Marketer applies engineering skills to lead creative firm

February 11, 2012

High school math whizzes don’t open marketing firms. But don’t tell that to Kathy Cabello.

Cabello, who is in her 10th year of owning and operating Cabello Associates Inc., a full-service marketing consultancy, certainly started out on the traditional career path of a left-brainer.

Kathy Cabello Kathy Cabello’s firm managed media interviews at the NFL Experience for events such as Pepsi Musica. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

As a teen growing up in the shadow of Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co., she was noticed by the chemical giant as a prospect worth nurturing. She interned for Dow in high school and throughout her college years at Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a computer engineering degree.

She married and moved to Texas after graduation, doing information technology work in Corpus Christi writing code, integrating computer systems, managing technology projects. But a funny thing happened on her way to the IT hall of fame: She discovered while working across different departments and with several kinds of business that her favorite piece of these team projects was the big-picture strategy design, not the database design. She liked “getting messages across” better than integrating the latest software. So Cabello started doing marketing consulting on the side.

It would be several years before she’d make the full-time leap to helping companies map their future and work toward it. She stuck with IT work when she and her husband moved to Indianapolis in 1989, to be closer to family in the Midwest. She even went back to work for Dow, this time at its DowBrands consumer-products division here. But a sale of that division in 1998 forced her hand.

Cabello was offered a lucrative position with the new firm in Brazil, but she and her husband decided it was best for their family, which included two young daughters, to stay in Indianapolis. So Cabello worked on developing her husband Eddy’s existing advertising firm, while she finished an MBA. The stint solidified her love for marketing strategy and built her confidence that she could operate and build a business herself.

“My entrepreneurial spirit was truly born,” she said. “I told my husband, ‘I know we can do this.’”

Eddy Cabello told his wife he was more than happy to focus on creative work and leave business development to her. So in 2002, Kathy Cabello drew up incorporation papers and Cabello Associates was born. She said she began “immersing” herself in her clients’ visions.

“I act as if I’m part of their team,” said Cabello, 47. “I help them go beyond where they are, help them see new places to go.”

That approach is what won over Amy Warner, vice chancellor for external affairs at IUPUI. About six years ago, IUPUI officials knew they had an image problem. They contracted with Cabello Associates to help them move up in national college rankings.

Cabello was “tremendously strategic,” Warner said, in showing the school which organizations needed to be influenced, and how that could be accomplished. Over about a year, she helped IUPUI develop a branding and marketing strategy that is still being used and further developed, Warner said.

Largely because of Cabello’s direction, Warner said, IUPUI recently ranked third among U.S. News and World Report’s “up and coming” universities and ranked as the eighth-best public college in the Midwest. That was exactly the credibility the school wanted, she said, and Cabello continues to keep in touch, making sure the “Where Impact is Made” campaign maintains momentum.

The IUPUI account was a natural for Cabello Associates because education is one of its niches, along with health care, life sciences and quality of life. It’s no coincidence that all of those capture Cabello’s passion.

A second mom

That desire to make a difference shows up off the job as well. Cabello has mentored several Hispanic college students, particularly through Project Stepping Stone, an outreach of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. Cabello has led the local chapter of that trade group since 2010, and has been a member since its 2002 founding.

Project Stepping Stone encourages Latino high-schoolers to attend college, through campus visits and a week-long summer program that evangelizes the importance of higher education.

Christian Lozano became a believer when he participated in the program about five years ago, as a Chicago high school student. Cabello became Lozano’s mentor when he enrolled at IUPUI. Actually, she became his second mom.

“She was always there for me—emotional, academic, family support,” Lozano said. “Anytime I knew I needed help, I knew I could call Kathy or her husband, Eddy. They became like parents to me.”

cabelloNow a junior at Calumet College of St. Joseph, Lozano said he keeps in regular touch with Cabello, and has her to thank for his success as a business management major. Her work ethic and community involvement have served as inspiration.

“Just being around her makes me want to do just as much as she’s doing,” he said.

Cabello said she has a responsibility to urge young Latinos to pursue professional careers. Many, like her, have grown up with parents who didn’t attend college, so they can’t coach their children through the process. Cabello’s father is a naturalized citizen from Mexico. Her mother was born here, but was the daughter of Mexican immigrants.

Her parents enthusiastically supported her goals, but couldn’t advise her in the particulars. She wants to fill that gap for others.

Recession survivor

Cabello squeezes that community involvement between meeting with clients and leading a team of 12 employees—down from a 2006 high of 17. Cabello said her fiscally conservative habits allowed her firm to weather the recession well. Cutbacks were achieved through attrition and contract work has distributed some of the workload.

So Cabello believes her company is well-positioned to benefit from an economic recovery. She’s just finished subcontracting work for the NFL during Super Bowl festivities. Her company served as local media liaison for the league before its own staff arrived in town Jan. 24. And she coordinated several special events the week before the game.

Her goals for Cabello Associates include capturing more national and regional work, a change in direction.

“We’ve been under the radar” up to now, she said, satisfied with working hard and producing good results.

The entrepreneurial bug has taken such deep root in Cabello’s life that she started a second business two years ago—Espacio Management, a property management firm. She said she has ideas for more companies percolating in her head.

She can’t imagine going back to being someone’s employee. “This is where I want to be.”•


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