Katerina Taylor becoming the first-ever woman to lead the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in its 76-year history was the confluence of mutually agreeable circumstances.
Taylor was looking for a new career challenge after spending 16 years in corporate America, most of it with SunTrust bank where she was vice president. Initially believing that she did not have the qualifications to become president, her colleagues at the chamber quickly discerned how the Kansas City, Mo-born, Texas-educated woman’s impressive career portfolio would be an asset to the organization.
After joining the executive team in 2012 as director of memberships, Taylor redesigned the new member reception program, increasing attendance and engagement by upwards of 20 percent. Earlier this year, she oversaw all details of the 76th annual meeting, tripling gross revenue and doubling the chamber’s net profit.
Moreover, Taylor comes to the presidency with an entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community coursing through her veins. Her father owned grocery stores in their Missouri hometown, and after Taylor matriculated through Texas Weslyan and moved to Atlanta to work in banking and complete her master’s degree, she founded the Smart Kids Money Matters, where Taylor taught financial literacy and responsibility to over 2,000 Atlanta-area students.
Among her multiplicity of career distinctions and achievements, Taylor; received the 2012 Presidential MLK Drum Major for Service Award; was named a 2012 Atlanta Business Chronicle 40 Under 40 Rising Business & Community Leader, and was featured in the Who’s Who” in Black Atlanta.
Her contemporaries believe Taylor has the intellect and experience to help make DeKalb County ea remarkably competitive region in the 21st Century
“My goal is to drive progression in DeKalb through business advocacy, collaboration, community and a diverse high-performing staff,” she said. “I have an outstanding board of directors that have been supportive [while] the Chamber has been in transition.”
Taylor replaces Leonardo McClarty, who resigned from the organization after 9-1/2 years to take a job in York, Pa. Board Chairman John Shelton said DeKalb Chamber of Commerce went through an extensive vetting process and Taylor rose to the top of the list.
“Her knowledge of the local market, goal orientation and high energy level made her the optimal candidate for the position,” said Shelton, who is DeKalb Medical’s president and CEO.
Taylor acknowledges the first distinction as the first woman president, but says her first priority is to the county.
“It’s a lot of pressure to be the first woman, because I want to see other women coming behind me,” she says. “I don’t want people to think that I’m all about just women’s rights. Women’s rights are critically important, but my role is to look at the county, the region and the state collectively and see what is possible, to promote diversity whenever possible and for us to compete on the national and international level. That includes everyone — men, women and children. We’re a very diverse county. So how do we embrace that, how do we leverage that?
What are some of your goals for the DeKalb Chamber?
I want to increase the membership of the DeKalb Chamber. Right now, our membership is average (level) and I don’t want to do anything average. I want to offer more valuable programs. We need to look at some of our programs and say ‘this is not going to work,’ but others we will say ‘this is great, and we need to spend more time on this.’ I would say that I’m taking a more unconventional approach to this industry.
I want to be a more technically-savvy chamber. I want to make sure that if you are a member that we have a mobile app so that you can access the chamber whenever you want to. They don’t always have to get onto the website. They can promote deals, they can advertise … I want them to be able to do that through our mobile app.
We’re one of the most socially-accessible chambers. We Tweet everything. We Facebook everything. When I’m out in the community, I’m on social media. I want to be connected to our members as often as possible. It’s not going be sitting in the office. But there are times when I’m going to have to sit in the office, but I still want to remain accessible to DeKalb County resident and businesses.
What it will take to enhance DeKalb’s competitiveness, attractiveness and marketability on the national and international level in the new millennium?
We need to get more people to visit DeKalb. We have Stone Mountain, which is the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state. But how do we get more people to visit DeKalb and stay near the mountain — stay in DeKalb and shop in DeKalb. If I’m from Kansas City or Dallas, I want them to say ‘okay, I’m going to visit DeKalb, visit one of the malls, and then I’m going to make a day trip to the aquarium and then I’m going to come back to DeKalb. How do we get more people to spend a few more days in DeKalb. When you are at Stone Mountain with all the attractions that it has, when you are done, you should be able to do so something else in DeKalb. So how do we increase tourism by leveraging the mountain?
Who were some of your heroes and she-roes coming up as a little girl and as a woman?
Wonder Woman [as a little girl] because she was the only female superhero. Catwoman was a spinoff from Batman. Everything was spinoff. Wonder woman just held her own. … My mother is certainly someone who I look up to. My father wanted ten boys because he wanted 10 businesses. But he ended up with seven girls and two boys. And to raise nine children and still be the partner that my father needed, I really looked up to her.
I looked up to a lot of political figures and activitists, particularly when it comes to women. I’m a Hillary Clinton fan — I will say that. Congresswoman Bella S. Abzug [ a politician, anti-war activist, feminist and lawyer]. She once said (paraphrasing): ‘We weren’t invited to the Last Supper, be we will sure be at the next one.’
Another quote that Taylor lives by is this:
“Well behaved women rarely make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Are there a few books that you read that helped accelerate the pace of your success that you could recommend to others?
The Biography of Coco Chanel: She is the high-fashion French designer behind the perfume, the clothing lines. She was a woman who had all the odds against here and built a multi-billion dollar empire within the fashion world in France in the early 1900s. She was raised in an orphanage, and she worked as a seamstress because that’s what they had to do to save money. Her mother passed away and her father went off and got married and left her and her sister at the orphanage. So right there the odds are stacked against her. She said to herself, ‘I’m sitting here making pennies as a seamstress, when I could create my own fashions
From Good to Great is also a good one. It gives you the principle of how people get settled and comfortable. But how do you get to the next level? And it [chronicles] companies like Bank of America and how they went from good to great.
Good Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office is another. I always tell people if you want people to see the brilliance in you, then think differently than they do. You will not find brilliance by acquiescing and capitulating to the status quo.
And even though Taylor tries to downplay her role as the first woman, she knows that all eyes on her.
” There are those who are going to come to me because they want to help me. And there will be others who want to see what’s going on? What’s she going to do? Is she the right person for the job? So I’m constantly in proving myself mode. And that’s okay with me because after a comment my father made to me when I was little girl — [that a boy would have made better financial decisions on her budding candy business when she was a kid] — I have been constantly in prove myself mode. It has really been the driving force in almost everything that I do. Did I make the right decision? Did I follow my gut? I’m always proving myself.”