Kim's weekly three-hour call-in talk radio show is heard (via her own national radio network called WestStar) on over 470 stations. In addition, she does a Digital Minute radio feature five days a week; has written ten books about life in the digital age; sends out close to 10 million e-mail newsletters weekly; and authors a widely syndicated newspaper column, which also runs in USA Today.com. She does all of this, while raising a son and operating a growing media empire, with her husband and associate, Barry Young.
“I am relentless in my pursuits,” says Kim. “It’s a lot of hard work, but when you dig what you do, it makes it a lot more fun.”
A pioneer in marketing and training for home computers, recently won the 2007 Gracie Award, voted by Talker's Magazine "Woman of the Year" and the answer to a question in the game Trivial Pursuit, Kim has evolved into a national digital guru. “It’s not about techies and computer-troubleshooting anymore,” she says. “It’s now about a lifestyle – the lifestyle of a digital age.” Most recently, she was a featured speaker while attending Fortune Magazines' 2009 Most Powerful Woman Summit, a prestigious meeting of the nation's top CEOs including Yahoo!, Xerox, Dupont and Warren Buffett.
No overnight success
Kim has built a media legacy driven by her passion for "all things digital." Born and raised in New Jersey, her father was a successful businessman. Her mother was part of the team that developed the UNIX operating system.
Business and computer technology were a staple at home. She fondly remembers: “When my father would ask me what I did in school, if I didn’t have anything noteworthy to tell him, he would make me read an article in the Wall Street Journal and then report back to him what I learned.”
It might not have been as much fun as playing with Ken and Barbie, but it made a lasting impression on Kim.
She graduated from high school at 16 and Arizona State University when she was 20. By then, she had set up a successful business, training people to use their computers.
“I’ll never forget one of my first classes. It had about 20 people in it, and in the front row was the president of a bank and next to him was an 8-year-old. I told the class to turn on their computers, and the kid leaned over to the bank president and said, ‘It’s that switch over there…’”
That business made Kim realize just how universal the computer age had become. She began envisioning her empire, which would come in less than 10 years.
After stints at IBM and AT&T in sales, Kim joined Unisys, selling mainframe systems to big clients, including Motorola, Hughes and, in particular, Honeywell. The latter was embroiled in a lawsuit with Unisys when Kim got the account.
“It was assumed I was going to die on the vine,” she remembers. But Kim sold Honeywell a system for $12 million, cash.
Leaves corporate life for good
With a nice commission, Kim decided to focus on a column about computers for the Arizona Business Gazette.
“I called this gal at that paper every day for a year,” she remembers. “I knew there was a need for a regular column on computers. No one was doing this.
"Eventually, I was given a small column to write, and soon after, I tried to syndicate it to other papers.” The newspaper column led to a call-in talk show about computers, which aired late at night on KFYI in Phoenix.
It was small beginnings, but the bug had bitten her. On Jan. 1, 1992, only seven years after graduating from college, she made a big career change: dishing out advice to consumers via print and radio outlets.
When she told her folks, she said, they were convinced she was out of her mind. The column and radio show combined earned her only $60 a week.
“My dad thought I was crazy,” she adds, laughing. “He offered to help carry me through, but I had the money from the big Unisys commission check, so I said I would make it on my own.”
A terrible loss
Then, as Komando embarked on her new path, tragedy struck: Her fiancé died in a plane crash.
“I was just so terribly devastated,” she recalls. “I had lost the one person that I was going to build a life with. He was there and then, suddenly he was gone. Now, I had no job, and I did not have the capacity to work, either. I was really distraught.”
Doctors offered short-term solutions, but none made sense to Komando. “The shrinks offered to put me on any drugs I wanted, such as Zoloft or Prozac, but I resisted. I did not want to mask the grief; I wanted to go through it.
“I knew that once I went through it, I could heal. One of my doctors welcomed this but said that in order to do it successfully, I needed to stay busy."
Kim adopted a rigid discipline.
“I would get up at 6 a.m. and run or bike and exercise. I would come back home and do my columns, and work on a book. I also did a deal to write an infomercial about selling computer training tapes that I had developed.”
The infomercial was successful. Soon, Kim was enjoying her cut on over 150,000 sets of tape cassettes that had been sold, for $80 - $120 each.
“I was getting some pretty healthy checks,” she says, smiling.
A second generation of tapes bundled Prodigy. In the third generation, she included America Online. “When AOL was on board, I also negotiated a role running the online giant’s computer info section on the AOL site.”
While her career picked up, her life took another turn. Her father died very unexpectedly.
"My mother came home from work and found my father under the Christmas tree. He called me the night before he passed away that day. I still miss him so much. I often think when making a decision, What would Daddy say?"
Soon after, Kim began a relationship with the man who would eventually become her business partner, husband and soul mate: Barry Young.
“I actually met Barry while my fiancé, Jerry, was still alive," she said. "He worked as the program director of KFYI.”
It was Barry whom Kim called to confirm her fiancé's crash. “I called Barry in the newsroom because I was trying to find out what had happened with Jerry’s plane. I needed a straight scoop on the plane crash and I knew he could get it for me.
“I didn’t start dating again until 18 months later and Barry kept calling me and one day he told me he was in love with me, and I would say, ‘Yeah, I know, but we are just friends and you are not my type…’
Like Kim, Barry was relentless.
“He kept bugging me until I agreed to three dates. He said: ‘Go out with me three times and if, after the third date you still aren’t into me, we’ll go back to being just friends.’” Kim gave in and had a great time on their dates. Eventually, they were married.
“It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” she says. “We balance each other out.”
“Barry is into the creative elements of our company,” she explains. “He can tell you what content a show will include, what works, what sounds the very best and precisely how to do the magic of radio. His mind works like that. I am just the opposite. I will sit in the same meeting and tell people how we’re going to market it and sell it to the national sponsors.”
Setting sights on national radio
In the mid-1990s, as her show began to grow, she set up WestStar TalkRadio Network with Barry.
Says Kim: “In order to take a radio show national, you start with the big networks like ABC and CBS to see if it is what they want. It was 1994 and the guy at ABC told me a syndicated show with people talking about computers would never work. This was in 1994!”
Programmers at CBS Radio were even less enthusiastic. She laughs: “They told me computers and the Internet were a fad; it would never go. They said computers are like the pet rock.”
Convinced a national audience existed for her show, she and Barry forged onward--station by station, syndicating them with their firm, WestStar. Kim’s audience grew steadily. Today, it has over 470 radio outlets and close to 10 million weekly listeners. The company now also syndicates other national radio shows.
Kim and Barry built their first studio on a shoestring in 1994. Today, they operate from a 6,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility in Phoenix, with six studios and 30 employees. The show airs weekends for three hours, receiving 50,000 calls per hour.
Among Kim's pursuits has been a healthy balance of work and motherhood. In 2000, her son, Ian, was born. Until he was 4, he attended pre-school classes at the office with a state certified teacher.
“Being a mother is the greatest thing I have ever done,” says Kim, reflecting on her years of success. “It is better than anything I have done in business. Ian and I are very, very close. We spend a lot of time together. I had to figure out how to be a stay-at-home mom, and still be at work.”
Meanwhile, Kim and Barry are focusing on their growing business and their growing son.
“I know this stuff; I just do,” says Kim. “I have worked in computers all my life. I got my degree in computer information systems, and when I was in school, I learned to think like a computer. They would say, 'If you do A and B, then C will happen,' and you can figure it out from there. You learn to think in a linear way, and I do that in my real life. So, it just all makes sense to me.”
And by the looks of her success, it makes perfect sense to the rest of America, as well.