Kathryn Starke is an urban literacy consultant, former elementary school teacher, reading specialist, author, keynote speaker, adjunct professor, and the founder of Creative Minds Publications. She is the creator of Tackle Reading, an annual literacy educational initiative supported by the NFL. A native of Richmond Virginia, Kathryn graduated from Longwood University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in Literacy and Culture. She is a freelance educational writer for a variety of magazines including Education Digest and Edutopia. Kathryn was named one of the 50 Great Writers You Should be Reading by The Author’s Show and one of the top 20 educators you should be following in 2020.
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Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Kathryn Starke: I started teaching children to read when I was a child myself. I created a tutoring business when I ten-years-old to teach kindergarten students how to read, and I have been teaching ever since. While I was teaching second grade, I wrote and published my first children’s book, Amy’s Travels, and founded Creative Minds Publications, educational publishing, and literacy consulting company. Our company publishes children’s books and educational materials while providing literacy consulting for elementary schools to achieve reading success.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Kathryn Starke: My mother is a teacher, and my father is a business owner, so it makes sense that I combined both worlds to become a CEO and founder of an educational business. I didn’t imagine myself becoming a CEO; it just happened when I was teaching second grade. I was teaching a unit on the continents and couldn’t find a fictional book to bring the concept to life, so I wrote a story for my students about my friend Amy who lived on five of the seven continents. I realized this story would benefit every child and teacher around the world because no matter where you live, you learn about the seven continents. After talking with publishers, I decided to start my own publishing company and publish Amy’s Travels, the first children’s picture book to teach the seven continents. While teaching full-time, I began marketing the book through speaking engagements, book fairs, and literacy nights. Fifteen years later, I have been running this company full-time and continue to expand our catalog of engaging and educational children’s books written by a variety of authors and educators.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Kathryn Starke: My immediate family (my dad, my mom, and my two sisters) have been the people who have supported and inspired me through my entire journey!
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Kathryn Starke: The journey of a CEO always has its ups and downs no matter how long you have been in the position. I knew that with my experience in education, I had to be the leader of Creative Minds Publications. I have definitely had to prove myself along the way when people questioned my age, my expertise, my gender, my abilities, and my vision. For me, it’s when people doubt me that I get the ammunition to work even harder to prove people wrong.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Kathryn Starke: Creative Minds Publications is an educational publishing and literacy consulting company. My company publishes engaging and educational children’s books primarily written by educators, NFL athletes, and celebrities. Our company also provides virtual and in-person literacy consulting services to help elementary schools achieve reading success. Finally, CMP provides consulting for nonprofits and businesses that are dedicated to supporting reading education. While I am a very hands-on CEO and do a lot of consulting and writing myself, I also determine our partnerships, choose the books and authors we represent and do all of the hirings for the company.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Kathryn Starke: A belief that chief executive officers should lead by example. A CEO should be a leader that motivates, inspires, and challenges the people that work for them and alongside them. It should be someone willing to do anything they ask their team to do and take responsibility for the company’s mission and purpose.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Kathryn Starke: I realized that the best education for a CEO is through experience-really learning by doing. You can never predict or control what is going to happen in your business journey but can control your response and action steps.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Kathryn Starke: I believe a CEO should focus on the big picture and be able to share their vision, mission statement, and purpose of the company with their team. They should also focus on delegating roles and responsibilities to match the strengths and challenges of each employee. Lastly, they should provide an environment that encourages employees to try, voice their ideas, and shine.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Kathryn Starke: I allow my employees to determine their own work schedule to complete independent tasks. While they may not always be working on my time frame, I have found it creates a more productive and happier employee.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Kathryn Starke: Success to me is defined by the impact made in the lives of clients, partners, employees, and interns alike.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Kathryn Starke: Leadership skills that I possess innately include my determination, organization, resourcefulness, persistence, dedication, and innovation. Over time, I have cultivated more assertiveness and time management skills.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Kathryn Starke: Like everyone, we had to creatively determine how our business can continue to support, motivate, and inspire our clients and readers during the pandemic. Thankfully, everything we do can easily be done virtually. Our 5th annual Tackle Reading event supported by the NFL was held virtually during the pandemic and had the highest participation because NFL athletes were unable to participate in regular events. However, any athlete could take 30 minutes from their day to read virtually to an elementary school classroom of their choice to promote a love of literacy with a passion for football.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting on their journey?
Kathryn Starke: I would tell any aspiring CEO to focus on the end goal and vision and work backward. Share your story because no one is going to do it for you. Not everyone is going to like your ideas, agree with your ideas, or believe in your ideas. Ignore people who are not positive or supportive and embrace the people who believe in you.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Kathryn Starke: I think we are always working to become better! I know I would like to be a better advocate for myself!
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Kathryn Starke: “TRICK!”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Kathryn Starke for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Kathryn Starke or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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