CEO, Starcom USA
By Rodeena Stephens
Kathy Ring has changed the game forwomen in media. As CEO of Starcom USA, Ring has worked her way to the top of one of the largest media networks in the world for more than three decades. Ring’s career at Starcom started in 1983 as a buyer/planner. In just a few short years, she was promoted to media supervisor, then elected a vice president in 1988. Throughout her career, Ring has spearheaded advertising and marketing strategy for some of the world’s leading brands, including McDonald’s, General Motors, Coca-Cola Company, Kraft Heinz and more. Her innovative strategies and perseverance opened the door for her to lead the agency’s Los Angeles operation, where she helped grow the office to nearly 300 employees. In addition to leading the L.A. office, Ring oversees a number of Disney brands. She has proven to be a force to be reckoned with.
WHICH WOMEN IN COMMUNICATIONS DO YOU ADMIRE?
Women who walk with purpose, who chart their own path and are accountable for their choices. And women who purposely surround themselves with people different than them in order to enhance their learning and their life. I think back to my first boss, Sally Hunter, who was brilliant and fearless and totally owned who she was. And of course, Elisabeth Badinter, a feminist writer and the chairman of the board of the Publicis Groupe.
WHO WAS THE FIRST PERSON YOU TOLD ABOUT YOUR MATRIX AWARD?
My family. They are my number one source of support. They have lived through my career with me and all of the choices that come along with that, and of course, all of the wonderful experiences that it has provided.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO PURSUE A CAREER IN COMMUNICATIONS?
As a college student, I truly struggled to commit to a single major. I was interested in so many things, and the idea of narrowing my range of interests was not very attractive. Advertising and marketing struck me as the exact opposite — a career where one had to understand communication and business, human behavior and sports and culture and marketing, and integrate all of the pieces into a workable whole. Along with a lifetime of learning, because in marketing there are very few right or wrong answers and its pursuit of the best alternative based on data and learnings and experiences.
‘There is no “right” path. You may make a lateral move, but you’ll gain a different experience that teaches you.’
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CAREER MILESTONE?
Probably pitching the Disney media business, winning and moving across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles… without any safety net. To start up a new office in a new city with a new client in a new category with all new people was really a great challenge, along with [moving] my husband and three kids under 10. It was a huge change, one that I actively pursued, and it was a rocky 12 months. I think that all the learning, making it through, and building a thriving operation, has had a lot of influence on how I approach challenges to this day.
WITH 30-PLUS YEARS AT STARCOM, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
The culture. We have a truly interdependent culture of lifelong learners and where people work together to solve client business challenges.
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR EMPLOYEES MOTIVATED?
We work to create a culture of inclusivity and authenticity. And a place where people are empowered – we say people are “owners and not renters.” That means that they are invested in making Starcom their home and creating the place and environment that they can thrive in, and where they can be their true authentic self. I have been privileged to work with, and mentor, some amazing people. I love seeing the whole person, and many times, seeing potential and possibilities in someone that they may not see in themselves. And working to grow and nurture their special talents. I have always felt that I had the runway to create anything I wanted for myself at Starcom, and I want every team member to feel that same way.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO COLLEGE STUDENTS PURSUING A CAREER IN COMMUNICATIONS?
Always be curious. No matter what you are doing or are asked to do, always ask “why?” Seek to understand how things work, how and why people make decisions and what moves people to action. And that it’s important to curate different experiences. There is no “right” path. You may make a lateral move, but you’ll gain a different experience that teaches you, and will equip you for something even better in the future.
Rodeena Stephens is a professor and department co-chair, Communications, Media and Journalism Department at Westchester Community College.
Kathy Ring’s 2019 Matrix Award will be presented by Renetta McCann.
As CEO of Starcom USA, Kathy Ring is responsible for driving a next-generation media agency focused on the convergence of media, technology and creativity—enabling the design of unique human experiences in the one-to-one era of marketing, at scale. In her role as US CEO, Kathy oversees some of the world’s leading marketers and new establishment brands, including Allstate, Bank of America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Lionsgate, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Samsung, Visa and more.
Kathy has been with Starcom for over 30 years. Previously, Kathy served as President of Starcom USA where she led the agency’s LA operation, having moved there in 2002 from Chicago to establish the newly-formed office. During that time, Kathy helped grow the office to nearly 300 team members.
Kathy has cultivated a client-first, strategy-led organization, which has proved successful for Starcom USA. She is also a true testament to Starcom’s heritage of developing top talent within the industry and is known for her gift of developing team members and her passion for cultivating a strong corporate culture.