Kristie Bender-Carey always had a knack for clearly envisioning the direction she wanted her career to take. Now, as CEO and CFO of her own business advisory firm, the Bender-Carey Group, she aims to help others do the same.
“They always tell you to envision where you want to see yourself, and I always did that. I always said, ‘OK, there is going to be a day and time when I am going to be at this place that I want to be,’” Bender-Carey said. “I’ve reached that, and now I am back doing it again so that I can help other people see that.”
In February 2018, she started the Bender-Carey Group, which offers a multitude of services — including marketing, capital funding, real estate, accounting and strategic planning — to small business owners. The group guides entrepreneurs through all stages of growth and expansion, from helping manage online reviews to leasing and financing equipment.
“I think we are unique in Colorado Springs as far as, we’re that one-stop shop,” Bender-Carey said. “Our niche is helping that client walk through the door and taking them through every single stage. It literally is helping them reach their full market potential and structuring everything they need as far as the solutions to get them to that point.”
The Bender-Carey Group also offers these services to startup business owners at no charge, which Bender-Carey said is critical for the Springs’ booming startup population.
“The give-back side are our startups,” she said. “We’re really making a push.”
Bender-Carey started her finance career as a stockbroker with Shearson/American Express in her native Iowa. She made frequent skiing trips to Colorado with her family, falling more and more in love with the Centennial State before moving here permanently in 1994.
The next year, Bender-Carey started her own commercial real estate lending company, American Finance Inc., which she ran for 20 years before transitioning to the banking world as vice president for business development with one of Colorado Springs’ largest banks. She left the banking world behind in 2017 after serving as market president for two other institutions.
“I don’t think I was ever the traditional banker — I was always the person trying to look at it from outside the box,” Bender-Carey said. “I was always saying, ‘Well, what if we did it this way or that way?’”
As bank president, however, Bender-Carey felt she was limited in her ability to help clients, so she started thinking about how she could give back to the finance and Colorado Springs communities that had given so much to her during her three-decade career.
“As a bank president … you couldn’t coach them, you couldn’t help them develop business plans or strategic plans, or figure out what their target market was, or even help them with their website,” she said. “All I kept coming back to was, ‘I need to be able to help entrepreneurs. I need to be able to give back to this community.’”
Coming full circle from banking to business owner has given Bender-Carey valuable insight into the intricacies of running a business, and she and her team feel obligated to share that expertise with Colorado Springs entrepreneurs, she said.
“It was scary as a banker to sit back and watch these people struggle and lose something that was maybe in the family forever, and they stepped in, but they didn’t know how to run it or couldn’t see what was going wrong,” Bender-Carey said. “I had a unique group of people around me that, if I couldn’t figure it out, I could talk to them and they’d be like, ‘Oh wow, here it is.’
“The old cliché is, ‘We think outside the box’ — well, I don’t think we ever step inside the box,” Bender-Carey added. “It’s fun — I love coming to work, and I think our entire team does.”