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The Leadership Podcast

The Leadership Podcast

Why do we do this?

We interview great leaders, review the books they read, and speak with highly influential authors who study them.

How we do this?

#1 We interview great leaders.
#2 We review the books great leaders read and write.
#3 We have fun!

Nov 22, 2017

Kathy Steele,  CEO of Red Caffeine Marketing + Technology, discusses her career and bouncing back from a business crucible. After overcoming numerous challenges, her re-launched business is now profitable and growing. She has created an intentional culture with people who share a purpose, and key core values. Kathy pursues agile solutions with a think-tank approach, and how leaders don’t ignore the importance of shared values amongst the team.


Key Takeaways

[5:01] Kathy had a business divorce four years ago that led her to found a new business based on things she believed. To reboot her business she focused on purpose, mission, vision, core values, and the tenets of operating the business. Investing in culture helped triple business revenues in four years.
[8:46] Culture Club serves to share financial results, project wins, things that could be improved, education and motivational keynote speakers.

[11:14] Kathy embraces open book operations and the ‘small giants’ philosophies as the right way to do business. After the unfavorable business divorce, Kathy saw transparency as an essential factor in a profitable business. Within the first year, they exceeded sales projections and became debt-free.

[17:54] Kathy displayed vulnerability to bring her team together to rally around the financial challenges they faced in the first year, and improve the ways they do things, through gaming elements and mini-games. One game involved time-tracking — time loggers against non-loggers.
[21:42] When something doesn’t go well, Kathy investigates how she can be more clear about delivering on expectations.
[23:40] Kathy depends on a solid go-to-market framework so sales aligns with production and delivery.
[25:44] Growth of complexity within the company creates collaboration and teamwork challenges. Kathy aspires to agile solutions for problems, using a think-tank approach.  

[30:23] Kathy contrasts her younger business self with her leadership approach today. She credits mentors (including her husband) that fueled her successes.  

[34:30] Running a business is more difficult than Kathy ever imagined and at any stage, there are many different challenges.  Seek people who share your values.



Twitter: @RedCaffeineInc

Twitter: @KathySteele

Facebook: Red Caffeine Inc.

LinkedIn: Kathy Steele

Forbes: “What's In Your 'Stack?' It's Not Just MarTech Driving Business Today”

Forbes: “Your Growth Goals Are Unrealistic Unless You Create A Company Growth Engine”

B2Community: “Wake Up! How to Create a More Engaged Workplace Culture”


Quotable Quotes


“It became critically important to me that I founded … a new business … established on things that I believed.”


“I just honestly don’t know why more businesses don’t operate ‘open book’ or embrace the small giant philosophies.”


“You’ve got young people working for you; what kind of gift do you give them, to teach them the reality of finance?”


“When things don’t go well, I really do feel that … there’s something that I haven’t been clear about.”


“I really discounted how much values meant until I went through that business divorce.”



Kathy Steele is passionate about people, serious about business growth, and loves to help the underdog cause in her community. She is fortunate to "do it all" in her role as CEO of Red Caffeine Marketing + Technology. She is the company visionary overseeing growth, strategic partnerships, and employee engagement.


Kathy speaks and writes about being an entrepreneur and how marketing impacts business. She is a contributor to Forbes and Business 2 Community. She has delivered keynote presentations, and workshops on branding, marketing, and building business culture.


She also has a relentless enthusiasm for great causes, donating her time and expertise to industry groups and non-profit organizations. She is on the Advisory Board for Enterprising Women, an Executive Council Member for the Executive Breakfast Club, Chicago’s Local Group Leader for the Small Giants Community, and a Great Game of Business Practitioner. She likes to foster relationships with leaders who share her strong focus on business ethics, social responsibility, and economic sustainability. The Red Caffeine team has contributed over $200,000 in time, talent, and monetary donations to causes in their community since 2014.


Red Caffeine, Marketing + Technology is a digital agency that fuels the growth of market-leading brands. To speed up growth demands building a brand that customers want to work with, and employees want to work for. They believe establishing a clear business purpose aligns internal teams and will boost sales. They partner with marketing, sales, and HR teams to create strategies that have both financial and operational impact.


Red Caffeine works with recognizable brands like Mitsubishi, Amazon, Elk Grove Village, Baird & Warner and some amazing companies you may not have heard of but manufacturer the products you use every day.


In her leisure, Kathy spends time with her wonderful husband, their four grown children, and is “Gigi” to two amazing grandkids. She enjoys a competitive game of tennis, traveling to exotic locations, and being just good enough to golf some of the world’s most breathtaking courses.


Books mentioned in this episode

The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company, by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingham

Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy,
by Amy C. Edmondson