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Third Act with Rhonda Mims

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Liz Tinkham (00:18):

Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show’s not finished.

Hi, and welcome to Third Act. On today’s episode, I’m really excited to talk with Rhonda Mims, the aspiring documentarian. Rhonda hails from Georgia and South Carolina, receiving her JD from the University of South Carolina and launching her legal career in the attorney general’s offices there in Charleston. She quickly moved up the ranks and eventually wanted to get out of South Carolina, landing a job in Washington, DC in the national district attorney’s office. In that role, she was tasked with helping Gil Garcetti restructure the Los Angeles DA’s office after a couple of high profile losses. And yes, that was right after the infamous OJ Simpson case, which she talks about on today’s show.

Well, the role at the national district attorney’s office was interesting. She eventually decided that she needed to make more money, heading to ING to lead their foundation. Now, after 20 years of success in the corporate world, Rhonda has gone back to an early passion, film, where she’s using what she’s learned as a lawyer and chief diversity officer to drive change through their documentary films.

On today’s show, she talks about Ferguson Rises, a documentary about the inspiring residents of Ferguson, Missouri. That film, which is Rhonda’s first as a producer, just won the audience award at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

Okay. Good morning, Rhonda. And welcome to Third Act. Full disclosure for our audience. You and I are both on the board of the Athena Alliance, which is the sponsor for the show. But we really didn’t know each other very well until I started talking to you and prepping you. And I’m just so thrilled to have you here, because you have such an interesting background. So welcome.

Rhonda Mims (02:17):

Thank you. I’m happy to be here. Looking forward to spending some time with you this morning. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.

Liz Tinkham (02:23):

Oh, likewise. Okay. So let’s get to it. So give us a brief update on your first act in Georgia and South Carolina. How did you end up at the University of South Carolina and why law school?

Rhonda Mims (02:33):

Oh, no, that’s a long story, but I will definitely do that in a quick minute. I’m from that area. I was born and raised in the Georgia/Carolina area between Augusta, Georgia and South Carolina. And so for me it was a natural progression to go to the University of South Carolina, home state intuition, in-state tuition kind of thing, and had relatives and folks who attended the university. So it was a great time. Ended up in law school in South Carolina as well, immediately after graduating from undergrad. And learned that if you wanted to practice in the state, it was the perfect law school to attend. Really great connections, had a lot of networking opportunities to learn with other lawyers. So I took my first job in Charleston, South Carolina- and there’s a story there that we could talk about a little later- right after law school.

Liz Tinkham (03:28):

Okay. But you did really well because you had several really big jobs in law enforcement in the state. How did that happen?

Rhonda Mims (03:36):

Well, again, I think it goes back to being in the right place at the right time, having the skill set that folks saw that I could add some value. So they appointed me fairly early on to be an assistant deputy attorney general where I was heading up prosecution. When I was in South Carolina, like I said, my first job was in Charleston and I was a local solicitor. And that was a role that’s like a district attorney that other cities refer to them as, but a prosecutor, and ended up heading up prosecution for the state at a very young age.

Liz Tinkham (04:14):

Yeah. You’re still in your twenties at this point, right?

Rhonda Mims (04:16):

Yep. I think I was 28 when I became the head of prosecution.

Liz Tinkham (04:20):

So then eventually you leave South Carolina. So how did you get out of South Carolina?

Rhonda Mims (04:27):

Yeah. So I knew at that time that I wanted to explore other areas, being someone from the state, haven’t gone to school there, first jobs out of law school there. Wanted to leave the state, explore other things. So I shared that with the attorney general, who was an elected official and he helped me secure a role with the American Prosecutors Research Institute, which is the division of the National District Attorney’s Association based in the Washington DC area. So I took on that role and moved to DC and launched my career out of the state working there.

Liz Tinkham (05:05):

Okay. And then, incredibly, as you look back on it now, you’re asked to overhaul the LA county prosecutor’s office. So tell us that story.

Rhonda Mims (05:13):

A very interesting story. So after the LA prosecutor, Gil Garcetti, had had a couple of high profile prosecutions that didn’t necessarily go the way that he and his team would like them to go, one being the OJ Simpson case.

Liz Tinkham (05:29):

One being the OJ Simpson case. And for our listeners, Gil Garcetti is the current mayor’s father, right, Eric Garcetti’s father.

Rhonda Mims (05:38):

That is correct. So he reached out to the National District Attorney’s Association and we had a grant to go out there and help him with restructuring, reorganizing. We also partnered with a management consulting firm, one of the big eight, so to speak, and did a lot of time interviewing senior prosecutors out there, spending time looking at sort of the caseload. It’s a huge office. It’s probably one of the largest in the country. And so I had a great time interviewing folks, learned a lot in that process. And we made some recommendations around how that office could be restructured. So it was just a great time to be a prosecutor, a great time to add value to something that I hoped became long- lasting.

Liz Tinkham (06:29):

So in the American Crime Story to update to the OJ story, who’s going to play you?

Rhonda Mims (06:35):

Ooh, let’s see. I like Kerry Washington playing me.

Liz Tinkham (06:38):

Oh, I like Kerry Washington too. Okay.

So eventually you figure out you need to make some more money. So what did you choose to do then?

Rhonda Mims (06:51):

I decided that I had been in government in the not-for-profit world for such a long time that it was time to make money. I was a little envious of some of my cousins who were out doing things in corporate America. So I ended up being recruited to go over to Aetna, which was at the time Aetna US Healthcare. But there was a subdivision that folks that I knew were, so to speak, running in the financial services area. And a former chief of staff at the attorney general’s office was heavily involved in recruiting me to come over. And I ended up working for Aetna. And then as soon as I took the job, which was going to be in sales and marketing, Aetna was sold or that piece of Aetna was sold to ING the global financial services company based in the Netherlands.

Liz Tinkham (07:42):

And you were saying to me that when you switched to Aetna/ING and you’re no longer doing legal work, you felt really badly about your parents’ investment in law school. I assume with the illustrious career that you’d already had, they were okay with the whole thing.

Rhonda Mims (07:56):

Yep. I was fairly young at that point and I think I was probably 30 by then.

Liz Tinkham (08:01):

Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe that.

Rhonda Mims (08:04):

And so I was asked to come in, lead an effort to help secure some retirement business in what we call the Mid-Atlantic states. And that was totally different from practicing law. I was leaving my legal career behind at a very early age.

My parents are very supportive folks in the sense that I’m an only child. And along with being an only child comes that only child guilt. So you never really want to disappoint them. But they were supportive in me following my dreams. My mom had always said, “I knew that you would end up in the corporate space just because of your personal interest in life.” My dad was supportive. Probably didn’t understand what all that meant. But somehow I migrated back to the practice of law throughout my career. So-

Liz Tinkham (08:51):

Listen, I didn’t even give my parents the satisfaction of doing engineering. I left engineering right out of college to go to what my dad perceived as the big accounting firm. He’s like, “What are you going to do with an aerospace degree at Arthur Anderson?” I said, “Oh, we’ll figure that out.”

So you became the president of the ING Foundation. And you were telling me that it opened up many new doors for you. Talk about what those doors were and how did that sort of change your career trajectory and still you’re very young at this age. So talk a little bit about that.

Rhonda Mims (09:23):

Yeah. So I think when I became the president of the ING Foundation, I think it was 34 or 35. And what it did for me was it kept me grounded, because I always knew that the money that we were donating in the communities and the doors that it was opening absolutely was not my money. It was on behalf of the company. And sometimes people in those roles, if you’re not a well-grounded person, your head can kind of swell. You’ll get invited to different things and doors will open for you that you just have to remember why you’re being brought to the table.

And for me, what I did though, is I built some long-lasting relationships, relationships with folks like ambassador Andrew Young out in Atlanta, because I was living in Atlanta, Georgia at that time. And mayor Shirley Franklin who was a hot-shot young mayor in the state, in the city of Atlanta. And so also being exposed to the Hollywood sector, folks like Elton John, and different folks who bring different components to your life.

I’m a left brain/right brain person. And so I enjoy creating programs and winning awards through Clinton Global Initiative for creating award-winning programs for women.

So it was so many doors that I was able to walk through that laid the groundwork for me to be able to be a mentor for other folks who didn’t necessarily look like me, who were coming up the ranks in other companies. So it was just a great opportunity.

Liz Tinkham (11:02):

Oh, it’s fantastic. So you had a big health scare. So what happened and what changed after that happened?

Rhonda Mims (11:09):

Two years ago, I had had some health challenges where I was having difficulty breathing and could never really understand why. And I’ll write a book about this at some point around the health disparities and inequities, as it relates to people of color. And every time I went to a physician, I was living in the state of Florida, to share that I was having difficulties breathing, I was told that, “Perhaps you have asthma.” And I’m like, “No, I do not have asthma, never have had asthma.”

I went to a football game, which was the hundredth anniversary celebration for the NFL, with some of my colleagues and could barely walk out of the stadium. So that next week I was going to be in New York city and had physicians in New York. So I went to visit one of my old physicians. They ran some tests and found out that there was a massive mass on my heart, which is a rare condition.

And so the mass led to emergency open heart surgery. And oftentimes you don’t talk about these health scares because yeah, you don’t want to be perceived as being weak in any way. But I’ve decided that now is the time for me to share my story, which is when you know you don’t feel well, definitely continue until you get the answer that you need. And for me it was life-changing because a lot of times when you have something like that and it’s discovered through an autopsy. So luckily for me it was caught. Great physician in New York helped me with that.

Liz Tinkham (12:45):

You basically had to have the mass removed. Did they ever know what caused it or just wasn’t disease related, just some sort of mass?

Rhonda Mims (12:52):

Right? So for whatever reason. I don’t have heart disease and never did have it. But I had had a growth growing on my heart that covered it at some point and actually tore a valve. So that had to be removed. And turns out that it was benign. But it’s a rare condition that doesn’t happen regularly. So I guess it was genetics somehow.

Liz Tinkham (13:14):

Yeah. And you’re okay now?

Rhonda Mims (13:16):

Oh yeah, perfectly fine. Recovered. Luckily for me, not the best of times, but right after I recovered from heart surgery, the pandemic occurred. And so I was in the house for a long time and could get myself together in terms of my walking, breathing and all that kind of good stuff.

Liz Tinkham (13:42):

How did you end up getting interested in films?

Rhonda Mims (13:45):

All right. So growing up, my two passions were fashion and television, so I never thought that I would have the opportunity…

Liz Tinkham (13:54):

And then you become criminal justice.

Rhonda Mims (13:57):

Totally out of the blue, right?

Liz Tinkham (13:59):

Okay. Passion in television. Now I know the Kerry Washington connection. Okay.

Rhonda Mims (14:03):

So for me, I love watching films. And growing up being an only child, I would spend times with my aunts and uncles going to see films in a small town on Sunday afternoon. And I could transform myself in terms of implanting myself into a different life through film. And for me, it is just something that I can see driving impact with, going forward. So although my first passion was in documentaries, it was more dramas and that kind of stuff. I have determined that- I am determined, I should say, that I can now use my knowledge as a lawyer, knowledge as a chief diversity officer in some respects, to drive change through films and documentaries.

Liz Tinkham (14:51):

You are a co-producer, if I’m correct, on a film called “Ferguson Rises.” So talk about that.

Rhonda Mims (14:58):

Yeah. So right now “Ferguson Rises” is going around the world. The director and filmmaker for it is currently in the UK at a film festival. But this summer in June, it was able to launch at the Tribeca Film Festival and won a viewership award. And it is also maybe an Oscar contender. So-

Liz Tinkham (15:26):

Oh, my gosh. Wait—tell the audience what the film’s about.

Rhonda Mims (15:31):

Yeah. It’s about protest. Some folks think it’s only about the city of Ferguson, Missouri and what happened with the untimely killing of Michael Brown. That is a huge component of it. But it’s more about how a community organized and led a protest movement that has continued in the wake of things like George Floyd, et cetera. So I would say that it’s a film that talks about how we can all drive change.

Liz Tinkham (16:02):

What was your role in the film?

Rhonda Mims (16:04):

So I am an executive co-producer. It came to me through networking in some of the relationships I’ve built. Even when I was back at ING it was presented to me as an opportunity to get the word out around how a peaceful protest movement can lead to change- making activities. And so I invested money in it and have decided that I’m going to support the work that currently is unfolding with sort of town halls around the world.

Liz Tinkham (16:36):

As you pivot sort of into this third act, are you going to set up a studio? I mean, what are you thinking? And do you have other films in the works?

Rhonda Mims (16:45):

Yeah, so the Mims Lab is something that I’m calling as an outlet for timely podcasts, blogs, documentaries. So I’m going to go ahead and continue down that path of investing in change-making work, because I think it could serve as a resource to lead folks for future things that they want to do in their companies and their communities, et cetera. So I’m really excited about the Mims Lab and using my left brain.

Liz Tinkham (17:15):

Oh, that is so cool. Now, are you still working at Mission Square Retirement?

Rhonda Mims (17:19):

I am. I am still working at Mission Square retirement. And Mission Square Retirement is an organization that’s a non-profit that’s focused on helping folks plan for their financial future if they’re in the public sector and if they’re public sector employees. So it is a very mission-driven organization and I’m helping them prepare for their next 50 years.

Liz Tinkham (17:48):

Recap, third act, Mission Square Retirement, Mims Lab, several boards, because I know you’re on several boards. As you look forward to this part of your life, does one take precedent over the other? Or what do you see yourself doing? How do you see that third act shaping up?

Rhonda Mims (18:04):

The third act will consist of board activities. It will consist of driving change as we’ve said. But more importantly, it’ll consist of doing things that I’m passionate about. So my third act is focused on the fact that I have gotten to a point in my life where things that are important to me will take precedent. And if it means serving on non-profit boards, donating my time and efforts to help them transform their strategies and mission, then that’s what I’m in for.

Liz Tinkham (18:37):

Oh, what a great story. So I almost named this podcast, “I’m not Done Yet.” So what aren’t you done with yet?

Rhonda Mims (18:42):

I’m not done yet with raising my soon-to-be 16 year old.

Liz Tinkham (18:47):

Okay. Still got time on that one, right?

Rhonda Mims (18:50):

Yep. I’m not done with supporting my family and my parents. Because I have an 81-year-old and an 83-year-old that are still very important in my life. But more importantly, I’m not done yet with driving change.

Liz Tinkham (19:04):

Oh, what a great story. Well, Rhonda, we are going to follow “Ferguson Rises.” We’ll put that in the show notes. And so lucky for me that I get to be a board member with you. But thank you so much for being on the show. Where can our listeners find you online?

Rhonda Mims (19:17):

They can find me at www.rhondamims.com.

Liz Tinkham (19:21):

Www.rhondamims.com. And we’ll put that in the show notes.

Rhonda Mims (19:27):

All right. Sounds good.

Liz Tinkham (19:28):

Thank you so much.

Rhonda Mims (19:29):

Thanks, Liz.

Liz Tinkham (19:33):

Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.

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