As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite” , we had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Kaminski.
Kate Kaminski is Chief Operating Officer of Walton Global. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and ensuring that all systems, resources and people are in place to achieve Walton’s goals. Prior to joining Walton in 2007, Ms. Kaminski worked in sales and marketing for new homebuilder Elite Communities in Phoenix, Arizona, and was involved in strategic sales development and communications for a major US retailer.
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?
I’m originally from the Chicago area and grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My grandparents’ parents owned their own business in the meat packing and produce industries, and my parents worked for the family business and eventually started their own businesses. Although they were busy running the family business, my mother and father made a point of having the entire family eat at the dinner table together every night which included me and my three brothers. We would talk about things that happened in our day and of course the ups and downs of running a family business was a big part of our conversations.
Business was a major part of my upbringing that included the fundamentals according to my parents that included the value of a hard work ethic and being a good listener when working with a team. From a very early age, I learned first-hand about what it takes to be a good leader. As a daughter of two entrepreneurs, I become a person with a strong sense of business that shaped my career aspirations.
Although I worked for the family business as a girl and appreciated what my parents built, I knew I wanted something a bit different for myself as a woman. I was excited to grow into a role that incorporated what I learned as a young girl that would carry me through into a career in a more corporate setting. I was determined to be successful.
I studied business management and finance in college and my first job out of school was working for a new homebuilder, that was really my start in the real estate industry, and I haven’t looked back since. My career has taken me around North America, to New York City, then Canada, and recently I moved back to Phoenix with my family.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Several years ago, Walton made the decision to move our executive team and the back-office operations to Scottsdale from Calgary. Through that process and as a result of all of the recent activity we have on our land assets, we have been in a hiring mode for the past two years straight. We have basically been building a new back-office team from the ground up, in addition to bringing a number of core team members down from Calgary. Dealing with all of the hiring in a short time frame and trying to find so many new people that complement each other, while focusing on creating a dynamic and energetic work environment is no small feat. And much of it happening during COVID, where the new norm was hiring people we had never met in person, only over a MS Teams video conference, and hoping you made the right decision with the hire.
We have been really lucky that most of the people that we hired have worked out great, but there were definitely a few hires that I really missed the mark on. We are so lucky to have the team in place we have today and we are continuing to add to it. But going through all of the hard work to fill up our new office space over the last couple of years really reminds you how valuable good employees are, and it reminds you that when you find great ones, do what it takes to keep them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A funny story for me was shortly after I started with Walton Global. I was writing a pressing internal email to our CEO and other executives in the company about a challenging situation with an external contact. As I was writing the email to explain the issue, I couldn’t remember how to spell the contact’s name. Of course, I wanted to ensure that my information was correct in my email, so I used the auto-address drop down feature to get the contact’s spelling of his name spelling from his email address.
I crafted the body of my email well and felt good about it. Unfortunately, I forgot one important detail: to remove the external contact’s email address from my “to” line. I hit send and later realized that this external contact just received an email from me that wasn’t speaking highly of him. I was horrified. Luckily, my CEO laughed about it and shared some honest mistakes he made over the years.
Since that experience, I always remind myself to slow down and literally and figuratively take the extra time to check my ”send to” line.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that I have learned from and that have helped shape me through the years, however there is no question that the person that led me to success in my professional and personal life is my mother. My mother is the most inspiring person in many ways. She started and owned a successful mid-size healthcare interior design company, sold it and retired for a while. She decided retirement wasn’t what she wanted, so she re-entered the workforce in the corporate world and is now the leader at one of the most renowned architecture and design firms in the United States. She is really a force to be reckoned with in her industry.
She was always there for four children, two dogs and a bird in the early years while managing to be a dynamic, polished businessperson. She taught me that health and well-being is foundational in life as a professional swimmer herself. As a result of my mother’s lifestyle which she shared with me, I was athletic growing up alongside her and healthy living is important to me.
My mother encouraged me to be a good listener and has been my support system throughout my career. I call her today when I have a career challenge or want to share a success.
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?
The root of what I need to prepare for stressful situations is alone time that wilk allow me to focus, collect my thoughts and conduct research if needed. My stress-level is greatly reduced when I feel I’m fully prepared to take a high stress situation head on with credible information and knowledge.
If you asked me this question years ago, I would say to achieve that alone time I would take a long run, bike, or hike. Now that I have an 18-month-old son, alone time has a different meaning, so I have made some adjustments. Recently, I created a warm space for myself in my home office with colors I enjoy, patterned wallpaper and artwork that makes me feel calm. When I feel I need time to decompress for work situations, I go into my home office and take small pockets of time to prepare. It’s a different from a long run, but it’s been working.
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?
Walton works in a blend of two industries: real estate and financial investments — two industries that are primarily made up of white-collar men. First, I would like to commend my boss and CEO of Walton, Bill Doherty, for recognizing the strengths women leaders bring to these industries. Two out of the three chief officers for his privately-owned global business at Walton are women. Research has also shown that having a diverse executive leadership team helps drive profitability in an organization.
I have hands-on experience to be able to identify the true value women deliver to business at every level. Women in general, regardless of race or ethnicity, bring a perspective that includes a collaborative approach, organized thoughts, empathy and an enduring strength at a time where it is essential in the workplace.
I also feel that it is important to have members of our leadership team represent the communities we serve. Whether that representation comes in the form of race, gender, or religious beliefs, having a leadership team that can put themselves in the shoes of the people that buy our investments or will one day live in our communities is so important in forming a lasting strategic plan, and most importantly one that will be successful.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Most importantly, I feel it’s necessary to create an environment where every person is an equal and that can only be achieved by example and culture. Sensitivity training sessions and formal education is a helpful tool, but I feel most people live their lives by example — even their work lives. A person can watch a video and take a quiz on the topic, but when they’re done with that training it’s what they experience throughout the day that will have the real impact.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to set that example whether we’re in a formal meeting or talking to someone casually. Treat every person with respect, recognize their achievements big or small, have an appreciation for different ideas and be a positive person. Our behavior and business practices set the culture for the rest of the business, which I believe extends into the greater society.
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 CEO or 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?
Every decision a good leader makes is based on how it’s going to be impacting the bottom line of the organization: revenue, operational structure, sales goals, client satisfaction and the list goes on.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think the largest myth is that a CEO or executives are not approachable. There can be a level of guarded conversation that happens between leaders of an organization and employees that in my opinion isn’t necessary. I encourage a flat organizational structure that welcomes an open-door policy and promotes that every level of the organization works together as one team to achieve the same goal. There really isn’t any other way to conduct business in my mind.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
As I stated earlier, I grew up with 3 brothers and I was fortunate that I wasn’t treated differently from my brothers — everything was equal. As a result, that has created a mindset for me that there aren’t differences between men and women. I’m fully aware that challenges exist that vary from business-to-business or even industry such as compensation, for example. But, in my opinion, if a woman approaches her career with a mindset where there aren’t differences, those around you will pick up on that.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I think there is this idea that that once a person gets to be a top executive that there may be less work and you’re making these high-level decisions in an 8-hour workday; that couldn’t be further from reality. I was aware that hard work comes with leadership from my family’s business, but until you are in the role yourself you really have no idea of the commitment. Strong executives bare the brunt of the organization.
Is everyone 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?
Everyone is not cut out to be an executive mainly because not everyone likes to be a leader. When a person chooses to be an executive, you’re placing your work at a higher priority level, a higher exposure level and a higher level of accountability.
A person that has a strong sense of urgency that can wear many hats to be a motivator, a listener, a counselor, a decision-maker, a pillar of strength, a quick-thinker and much more may be a candidate for a leader. A good leader must be selfless and look objectively at all situations — the final point without a fallback person and some people aren’t comfortable with that.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
- Trust your team (because if you don’t you probably have the wrong team members).
- Make time to be available to listen — that is key.
- Delegate with confidence.
- Be a mentor and a teacher. Share ideas. Be part of the collaboration and don’t hesitate to work alongside your team.
- Embrace your teams’ strengths and weaknesses Don’t take for granted experience and education.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Community outreach is top-of-mind for me, and two areas I am passionate about is homelessness and hunger. Whether its volunteering at foodbanks or focusing on providing affordable housing supply through business, we all have an obligation to our community to take care of one another.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t rush and do not cut corners, it will always come back to bite you. There is always time tomorrow.
- You have to be flexible. Things won’t always go the way you planned or think they are supposed, don’t worry about it, embrace it. And that’s ok because new opportunities are right around the corner.
- Do what you are passionate about, but that won’t necessarily be what you thought it would be.
- Pay the premium for high quality, trusted advisors, even if they are expensive. I have found it always pays off and the value that is gained from seeking wise counsel is infinite.
- I said this in a question above, but I will repeat it again because it’s so important. Nothing is more important than your people. And good people are hard to find, so when you find good team members, do what you can to keep them.
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 have to say it would be focused on affordable housing. In my line of business, I see the cost of land and ultimately housing increasing every day. While that has its benefits from the standpoint of increasing existing homeowners’ equity in their homes, I also see the challenges it is creating in terms of providing accessible housing that families and individuals can afford. It is so important to offer the basic human right of shelter and the opportunity for families to build memories in those homes and create a connectivity to the community. This is an area we as leaders in real estate, governments, and any other sector of the economy that has influence over access to affordability need to focus on for the current and future generations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Always expect the unexpected.”
For me this quote has been so representative of what my personal and professional life has experienced. Whether it was switching companies or job sectors, moving to a new city (4 times), meeting my new husband and having a baby, or dealing with really challenging files at the office just when everything seems to be going smooth, there are always things that pop up that cause you to push-forward, persevere and grow as an individual. When things pop up that I didn’t see coming anymore, I just laugh, because it really is true that we should all expect it and say bring it on!
We are very 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 US 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.
Well, that is a difficult question, there are so many inspiring men and women to choose from. But today I would have to say it would be Elon Musk. I find him so interesting and bizarre all at the same time, ha! When I think of the word’s innovator, visionary, entrepreneur, leader… I think of him. His focus on technology and innovation, and seemingly only because he is motivated to create and drive solutions for mankind is really something we all should consider in our business activities. One of my favorite quotes from Musk is “If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a good day. Otherwise, it’s not.” Everyday we have an opportunity to make an impact through our actions and the decisions we make. Think about how to make them count!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.