Katerina Taylor. President & CEO. DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. Beyond Beauty. Unity & Empowerment. Keynote Speaker


Interviewed by : Maryan Aiken. Founder. CEO. Publisher. PaperGlass Media

Katerina Pink Flower Gown.jpg

Beyond beauty?

I have the opportunity to travel the world, attend galas, have my hair and makeup done regularly, and wear some of the most famous designer’s collections, yet the real work gets done behind closed doors, with papers tossed all over the place in my favorite pair of flats with my hair in a ponytail and my bifocals at the tip of my nose. I sometimes sit at my desk with my legs folded underneath me with 2 pairs of glasses so I can actually see the computer and read documents at the same time. I sometimes stare at a painting I purchased in Cuba of a Goddess named Ochun, it takes me away just a little while and helps to break my concentration when I need to reset and move on to something else. It is drinking chrysanthemum tea I purchased in China and feeling a little bit overwhelmed because there is so much to get done. It is sitting in my office spinning in my chair trying to figure out why I keep working so hard when the works just keeps piling up, or looking up at a beautiful water color painting of a caged bird now free, that was gifted to me by the Southern Center for Human Rights. It is taking a 5 minute breather to flip through the pages of my Cocoa Channel Autobiography strategically placed on my book shelf, and I still wonder how she did it all. Or staring aimlessly at the empty mason jar on my desk that was once filled with gummy bears and I somehow keep forgetting to buy more gummy bears. It is pulling my phone out to go to an adult coloring app and creating something remarkably beautiful in just 10 minutes. It is wrapping my hands around the small wooden cross I admired so much in Israel, because some days you just need little peace. It is looking around my office at the awards, gifts, plaques, and proclamations people have bestowed upon me, believing that whatever I did to deserve them I hope that they believed I was worthy.

Beyond beauty to me is the interactions and experiences you have with people, and my goal is to try to be as good to them as they have been to me.

Beyond Beauty is the most imperfect interpretation of myself.

Your chamber covers 700K residents that includes 13 cities and 2 school districts in DeKalb County. What's been the challenge that you had to overcome? Every city and school district has their own leaders and the way they do things. It has been an honor to work and serve them, my goal is to always find ways to collaborate and try to align all of our goals around creating a better quality of life and more pro business environment in DeKalb.

You've implemented some exciting programs at DeKalb Chamber, what has been the most profound and why? The chamber team and I have certainly created new programs but more importantly we invigorated ones that already existed. Programs like our Annual Meeting Luncheon. This event use to be a dinner and we changed it to a luncheon, and brought in high quality and sometimes controversial speakers; but it was important to me that the business community had a platform to support or challenge things happening in the metro region. It tripled our net profits and more than doubled our audience from 150 people to over 400. Numbers like this set the tone for our investors to get more out of their membership and greater return on their investment in the Chamber.

You a powerhouse inspiring many women in Atlanta and leaving your legendary marks, what fuels your drive? You can literally see the landscape of the Atlanta Region changing. Some of the change is happening to us, some of it is happening for us, but I want to inspire women to be the change themselves and figure out how to create a path that has not yet been imagined. We are still underrepresented in many areas and mainly equal pay. When it comes to women of color Black, Hispanic, Asian and others the numbers become even more dismal. I truly just want to help create a place where I don’t have to question if my contribution is less valuable because of my gender or race, and that equity in the top state to do business in, offers real opportunities for all people.

All of us have to start somewhere, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs and women that are on the rise for that coveted spot in the corporate arena? Be bold and authentic and deliver on the brand you created. Most importantly just be a decent human being.

Photos from the event coming soon!

I've had the privilege to speak to a handful of CEOs and the number one question that I asked them is how do you keep your balance? You are the first one in and the last one out and even when you arrive at home you still have many tasks to attend to before the next morning. How do you keep balance between your personal life and your professional world? Balance looks different for all people at all stages of their lives. I could try and manufacture balance based on someone else’s regime but it wouldn’t work for me. I am always seeking more ways to be productive, have higher output, maximize my time and get more sleep, but I am still working at it. For now I take naps every Saturday and Sunday, and I don’t open my laptop on Sunday except to check my calendar for the week. I take advantage of sudden bursts of energy to work or do something I enjoy. Sometimes that is in-house Karaoke all by myself, because quite frankly nobody slays the Miranda Lambert song “Gun Powder and Lead” like I do.

Be bold and authentic and deliver on the brand you created. Most importantly be a decent human being.
— Katerina Taylor

As a female CEO, how do you approach and celebrate your femininity and still maintain and manage a well -oiled organization? I try and do everything gracefully but with authority. I keep my word, and keep negative energy at a distance. I wear a lot of pink and green because it’s the perfect blend femininity and power, I wear pearls because they are classic, and when I am serious I wear red lipstick. I tell corny jokes to myself because I never want to take myself too serious.

As I go with my day today business there are those powerhouses and business leaders that I have looked up to, extract from their expertise, draw strength and courage for those critical moments to get me through challenges. Who has been the most influential business leaders or individual that have been a source of fire for you personally and your professional realm? There are some amazing women in Atlanta, many whom I could just sit and listen to all day.  Our stories collectively overlap situationally, our challenges are sometimes the same, and we all want to create some significance and be purpose lead.  I am in awe of Shan Cooper, Ann Cramer, Juanita Baranco, Terri Theisen, Yvette Cook, Terrell Dinkins, Catherine Downey and Tracy Crump. I don’t know how they do what they do.  So I sit back observe and learn. These are just a few of the women I admire I have an entire Leadership Atlanta class of 2016 that have women who unlike the old guard are doing things their way and with great intention. Yolanda Lewis, Sonji Dade Jacobs, Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, Amy Dosik, Judge Shana Rooks, Condace Pressley, Dana Lupton, Ayanna Buckner, Heather Hamby, Ashley Carson, Melissa Mullinax, Tina Shah, Audra Dial and so many more. As well as all they women that have blessed my life in my Leadership Georgia 2013 class, Like Stephanie Oginsky Mitchell, Angel Tousman, Amanda Seals, Crystal Shahid, April Jackson, Joy Lampley, Aimee Simpson, Leslie Gordon, Carmen Dill, LaKisha Bruce, Marcia Hampton, Anne Henn, Laura Benz and Jennings Walsh. These women support me fiercely.   I would just suggest people Google these women.

Shifting gear to lighter questions. What was your first job ever? Cashier at our family business. I still can bag groceries with the best of them. Although for the life of me I am horrible at packing a suitcase. Interestingly enough I actually do pack groceries everywhere I travel.

What exciting projects are you working on and what's next for you? I am working on a book about the evolution of professional women. I am fascinated at how things are different yet the same in the workplace now as opposed to 50 years ago for women.

The chamber will be celebrating 80 years in 2018 so we are planning some great activities to celebrate the history and our past accomplishments. In addition we are planning some capacity classes to inspire people to become entrepreneurs or help grow their current business.

 Katerina taylor on location photo shoot at 14th Street Antiques & modern home.

Katerina taylor on location photo shoot at 14th Street Antiques & modern home.

Beyond Beauty Speech Transcript:

I was 35 when I decided to leave my career in banking and go find myself. Well maybe not find myself more than go into hiding from my blackberry that had been my conjoined twin for the last 5 years. I was over worked, undervalued, underpaid, under fed and under loved. More importantly while I was still passionate about people I wasn’t passionate about my job any longer.

So just 5 years from turning 40 and I am about to do the unthinkable!!! Cash out my 401K, my savings and retirement and travel across country. Who does that unless you live with your parents or have a rich spouse to support you? Along my travels I discovered a teahouse in Chicago and danced in the dark at Buckingham Fountain, I went to a Burlesque show in Denver, and joined a stranger for lunch. I went to the Empire State Building like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in the movie An Affair to Remember, had lunch at Chelsea Market and made a curious visit to the famous Museum of Sex on 5th Ave. I ate a cream cheese Danish in front of Tiffany’s just to say I had breakfast there. I rode the train in Montreal and every sign was in French and I walked their cobblestone streets in the middle of a hot day in July. I ate the best Canadian cuisine and listened to the most beautiful jazz. I went to Dallas because of course everything is bigger in Texas, I went to Orlando to see New Edition perform, and ended my rendezvous in the heartland for some Kansas City BBQ and to take a nap in the gazebo under the Kansas sky. I agree with Dorothy “There’s No Place Like Home”

The only thing that I would allow to interrupt these 7 months of beautiful madness was community service and my volunteerism at United Way. Almost every day when I wasn’t traveling I would go to United Way set up my personal laptop and try and figure how to create a better life for everyone living here in metro Atlanta. Beyond beauty to me is the interactions and experiences you have with people, and my goal is to try to be as good to them as they have been to me.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I will quote the late great Prince!!

Paint a perfect picture Bring to life a vision in one’s mind The beautiful ones Always smash the picture Always everytime

During that 7 months of chaotic bliss I stopped trying to meet everyone’s expectations I took the pressure off myself to bring to life a perfect vision and I just lived….. Simply and authentically.

Beyond Beauty is the most imperfect interpretation of myself.

So when I start to create this perfect picture I SMASH it, because true beauty is about discovery.

An unearthing A breakthrough & Self innovation

Katerina Taylor. President & CEO. DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. Beyond Beauty. Unity & Empowerment. Keynote Speaker

*DeKalb Chamber of Commerce 125 Clairemont Ave #235, Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-8000 http://www.dekalbchamber.org/