event to celebrate First Step. The event was held in the East Room, and as usual, seating was random.
I had the great privilege of being able to sit near my friend and second chance hiring leader, Genevieve Martin of Dave’s Killer Bread, and Jeff Korzenik of Fifth Third Bank.
What I had not realized was that I was also sitting right behind Ivanka Trump and Kim Kardashian. Emails and texts came pouring in from my work colleagues and friends, saying that I was on TV!
For someone who generally avoids the cameras, it was surreal to be caught on camera at a White House event. I realized that in a very real sense, my work on criminal justice reform work had come full circle. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jared Kushner at the first criminal justice reform meeting. Presently, I had the privilege of meeting with Ivanka Trump at this Second Chance Hiring event — both individuals had played prominent roles in getting the First Step Act passed.
Life moves on though, and the work continues. Moments like this make me laugh and then I simply tuck them away.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am fairly decent at remembering names and faces, but not if I have never encountered them before. At a conference breakfast recently, I was happily munching away on my bacon when a tall, bearded gentleman sat down next to me. I quickly finished chewing, and immediately smiled.
I put my hand out, and said, “Good morning, my name is Jenny Kim. I am with Koch Industries.”
He shook my hand and responded, “Good morning, I am John Smith, and I am from the State A attorney general’s office.” (I am leaving out his name for the sake of anonymity).
I nodded and continued to smile — “Great to meet you.”
We started to idle on topics, such as current events, the state of criminal justice reform, and how Koch Industries was playing a role in his state’s criminal justice reform efforts. He then asked me if I was really a lawyer.
I kept smiling and nodded. “Yes, I am an attorney for Koch Industries. So what do you do for the State A Attorney General’s office?”
The tall bearded man looked at me over his glasses, kept silent, and then lifted his napkin to wipe his lips. He then responded, “I am the State Attorney General.”
My eyes widened and I forced myself to keep smiling. I awkwardly stated, “Ah, I should have known… so… what are the priorities in your AG office, and do you know about second chance hiring?”
It turned out that this State AG strongly supports second chance hiring and knew personally many of the second chance hiring companies. We compared notes about second chance hiring and how to ensure its success. He offered to introduce me to some second chance companies that I had heard of but did not know of directly — and with that, our breakfast ended with an exchange of cards.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Charles Koch’s passion for sustainable change has helped Koch launch a full-fledged campaign in persuading thousands of businesses hire and retain thousands of people with criminal records after serving time in prison. Known as second chance hiring, I, as well as my team at Koch Industries, have led the charge to promote career opportunity not only at Koch, but within the business community at large.
In the U.S., one in three adults has a criminal record. Each year, nearly 700,000 individuals are released from prison to find themselves often locked out of the job market. People with criminal records face potentially more than 40,000 collateral consequences that prohibit them from obtaining jobs, licenses, housing, education, and voting rights. At the same time, there are more than 7 million job openings in the U.S. as businesses fiercely compete for talent.
What’s even more concerning is the number of women within the criminal justice system. According to the Sentencing Project, between 1980 and 2017, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 225,060 in 2017. Knowing these sobering statistics, I have helped Koch Industries focus its time and treasure on promoting meaningful criminal justice reform and educating more businesses about second chance hiring and why there is a strong business case for hiring and retaining people with criminal records.
Koch Industries has played a pivotal role in the passage of the bipartisan “FIRST STEP Act,” which was the first major piece of federal criminal justice reform. This law is focused on implementing more robust in-prison education and reentry services to reduce recidivism and minor sentencing reforms. Together with Koch’s senior vice president Mark Holden, I worked with #cut50’s Van Jones, Jessica Jackson Sloan, and other liberal and conservative external stakeholders to persuade Congress to vote for this bill because this legislation will keep individuals out of prison and integrate them back into a workforce that needs talent, while also making our communities safer places in which to live and work. Since President Trump signed the bill into law, more than 1,000 individuals received retroactive sentencing reductions, and another 3,100 have just been released this month.
Our collaboration with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) has been instrumental in moving the business community forward with respect to second chance hiring. To disseminate information about this pledge and toolkit, I have traveled across the country and spoken with my peers to encourage them to sign the pledge and commit to providing second chances for thousands of Americans with criminal records. Our work led to the “Getting Talent Back to Work” initiative which focuses on providing the business community the tools they need to implement successfully second chance hiring programs. Over one thousand of America’s largest companies, trade associations, and nonprofits representing more than 50% of the U.S. workforce have signed on to Koch and SHRM’s pledge to give qualified individuals with a criminal record a new lease on life. Our team at Koch Industries have played a pivotal role in that recruitment of at least a third of the SHRM pledge signatories.
I have also led Koch’s partnership with SHRM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to focus this year’s “America Working Forward” magazine, website and event on hiring and retaining people with criminal records. The June 11th event was attended by members of the business community and media, and live-streamed to a broad audience. Over the past year, we collaborated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to develop the content for the website and magazine. For example, we provided information and introductions to more than half of the organizations highlighted in the magazine, and secured Piper Kerman as the magazine’s closing writer and keynote speaker for the event. This culminated in conjunction with a second chance hiring event at the White House on June 13th which I attended, and also identified and recommended potential invitees and speakers to stand on the stage behind President Trump. President Trump highlighted Koch’s work to break down barriers and create opportunity for thousands of Americans, and the SHRM CEO and President, Johnny Taylor, specifically recognized our leadership on second chance hiring.
Additionally, I serve as an advisory council lead for the Safe Streets and Second Chances initiative. As part of our focus on second chance hiring, Koch Industries, in collaboration with Texas Public Policy Foundation and Charles Koch Foundation, started the Safe Streets & Second Chances initiative. I focused on collaborating with Texas Public Policy Foundation and other policymakers to implement the evidence-driven best practices to ensure successful reentry and reintegration for people with criminal records. Safe Streets and Second Chances is an innovative and revolutionary initiative that combines academic research, policy reform, and evidence-driven programming to pursue the simple goal of holistic reentry plans that shift the ultimate measure of success from whether individuals are punished to whether they are improved, rehabilitated, and capable of redemption. Holistic plans and targeted reentry services and interventions will be generated concurrent with admission to incarceration to shape every individual’s prison experience. The program includes mental health support, treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse, educational and vocational training programs, and telemedicine and telecommuting for rural populations. This comprehensive program has the potential to disrupt the entire U.S. incarceration system (the largest in the world), and make a tremendous difference in the lives of the hundreds of millions of Americans affected by it.
I have worked on reforming the criminal justice system for a little over a decade, and no one does it alone. Throughout the years, I have sought out and grown a community of engaged stakeholders that are working to help get men and women seeking a new productive life back on their feet. For example, I have built a relationship with and promoting a second chance company called Televerde, one of the first signatories to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Getting Talent Back to Work pledge and toolkit.
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Televerde is a global demand generation company that specializes in helping organizations accelerate their sales pipeline. What makes the company unique is that it employs 425 women at five contact centers within the Arizona and Indiana Departments of Corrections. Televerde provides training, education, and jobs for incarcerated women both while in prison and after they are released, helping them find their voices and reach their potential. It is through this relationship that I have been able to share with external stakeholders that hiring people who want a chance to work is a win-win-win: it helps keep families together by decreasing the chance of recidivism, it supports a valuable talent pool of willing and trainable workers, and it gives people who have made mistakes and paid their debts to society, the dignity of work.
Recently in April, I assembled and moderated a second chance panel at the annual National Diversity Council conference, with an all-female panel to discuss how providing employment and career opportunities to people with criminal records, especially women with criminal records, was vital to ensuring economic empowerment and prosperity. The panelists were Michelle Cirocco of Televerde, Teisha Sanders of Florida State University, and Christina Melton-Crain of Unlocking Doors. This also led to Koch’s human resource recruiting team to enter into a contract with Unlocking Doors to recruit trained and qualified people with criminal records for Koch’s job postings.
Additionally, I am collaborating with an internal team to determine how to be more intentional about hiring and retaining people with criminal records within the Koch companies and with both suppliers and customers.
I also serve on the board of Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), an entity focused on ensuring that young college women have the skills and abilities to lead in public policy and to identify unexpected talent, such as people with criminal records. As a board member, I leverage my extensive network to ensure that young college women are exposed to as many different types of public policy careers, whether via corporate, government, academia and non-profits. I also identify diverse non-traditional women candidates for the board and advocates for their elections. I have also touted the importance of identifying, hiring and retaining unexpected talent, and exposed PLEN to the SHRM Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?
Absolutely. Once incarcerated with a life sentence without the possibility of parole, recently released Alice Marie Johnson knows the power of second chances — and of hope.
Alice left prison in June of 2018 thanks to a presidential grant of clemency, after serving nearly 22 years as part of a nonviolent federal drug case. For Koch Industries senior vice president Mark Holden, Johnson’s case represents one of the key failures — and lessons — of a criminal justice system in need of reform at all levels. Johnson says she never lost hope that she might one day leave her cell as a free woman. Thanks to the efforts of a senior Koch executive and numerous individuals, including Kim Kardashian West, Johnson is now able to publicly advocate for others who are in the same position.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I would encourage politicians and all individuals to visit a prison and engage with the inmates. You will find yourself questioning every assumption that you had about them and who they are. Our government should examine its data and information structures and determine what infrastructure adjustments need to be made for effectiveness. We need to focus on ensuring the government is collecting and sharing relevant data. How do we ensure that the various government agencies are coordinating, collaborating and communicating so that government resources are maximized and programs are more effective? At the end of the day, government needs to ensure that families and communities stay together, prosper and are safe.
I also believe lawmakers should develop and implement an effective government talent hiring, retention and management plan. They should ask and answer the question can government become more agile and imaginative? What talent gaps exist for the government? Without agile and imaginative talent and leadership, the government will not be able to achieve its goals, no matter how much money is poured into the tools.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
“Leadership” is simple yet complex — it is about putting others before yourself, establishing and promoting trust and loyalty, and being a lifelong learner, because no one does it alone. It is a 24–7 type of dedication — it does not mean that you cannot enjoy life outside the office but life is better when you work at something that you are passionate about.
And it is easier to put down words on paper about “leadership” than to actually practice and improve everyday. But you have to — it’s like brushing and flossing your teeth. You need to do it everyday.
When I first joined the Missile Defense Agency as a Presidential Management Fellow, my first rotation did not go so well. Within three months of arriving there, I raised my hand and asked HR for a new rotation assignment.
HR gave me one — it assigned me to the department of the late David M. Altwegg.
I had heard quite a bit about Mr. Altwegg, that as a retired 2-star admiral, he was demanding, direct, and forceful. When I entered his office for our first meeting/interview, I maintained a pleasant, noncommittal expression.
The short conversation went like this:
Mr. Altwegg: So I have not read your resume.
Me: That’s ok. There is not much to read on there. You’re not missing anything.
Mr. Altwegg (arched an eyebrow): Oh? And you’re a lawyer?
Me: I just passed the bar. That does not mean anything. I am still learning.
Mr. Altwegg (with his hands and arms raised and clasped above his head as he leaned back in his chair) Well, you’re a PMI (presidential management intern — which was what the program had originally been called), so you need to learn and to follow me around. I will take you to every meeting.
Me: (very politely) That would be great. Thank you. I will stop wasting your time and I will work with your assistant to figure your schedule out. Thank you for the opportunity.
And there, our first conversation ended. I still think about that to this day.
Mr. Altwegg opened every door imaginable for me — he took me to every meeting, including ones with all the senior officials, made sure that I sat at the table and treated me like a colleague rather than an “intern” or “fellow,” and ensured that I had the opportunity to serve at the White House Office of Counsel to the President. He believed in me, even when I did not believe in myself, and encouraged me to explore every avenue possible. He opened his contact list to me and made introductions.
And he did not do this just for me, but for anyone he believed in.
And to this day, I strive to do that for my team and others around me who seek opportunities and counsel. True leadership is recognizing the talent around you and doing everything to help that talent grow. I cannot ever repay the late Mr. Altwegg but I can pass on his boundless generosity to others.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Listen to hear, not to respond.
- Thank you’s are always important.
- Leave them with a smile.
- Maintain a sense of humor.
- Launder your heart daily.
- Know your limits and don’t let people shoplift your time, treasure and talents. You are not a 7–11 or a Wawa.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My passion for reforming our criminal justice system has truly been the cornerstone of my career. It is sobering to know that one in three Americans has a criminal record. Every single person has a story. It is important for all of us to sit down, share, listen, and learn from others. I spend my weeks traveling to communities across America, speaking with people who have criminal records, learning about overcoming adversity and the struggle to find redemption. I have met countless individuals along the way that have fallen on hard times, faced addiction, or turned to crime because they knew nothing else, or living life had started to hurt too much, and no one was around to listen.
If I could inspire one thing, it would be to think about criminal justice reform not in a vacuum or as a means to an end, but as people truly helping people. Recidivism happens when inmates released from prison enter a world that they no longer know, with a society that is unwilling to know them. If we can start from the ground up, begin to reintegrate from day one of incarceration, show individuals in the criminal system that there is a life outside of the prison cell — a job, a home, a community, a second chance for those who want it — we may have an opportunity to not just implement meaningful reform but reform our hearts and minds as well.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As the lyrics from The Gambler advises, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.”
Sometimes challenge presents itself not so much in terms of what else you can add to your plate, but what you must eliminate to continue improving and delivering results on investments. For example, we shared a productive partnership with a few criminal justice groups over the past three years. This partnership resulted in opening doors to developing more productive relationships with non-traditional allies, which resulted in positive reforms in the states. But, as we discussed the objectives for the next three years, we realized that we shared different visions and goals. In order for us to execute our vision and goals and to be successful, we had to have an uncomfortable conversation about our need to re-allocate limited resources and why. That uncomfortable communication and our partners’ reactions to it provided us more insight and confirmed that we had made the right decision.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are two people:
- Prince Philip
- Empress of Japan, Masako Owada
We often focus so much on the stars, but the supporting case of characters play an equally important role in ensuring that the stars can shine. We often are not as interested in the observations and insights of supporting characters, but the quiet conversations between stars and supporting characters make all the difference, because the supporting characters can still retain some type of personal autonomy whereas the stars seem to belong to us.
Both individuals have seemed to subsume their original and vibrant personalities to support their spouses and the ancient institutions and traditions that their spouses represent. Both individuals gave up very promising careers to support the ancient institutions and traditions. And both individuals have had their emotional pain played out in the public. Where do their reserves come from, who do they turn to for support, and what lessons do they want to impart to others? And how do you move forward on giving up your dreams without regret?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!