Over her 40-year career, Kathryn “Kitty” Dindo has seen — and helped catalyze — many changes. Some came early on at EY, where she helped break ground for women in the accounting profession. Some came later in private industry, where her innovation and entrepreneurial spirit carved niches where none had existed. And some continue today, when her knowledge and commitment make a difference to her community and the corporate boards on which she serves.
The word “retirement” is foreign to former partner Kitty Dindo. True, in 2008 she left her full-time position as Chief Risk Officer (CRO) at FirstEnergy Corporation after serving in executive capacities for almost a decade. But she regards that as merely another transition in a career that began at Ernst & Young LLP's Akron office in 1971 — a career that has seen her grow from pioneer to partner to consummate professional.
“Out of 110 people in my Akron University graduating class, six were female,” Dindo says. “Of the six, two went into public accounting,” she adds. “It was a different time.” Just how different? “When I started at the firm, there were some clients who literally didn’t want women on their engagement teams.”
Still, Dindo’s potential wasn’t overlooked. “I had one particular partner, Joe Lechiara, who didn’t care much about convention,” she says. “He gave me real opportunities to develop.” So began a diverse growth journey that, in 1985, led to a partnership for Dindo and helped open doors for other women.
Calling her days at EY a “wonderful experience,” Dindo says she had no intention of ever leaving the firm until an unexpected and “intriguing” offer came her way in 1994. The opportunity was to become Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer at EY client Roadway Services, also headquartered in Akron.
The transition was smooth — Dindo knew the company well — and change came quickly. By 1998, the company she joined had spun off one entity and sold the rest to Federal Express. Dindo was asked to move to Memphis, Tenn., the FedEx hub, but declined.
Her decision to remain in the Akron area led to a chance encounter at Akron University with the CFO of FirstEnergy. Eventually, there came an offer to join the company as Vice President of Non-Regulated Services, overseeing nine mechanical contracting companies and US$650 million in revenues.
An even greater opportunity followed in 2002 when Dindo was named CRO, a position newly created in the wake of the Enron debacle. The concept of a CRO was relatively new outside the banking industry. In Dindo, FirstEnergy had one that would pioneer the role with innovation and a scope ranging across the enterprise. She built a department from the bottom up, instilling a risk-reward mindset linked to the strategies of the organization.
“FirstEnergy was already addressing risk at the market level,” Dindo explains. “But our focus was more on risks contained in the company’s strategy and operations at the consolidated level, and on creating an infrastructure to challenge our interconnected relationships and address our risks in a more global way.”
For their groundbreaking work, Dindo and her team received numerous awards, and Dindo was asked to discuss the subject at events sponsored by such organizations as the Audit Committee Institute, American Bar Association, Forbes magazine and Corporate Board Member magazine.
EY: a lifelong influence
Dindo retired from FirstEnergy in January 2008, but her leaving only served to free up more time for other interests.
Currently, she serves on the distribution committee of Akron’s GAR Foundation, a philanthropic organization that donates nearly US$9 million annually to local not-for-profit groups focused on education, health and human services, the arts and other areas. Dindo also chairs the Investment Committee for the University of Akron and serves on the Board of the University of Akron Research Foundation, which oversees technology transfer and the commercialization of intellectual property developed at the institution.
But there remains a strong business side to Dindo. At EY, her largest client was The J.M. Smucker Company, the world’s leading marketer and manufacturer of coffee, fruit spreads, peanut butter and other foods. Today, Dindo sits on Smucker’s Board of Directors and chairs its Audit Committee. She is also a Board member and chairs the Audit Committee at Bush Brothers, producer of Bush’s Best Baked Beans, and is on both the Board and Audit Committee of ALLETE, a Minnesota-based energy company.
“A seat on any board is hotter now than before,” Dindo acknowledges. “But if you’re dealing with companies that you know have strong ethics and values, the rewards outweigh the risks.”
Over her long and diverse career, Dindo has proven that change is something to embrace, and that anything is possible. Her life reflects the strength of her relationships, business associations that have held strong for many years — and a personal life that includes a 40-year marriage and three children.
And while she’s always anticipating a new challenge, Dindo often reflects on the start of her journey, and what helped make possible all that followed. “I don’t think we fully appreciate the depth of who we become because of our experiences at EY,” she says. “The firm truly molded me, changed me and gave me knowledge, flexibility and exposure that equipped me for life.”