As a part of our interview series called “**Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Bates, Chief Marketing Officer & Chief Futurist at LRXD.
LRXD is the Original Health & Happiness Agency. For over 50 years, they have worked with the leading and emerging global brands in the areas of health, mental wellness, organic & plant-based food & beverage, restaurant, travel, learning, sustainability, and social-impact. By scaling these purpose-driven businesses, LRXD helps compound the positive impact these brands have on people’s lives.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My mother and father each had a career in different parts of marketing. They were partners in life and equally successful in their own right. I also come from a family of artists, so creativity is in my bones. Both of my parents worked really hard, instilling a spirit of passion and a healthy work ethic in their children. We always had summer jobs when we were young. I was enamored by what they both did. Especially observing how data, innovative thinking, relationship building, and creativity could come together to create more meaningful connections with culture and people. As you can imagine, I asked a lot of questions at the dinner table.
I wanted to follow in their footsteps, so I studied hard in school and purposely took on many different jobs within my career to learn and do every aspect of marketing. Every role was purposeful- from telemarketing, which taught me cold selling skills and learning how to handle rejection, to ethnographic research where I lived with people in their homes to learn greater empathy for different cultures and identifying consumers’ unmet needs. I’ve led strategic planning departments at different companies, in close partnership with my creative partners, to help bring more culturally relevant ideas into marketing and communications. And I’ve headed up marketing departments to gain experience in leading the end-to-end customer experience. Modern marketers have such a broad responsibility today across the entire customer journey.
In terms of becoming a futurist, I believe I was born with a gift of deeper intuition. From a very young age, I had an uncanny ability to understand, vision, dream, and predict the future with great accuracy. It seemed these predictions did not come from me, but through me. Over the years, I set out to learn and build my research, data, cultural tracking and business-projection skills and to make a career out of it. I read about, learned from, and later worked for, the best futurist in the business, Faith Popcorn. We still inspire each other.
I guess my backstory is built upon a bit of inspiration, some hard work, a belief in myself, and in the willingness to learn new things. What we believe, we can become, if we have the right focus.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your roles as CMO and Chief Futurist at LRXD?
When I introduce myself as our CMO, people smile, say hello and nod their heads, very polite and business as usual. When I mention that I am also our Chief Futurist, eyes light up and people want to hear more. They are surprised that an agency even has a futurist and a futurism practice. It has opened the door to many powerful and purposeful business conversations with companies and their top leadership.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was 23, I took a job with a start-up. Two weeks later, they folded. I was in tears. I had not done my due diligence on their financial situation before joining. I was young and so happy to have landed a job in a very tough job market at the time. After that, I chose the safety of working for large corporations for many years. As of today, I have worked with companies of all sizes. And I have a much greater appreciation for start-up founders and their struggles. Both success and failure can teach us great lessons.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There is no one person. I have had the most incredible mentors along the way. I am grateful for all of them.
When I was just starting my career, I met Matt Carter at Coca-Cola. He was a brilliant, busy executive. I kept asking him lots of questions, but he did not mind. He was patient and kind. As time went by, I went to him with fewer questions and more solutions for the business, based on data and insights, and he would take the time to listen. He showed me what best-in-class consumer research and marketing was. He later hired me when he was at BellSouth, in marketing, to help launch one of the first internet services in America. A very exciting time in my career. He was one of the toughest bosses I have ever had. Every week offered me a blank page on which to be even more strategic and creative, and to drive more revenue for the business. He wanted me to learn how to believe in myself, be resilient and to have a growth mindset.
I went to work for Sara Arnell who was one of the savviest leaders, marketers, and cultural innovators in advertising. She always made me feel like my ideas mattered, yet she had no problem telling me when I should redo my work to make it better. She was a magical teacher, and I was willing to learn. Sara gave me a great deal of responsibility to lead a strategy department at a very young age. We built brands that invented culture, through bold, “never been done before” ideas. My strategic skills thrived under Sara. We still give each other advice to this day.
Later on, I worked for the witty entrepreneurial team of Robin Koval and Linda Kaplan Thaler. They really cared about their employees and their families, and they built a nurturing environment for people to thrive in. They taught me that every client meeting is an opportunity to bring fresh, creative thinking to the table, to build deeper human relationships, and to provide the most entertaining part of someone’s day. They were masters at it. We built big brands that created big noise within culture. They also believed that if you wanted to succeed in business, you had to pay attention to every single small detail. They wrote a best-selling book about it, called The Power of Small.
Then came Peter Stern, Michael Diamond, Sam Howe, Melinda Witmer, Joan Gillman, and Marissa Freeman — all powerful entertainment executives who have since gone on to lead many well-known organizations. They all gave me the guidance and support in my newly created role of leading a complicated rebrand of a multibillion-dollar corporation. Together, they led by example to show others across the organization how to leverage the power of cross-collaboration, co-creation, and some healthy internal debates — all of which led to better innovation. We fostered game-changing transformation across a large national enterprise with many divisions. We all became better storytellers and marketing leaders when we thought about the entire customer, content, product, and service experience working together as one ecosystem for the betterment of people’s lives and their businesses.
Currently, I am inspired every day by our CEO and CCO, Kelly Reedy. His passion and intelligence never cease to amaze me. He has been a great champion in giving me a new role and voice within the C-Suite and supporting our new growth initiatives at the company. Not only does he listen to all of my ideas, but he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with me, executing them together. That speaks volumes about who he is as a partner and a leader. It is easy to understand why he is loved and respected across our company.
When you get to a certain point in your career, you come to realize that you hire your boss, or partner, as much as they hire you. Choose wisely.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Every day is a new “fire drill” in my business, I practice four simple activities that ground me and get me through the day, no matter what comes my way: 1) 15 minutes of meditation to still my mind, 2) 15 minutes of earthing, or putting my bare feet on the grass or sand, to ground my energy, 3) daily workouts to physically grind out any stress or anxiety and 4) gratitude journaling — being grateful for what I already have and feeling a sense of abundance instead of focusing on what I wish I had and feeling lack. What we choose to focus on expands in our life.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I believe that having a diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and points of view on a leadership team makes a company more inclusive to humanity, more innovative in serving society, and more successful. Leadership should represent the people whom the company serves. I also believe the necessary conversations are beginning to happen across industries, and this is starting to lead to greater accountability and action at companies. However, we will not see immediate change overnight. We have a long way to go as a society. We need to continue learning, growing, and speaking up for taking the necessary action steps.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
C-Suite leaders are expected to come to the table with a strong grasp of technical skills, business fundamentals, and a growth mindset. C-Suite members support the CEO on business strategies and are expected to provide insights that contribute to key decisions and successful growth. The executive team works together to minimize risk for the company and to demonstrate, by example, how to live by the company’s values.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a C-Suite executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Some people have a perception that C-Suite leaders have the luxury of working less than their staff members. This could not be further from the truth. The pressure is much higher. The expectations are much greater. We work as long and hard as anyone else. When something goes wrong, members of the C-Suite get the first angry call and have the responsibility to fix things.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Sadly, I have seen it take longer for female leaders to have a voice and build credibility among their peers. I came to a point with my career experience where I worried less about having to prove myself. I began focusing on the quality of my ideas and my work, on having a positive attitude, and on building human bridges and collaboration within the organization. We are all here working toward the same objectives for a company’s performance.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
My job is exactly as I imagined it to be, in a good way.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Successful executives lead with empathy, confidence, agility, resiliency, and curiosity. They are required to have an inherent growth mindset. You need to be able to work well under pressure and be good at decision-making.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Many leaders forget about the coaching part of leading. If you can help uncover the superpowers within each member of your core team and allow them to do what they are best at and most passionate about, they will flow and thrive within the organization. A good leader has to be willing to move someone off their team and onto another one, where there might be a greater need for their specific skill sets.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have always had what I call a “paycheck” and a “soul check.” Eleven years ago, I founded The WSDM (Wisdom) salon series in the local community outside of work. We are on a mission to help women become more aware of the infinite possibilities in life by sharing the authentic insights, experiences, and life lessons of other women (of all backgrounds and ages). For 15 years, I have also been life coaching women to help them define their life’s purpose, to find their right path, and to foster greater self-esteem.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1) Stand in your worth. If you don’t believe in yourself and your ideas, no one else will.
2) A career is not always one straight progression. It can have unexpected twists and turns. Every experience gives you the opportunity to learn something new and makes you even more valuable in the marketplace.
3) Having a good boss and the right team, with the right chemistry, can make your work life ten times better and more successful. Take the time to hire (and be hired) well.
4) Try to do what excites you to get out of bed in the morning, because you will be spending the majority of your time doing that thing.
5) Work can be tough and tiring. It is not easy. If it was easy, it would be called “Play.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to see more companies offer employees “health & happiness” stipends. People can choose to spend their monthly budget on extra childcare hours, passion projects, personal-growth coaching, fitness, or whatever helps someone thrive in their life. We have that at our company, and it makes a difference in our company culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People tend to criticize others for the things they don’t like about themselves.” When I heard that at one of our WSDM salon sessions years ago, it changed everything for me. It means that we should never take someone’s judgment of us personally. We are most likely a trigger for their own issues.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the USA with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
My dream meal would be with Oprah Winfrey. No one else has inspired me more in my life. She believes that we are all traveling on this Earth to fulfill a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. When you understand that, everything else falls into place. And some things fall away. And that is OK.