For three years now, Tony (previously Chief Sales Officer) and Katelyn (previously Chief Operating Officer) have been running the day-to-day, so for almost all of you (clients, consultants, back-office team, partners, and suppliers), this shift won’t change a thing. For the three of us, though, it’s a BFD* years in the making, so I’d like to explain: 1) why now; 2) why Katelyn and Tony; and 3) what’s next for me.
Risk management. When I bought the company in 2017, I put all my family’s eggs in the Steyer Content basket. One way to reduce the risk of that investment is to ensure that the health of the business does not depend on my health. As far as I know, I am well—but I’ve also seen too many careers cut short by illness to assume that might always be the case.
Retention. Katelyn and Tony are extraordinary; they both could work anywhere. Since joining in 2015, they’ve each chosen Steyer, year after year, in large part because of the opportunities to grow, personally and professionally. Handing over the CEO baton now will allow them to continue growing at Steyer. And importantly, this change will also create new opportunities for the many other stars on our team.
Renewal. This is my tenth year as CEO of Steyer (my twelfth with the company). I believe in term limits. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, and companies that endure, as we have, do so through constant challenge and reinvention. I can’t wait to see how Tony and Katelyn will choose to shape both our strategy and our culture as they lead us forward.
WHY KATELYN AND TONY
As varied as different businesses can be, companies that survive the long haul seem to have two things in common: 1) an ability to predictably bring in revenue and 2) the capacity to deliver—at scale. Tony and Katelyn partner closely on both these fronts, but they each have their specialties:
Tony is, among many other things, a masterful forecaster and salesperson:
- As a salesperson, what makes Tony stand out is his decency: as many of you have experienced firsthand, Tony is an attentive listener, a sincere and creative problem solver—and a fair-minded negotiator who believes deeply in finding wins for everyone involved.
- Tony’s magical forecasting skills aren’t visible to most, so I’ll attempt to explain: in every year since Tony has had primary responsibility for setting the company’s revenue targets, we’ve landed somewhere between 95-105% of plan—a feat that is both remarkable and meaningful. (For the spreadsheet averse: in any given year, if we came in way below plan, we’d have cashflow problems; if we came in way above plan, it would likely mean that our targets were off—and did not accurately reflect what our cost structure was capable of producing.) Tony’s uncanny forecasting talents have been key to Steyer’s steady development: because we essentially “know” in any given year what we’ll be able to fund from revenue, we’ve been able to make strategic investments, both in our people and in our infrastructure.
- If all of that sounds terribly clinical, let me put what Tony does in more human terms: those good jobs we aim to offer, even as the sands keep shifting? It’s Tony who leads the charge in finding the revenue that funds those roles.
- These skills—and many more! (Katelyn can literally grow new skills to meet the moment)—have been instrumental in Steyer’s evolution from a boutique staffing agency to a full-service content company.
- When Katelyn first joined Steyer, we were geared to deliver: a) one type of content, technical; b) under one model, contracting; c) to one client, Microsoft; d) in one market, Seattle. Today, we deliver: a) the full range of corporate content—technical, instructional, marketing, research, etc.; b) under multiple models, primarily managed work and contracting; c) to a wide range of enterprise-level and mid-size clients; d) in multiple markets, deploying talent from 20+ states! Under Katelyn’s tenure as COO, we also went fully remote—while strengthening our company culture and achieving the highest possible IT security rating from our enterprise clients.
- None of these developments “just happened.” Each involved heaps of painstaking change management work that was driven in large part by Katelyn—a skilled people manager who is both strong and kind...and (fun fact!) the only person on our back-office team who has also been BOTH a Steyer consultant (we placed her on a Microsoft contract back in 2011) AND a Steyer client (Microsoft had the good sense to snap her up as a perm employee, and she excelled there for years before boomeranging back to us).
Not only do Katelyn and Tony bring very different but equally critical talents to Steyer; they both also bring a quality that is exceedingly rare: an enthusiasm for partnering with someone who is not at all like them. I know the Co-CEO model is controversial in some circles, but I believe in it from the bottom of my heart.
Some of you know that I never planned to buy Steyer alone; my intent (as someone whose skills mirror Katelyn’s) was to partner with our then head of sales (whose skills were similar to Tony’s). That plan was derailed by a personal tragedy that propelled my almost-partner to take an indefinite leave of absence, and so—with a pep talk from my brave husband—I went through with the acquisition solo. It was lonely, though, and especially when I had small kids and a sick mom, it was precariously unsustainable.
My sincere hope for Tony and Katelyn is not only that their joint decisions will be wiser than any they might make on their own—but also that their professional partnership might give them more emotional support, more real vacations, and more time each day with their beautiful families, dear friends, and beloved hobbies.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ME
A few people I’ve talked to about this shift have asked, “Does this mean you are retiring?” No, not at all! While I’m giving Tony and Katelyn the latitude to lead as they see fit, I’ll remain highly engaged behind the scenes, supporting them and the business in any way that’s needed. While time will tell what that ultimately looks like, I can offer a tentative sketch:
1. For now, I’ll continue to write Workings; it’s important to all three of us that people inside and outside of Steyer understand how we think and operate, and this biweekly newsletter is one way to share that information.
2. It can be hard to keep up with the wider world when you’re shouldering the day-to-day work of running a business, so at Katelyn and Tony’s request, I’ll also continue to study—and advise them on—two (enormous and increasingly related) topics that will be key to our future success: 1) AI-related developments and 2) workplace best practices, including our push to continually strengthen our team by further diversifying in every way.
3. I may also start advising a few non-Steyer leaders, as part of launching an Executive Communications practice at Steyer. This is still TBD though: building a new practice area is an enormously heavy lift that I may not yet have the bandwidth to take on, especially since the strength and growth of Steyer’s core offerings remains my top priority.
Let me close by being 100% clear: Steyer has endured as an independent, innovative entity for nearly three decades, and our work is nowhere near done. As fast as the world is changing, I am as confident as ever that trusted content will remain a top human need, and I have never been more bullish about Steyer’s capacity to deliver against that need. Investing in this leadership shift requires that I step aside, but I’m in no way stepping off. In fact, I’m doubling down.
Thanks for reading and, as always, please let me know if you have any questions!
*Big Fracking Deal. Again: see Battlestar Galactica if you have not yet done so. (Also: why have you not yet done so???)
Photo by Steyer Content