On Creating Wide Open Spaces

Aug 2, 2023
Kate Walton

Hello from Steyer!

I’m back from riding my bike across Iowa, a choice so puzzling to many that, before I left, I asked Katelyn Reilly and Tony Batista—who now run all of Steyer’s day-to-day operations—for a few minutes to address the back-office team.

In that meeting, I explained that my trip was just a vacation and that “riding my bike across Iowa” was not some weird euphemism for moving on from the business. In fact, I told the team exactly what I tell M&A firms who reach out asking if I’m ready to sell: “No, and I won’t be—not for many, many years.”


Two reasons:

1) We still have so much to do. In the seven years I’ve owned Steyer, we’ve grown, diversified, and strengthened, but in many ways, we’re just getting started. With the mainstreaming of generative AI, our mission to sustain as many good jobs for creative professionals as possible has only become more urgent. Also, as the cost of producing misinformation falls to zero, and humanity begins to drown in a sea of bad content, trustworthy content of the sort that Steyer produces is only going to become more valuable.

2) I love the work! Before I joined Steyer in 2011, after two decades in crisis communications, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do next: I wrote about my quest for meaningful work, I cajoled more than 80 similar essays from other people, and I conducted more than 90 audio interviews. Where all that investigation and reflection landed me—building a business arm-in-arm with kindred spirits—is exactly where I want to be.

Why then did I hand over the day-to-day management role to other people? Again, two main reasons:

1) Retention. Steyer’s current leaders, Tony Batista and Katelyn Reilly, are both wildly talented; each could work anywhere they want. Retaining people of their caliber requires not just competitive compensation but also the systematic creation of professional growth opportunities. Among other things, this involves stepping aside, no matter how much I love the day-to-day, to make room. And importantly, every time Katelyn and Tony’s roles expand, new growth opportunities appear for the many other remarkable talents on our team. It’s a challenging process in many ways—organizationally and personally—but it’s a very healthy one.

2) Risk management. As far as I know, I’m fit as a fiddle, but I don’t take that for granted. My beloved mother died decades before her time, and our remarkable founder Marty Steyer had to retire early to wage his brave battle with Parkinson’s. Having put all my family’s proverbial eggs in the Steyer Content basket, I feel compelled to ensure that it can run well, with or without me.

As for how I spend my workdays now that Katelyn and Tony are doing so much of the heavy lifting, I focus on three things: 1) supporting the team in any way I can; 2) researching key strategy-related topics, primarily AI and DEI; and 3) connecting beyond the tight circles of our current clients and talent to engage with the content community more broadly.

That’s it for today’s peek behind the scenes. I hope it’s helpful, and as always I’m happy to field any questions you have. I can be reached via email at kwalton@steyer.net; I respond to every message I receive within a week. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thanks for reading,

P.S. I have received a ton of questions about RAGBRAI—the ride across Iowa. I experimented with Threads to real-time chronicle the trip, so you can find the blow-by-blow over there.

P.P.S. My wonderful colleague Josh Krenz will have spent the entire time reading this post wondering why I didn’t use his title idea—”Whyowa?”—so I just wanted to acknowledge the suggestion here. It was a contender, for sure.

Photo credit: a fellow RAGBRAI rider. I don’t know his name, but when it was my turn to take his pic, he backed up a few yards and took a running leap at the hay roll in an attempt to stand triumphantly on the top. Instead, he fell short, smacked into the side, and crumpled to the ground. Thankfully, only his pride was injured, and the ensuing laughter, which he led, was every bit as sustaining as a protein bar.