Her Résumé Could Read ‘Professional Problem-solver’
Karen Robinson, BA’75 (Flor), MPA’78 (Ruth)
By Kenna Caprio
Karen Robinson, BA’75 (Flor), MPA’78 (Ruth), likens her life’s work to a Rubik’s Cube — she’s constantly solving complicated puzzles to get results.
She’s been at the game for decades, working across multiple fields, in public policy and federal government, in finance and bonds, and in health care legislative and regulatory issues.
“The Capitol Hill experience, the finance experience, the legal exposure — all provided a template for critical thinking, and that became a core competency of mine,” says Robinson.
In her position now at Yale School of Medicine’s Equity Research and Innovation Center (ERIC), she is the senior adviser, doing business development and making strategic alliances to benefit and further the center’s mission.
As an undergraduate student at FDU, Robinson studied education — but she never really wanted to be a teacher. It was just expected then, by her family and even society, that she would go into education or nursing.
In her first job out of college, she worked as an admissions counselor at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. Before long, she craved a more challenging role and a more fast-paced environment and took her first steps into public policy. In graduate school, studying public administration, she worked at a health systems agency and began to do political advance and logistics support work.
“When the president leaves the bubble of the White House, say, the Secret Service wrap them in a shield so they can navigate the world and then come back to the bubble of safety. Advance teams for press, transportation, hotel, baggage, the motorcade and on-site run logistics to keep things running smoothly,” Robinson says. The same goes for other high-ranking officials or VIPs traveling internationally, with coordination running through the U.S. Department of State.
Over the years, she did advance work for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the late Vice President Walter Mondale, the late President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and several U.S. presidents.
The advance work was never a fulltime gig, though. Early in her career, she worked on the Hill, as a U.S. Senate legislative committee staff member. Then in the late 1980s, she joined Van Kampen Merritt, a Chicago-based investment banking firm, to support the launch of their national health care finance division.
“I leveraged the use of taxes and bonds for hospitals, psychiatric and substance-abuse facilities, senior and subsidized housing, usually for building expansions,” says Robinson.
After a decade with Van Kampen Merritt and William E. Simons and Sons, she launched The Kinnamon Group — her own firm — a “health care vertical” with an emphasis on the financing and management of behavioral health and substance abuse disorder treatment facilities. In the decades since, Robinson has expanded the group to become Kinnamon Holdings, with additional subsidiary companies and services under its umbrella. She remains its president and CEO today.
“The challenge for me has always been to find something to keep me intellectually stimulated, and whether doing deals and remediating portfolios, working in human services or fighting larger systemic issues, it’s figuring out how to make those solutions sustainable that makes me tick,” Robinson says. “I like using data to force people to fix problems.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson started advising Dollar General — one-third of the company’s stores are in medically underserved areas and food deserts. Beyond providing coordination strategies for setting up COVID testing in their parking lots, Robinson also facilitated the company’s move to integrate fresh produce into their stores, supporting the decision to hire a corporate medical director.
“I’m not sure retirement as we know it is definitely on my agenda,” she laughs.
“The trifecta of being an FDU resident assistant in a freshman dorm for three years, vice president of the student body and business manager of the campus pub, complemented everything I learned about life in kindergarten.”
Once a week, Robinson will take the Blue Line on the T (Boston’s subway) all the way out to Wonderland. From there, she does a four-mile round-trip walk to Revere Beach. “That is my reset. I enjoy the water, and I enjoy watching the planes come in [to Logan Airport]. I enjoy the sea breeze. That’s a good way to unwind, looking at the water.”