I had started an internship the summer before at Touchstone Pictures. But on the first day at S.M.C., I showed up early to find parking. I drove around and around and around and couldn’t find a spot. And so I decided, this is not for me.
I called Touchstone and said, “I’m available Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, if you’ll have me.” I worked for this producer every single day for free, and soon after she hired me as her assistant. I have just been working ever since.
Who were your biggest influences early on?
My choreographer was Marguerite Derricks, and she basically taught us what it was like to work in the real world. She treated us like adults and taught us how to be professional and respectful. We would constantly have directors or producers coming to watch us to hire us for various events or movies, like “Austin Powers.”
It was about always doing your best and putting your best foot forward. You never know where an opportunity can come from. She helped shape who I am today, particularly being thick-skinned, because you go to auditions and you get rejected.
But I don’t even think of it as rejection, because of her. I just think of it as a change in course. I’m weirdly missing the gene that tells you to be afraid of putting yourself out there.
Did you always want to be a chief executive?
We started the company in 2006, and at first we did everything in the beginning and really built up the business. Then we hired a C.O.O. to run the business side, and I was the creative director.
When we grew to a certain scale, we debated whether to bring in a C.E.O. In order to be a C.E.O., you have to be both an operator and a visionary, and I think it’s really hard to find kind of that combination. One of our board members said to me, “Katherine, I really think you should do it.” So my career was sort of born again in 2014.
At that point, we had hired dozens of employees, and because I had done pretty much every job at the company, I was able to really understand what we should spend money on, what we shouldn’t, how long something should take and what the right talent was to put in a specific position.
As an entrepreneur and as a C.E.O., you have to be very creative. You have to understand how to get from Point A to Point B with X amount of resources, and see if there are alternative ways to get there.
How do you hire?
I look for very entrepreneurial people. I look for people who can quantify their value, who can really think like an entrepreneur and put a value around their skill set and growth.
So if you look at a resume of someone who was a lifestyle writer for XYZ publication, I like to see that they wrote 16 pieces of content per week resulting in X percent growth in page views over three months.
I also always ask people, when you go home at night and think before bed that today was a great day, what made it a great day? That gives me a lot of insight into exactly what they care about.
And I look for people who have created their own experience. So maybe you worked for a fashion brand but on the side you created your own blog dedicated to home décor, or you learned about a specific industry, or you took on an additional job or internship just to learn about a new field.
And what kinds of answers are you listening for to the question about what makes it a good day?
It depends on the job, but it’s typically when there has been some sort of accomplishment or efficiency created, like, “I saved X amount of money by doing something this way.”
Or if I’m interviewing for my assistant position, I want to hear someone talk about making every meeting run on schedule and being able to fit everyone in. Again, it depends on the position, but I want to hear that they get excited about the things I care about.
What career advice do you give to new college grads?
Find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it. That’s what I’ve always done. And if you don’t have experience, create your own.
But there are some people who don’t know yet what they love to do.
I would tell them to identify either companies that they’re passionate about or individuals that they’re passionate about, then do a lot of research. If it’s a company, what are the different roles you can have there? Or if you’re following a certain person’s career, how did they get there, what is their role like? With the internet now, it’s almost like you can have a virtual mentor.