Albany County

Outlook 2021: Longtime educator, now excelling as workforce consultant in Latham, wins ‘Pitch Your Pivot’ prize

Left: Christina Farinacci-Roberts, left, and Anniedi Essien Right: Christina Farinacci-Roberts
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Left: Christina Farinacci-Roberts, left, and Anniedi Essien Right: Christina Farinacci-Roberts

Published Feb. 25, 2021 in Outlook

Christina Farinacci-Roberts spent 20 years in education, first teaching English and eventually becoming one of the youngest high school principals in the New York City school system.

She was principal of a school in the dangerous Brownsville area of Brooklyn for nearly four years, spending eight-plus years altogether in the city school system.

In 2012, Farinacci-Roberts, who grew up in Colonie, returned to the Capital Region as an assistant principal in the Troy City School District, and two years later became principal and chief executive officer of the Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls, the first all-girls charter high school in the state. She was able to increase the graduation rate at the school from 56 percent to 82 percent in her first year.

Farinacci-Roberts had developed a proven track record for turning around struggling institutions. Late last year, the consulting firm she created with a close friend won the Albany-based Center of Economic Growth’s Pitch Your Pivot grand prize for expanding its client base during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2017, Farinacci-Roberts’ 77-year-old mother, an immigrant from Korea, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Farinacci-Roberts had a 2-year-old son at home. Farinacci-Roberts, her husband, Glen Roberts Jr., an employee of the town of Colonie, their son and teenage daughter live in Latham.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

That’s when she left brick-and-mortar education and founded her firm Head Heart Hands Consulting (HHH).

“I am half Korean, half Italian. As a child of an immigrant and first college graduate in my family, I know firsthand the unequivocal power of an education to transform life outcomes in just one generation,” Farinacci-Roberts said.

“And it’s that experience and belief that drove me to become one of the youngest high school principals in the New York City Department of Education,” she said.

Farinacci-Roberts has a bachelor’s in English from the University at Albany, a master’s in education from Pace University and a school building leader certification from City University of New York-Baruch College. She taught in South Korea for a year before working as a teacher and principal in New York City.

“Head Heart Hands consulting is rooted in the belief that all human flourishing is optimized when we equally activate, cultivate and align our head, heart and hands because it fundamentally changes the way we think, relate and operate,” she said.

The consulting firm was doing well until the COVID-19 pandemic struck, closing down schools and preventing live, in-person events her company usually conducted.

At the same time, Anniedi Essien, her best friend since second grade in the South Colonie school district, was facing less activity with her Charlotte, North Carolina, startup wellness consulting firm, Idem Spark.

“We both had extra time on our hands,” Farinacci-Roberts said.

Essien also has an impressive 20-year career in the health and wellness industry. She drove growth strategies and employer-driven wellness solutions for top global brands including Walmart Health and Medtronic, and managed corporate wellness programs for GE Energy. She holds an MBA in strategy from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical ethics from Brown University.

Idem Spark is a consulting firm that delivers workshops, training and one-on-one executive coaching services to top-level entrepreneurs and women in leadership.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Essien is the child of Nigerian immigrants and grew up in Colonie, but built her career in New York City before moving to Charlotte. She describes herself as “chief swagger officer” and founder of Idem Spark, helping entrepreneurs and women in leadership to “reclaim their health, spark their joy and rock their careers.”

In 2020, Farinacci-Roberts and Essien started a new venture called WIDE Dynamic Dialogues. The education and equity consulting firm WIDE (widedynamicdialogues.com) stands for Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity.

“We increase profitability and impact by centering employee well-being at the heart of an organization to protect its No. 1: its people,” Farinacci-Roberts said.

In less than six months, Farinacci-Roberts and Essien secured contracts with an e-commerce tech giant and a global legal services company, among others. Their clients include CommerceHub in Albany, a leading provider of cloud-based e-commerce fulfillment and marketing solutions for large retailers including Home Depot, Best Buy and Dicks Sporting Goods.

The collaboration was the $5,000 grand prize winner of the Center for Economic Growth’s “Pitch Your Pivot” competition in December 2020.

“Pitch Your Pivot” was supported by KeyBank’s Business Boost and Build Program and UAlbany’s Small Enterprise Economic Development (SEED), as well as the Center for Economic Growth.

Ellyn Ford of the Center for Economic Growth said the competition came down to five finalists. Each attended an educational workshop prior to final judging.

“This helps prepare them for the pitch competition, helps them operate their business,” Ford said.

Ford said the “new normal” during COVID “brings inequities to the forefront.” She said WIDE serves community leaders and business executives trying to adjust to the new normal.

“She saw the opportunity and ran with it,” Ford said about Farinacci-Roberts.

Community leaders were judges of the competition, including Anthony Gaddy, president and chief executive officer of the Upstate New York Black Chamber of Commerce.

“In addition to her presentation being compelling and well done, what they want to do as a business covered all the bases that we were looking for,” Gaddy said.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“She was prepared and knowledgeable,” Gaddy said of Farinacci-Roberts.

Tamika Otis, director of KeyBank’s Business Boost and Build New York program, said including the wellness aspect into the diversity and equity concepts is very innovative. “Her mission is so far reaching, tremendously impacting,” Otis said.

Essien said her friend Farinacci-Roberts is “incredibly driven and impact-oriented.” This has helped WIDE succeed in the pandemic environment, she said.

One of the concepts WIDE addresses is unconscious bias found in some organizations regarding diversity, gender and color. “We push organizations to dig deeper,” Farinacci-Roberts said. She said there is ample research that shows that when a company is diverse and inclusive (all employees are seen, heard and valued), it becomes more successful.

WIDE is currently seeking to partner with 21 organizations in 2021 to complete its 21 Day Harmony, which is an anti-burnout campaign that addresses the pandemic’s unique challenges, strengthens leadership and equips employees to cultivate greater work-life harmony. Interested organizations can enroll at widedynamicdialogues.com.

The company’s solutions are “designed to respond to the emerging needs of a diverse, virtual and remote workforce,” Farinacci-Roberts said.

“When you value people as humans first, gain their loyalty, their level of excellence [increases],” she said.

Farinacci said she and Essien will use the $5,000 award money to increase marketing and sales support. “The business is growing. Something we are proud of is that our first client hired us for a second round,” she said.

Christina Farinacci-Roberts at glance

Education: Bachelor’s in English, University at Albany; master’s in education, Pace University; school building leader certification, City University of New York-Baruch College.

Family: Lives in Latham with husband, Glen Roberts Jr., an employee of the town of Colonie; her young son; and teenage stepdaughter.

Companies: Education and equity consulting firm Head Heart Hands (HHH) and WIDE Dynamic Dialogues, a consulting firm started with friend Anniedi Essien during the pandemic.

Community: Member of Albany YMCA Advisory Council, alumni of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Tech Valley 2020 Cohort.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Categories: Business, News, Outlook 2021, Schenectady County

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