No Fear in Reinvention: One Woman’s Path From Speech Pathologist to CEO
Kathryn Ritchie calls herself a change agent: “I realized I was always questioning and unraveling things. I tried to understand things systemically and tried to find a different way to do them. I think my history underpins a lot of who I am.”
Today Ritchie is a successful CEO of her own global consulting firm, KRStrategy, which specializes in strategy execution. Her path to success has required several rounds of reinvention; luckily, it’s something Ritchie seems to welcome.
Realizing Who She Is
Ritchie grew up in New Zealand imagining she’d be a court attorney. As she began university, she realized studying law wasn’t the right fit. She transitioned into speech pathology and began working at a hospital in rural Australia, which Ritchie calls a humbling experience. “It was an amazing way to learn about the human spirit and how much determination plays out when someone is really aligned behind a goal.”
As she was working with people in desperate health situations, her future business model began to develop. “I couldn’t make the change for the individual. I had to find ways to enable individuals to see what they could be and that they had to do it. I had to find a way to catalyze that. It forced me into a different mode of operating.”
Her career path took her into management at a rehabilitation center; to banking, where she helped initiate organizational and cultural changes; and then consulting, and all the while this idea kept building in Ritchie, this different way of leading people.
Realizing What She’s Meant to Do
Ritchie finished her MBA and realized the ideas she kept coming back to had actually been the development of a business model that could allow her to be a change agent on a much larger scale. She reinvented herself again, this time starting her own consulting firm.
Ritchie’s goal was to help organizations develop and thrive. “I come to the table with a very positive belief of what people can do and how they can be. I think that’s because if I lived or believed anything else when I was a speech pathologist, I wouldn’t have been doing the right thing by my clients. That stuff became so much a part of me that I think people experience that through the consulting work that KR Strategy does.”
Ritchie’s team works to help leaders and their organizations develop strategies to win in their specific fields and then execute those strategies as one cohesive unit. She adds, “We have to believe that the team we’re consulting for can be wildly successful. It doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard, but I’m always blown away by what can be achieved when people get clear and really rally around a shared vision. It gives me goose bumps. I just love it.”
As Ritchie’s firm and success grew, her need for reinvention surfaced again.
Realizing Where She’s Meant to Be
Ritchie has two daughters. Both faced challenges learning in school but had a great aptitude for skiing. Ritchie described seeing the extreme stress and challenges they were facing in the classroom at school in Australia, and she knew it was time to find another option. Cue her sense of reinvention.
She eventually found ski academies in the U.S. that could provide her daughters with the educational support they needed and the ski environment they desired. She recalls, “They got in, and it paved our way! Coming here (to the U.S.) allowed us to tap into that sort of learning context that simply wasn’t available in that way anywhere else in the world.”
Moving her family was one thing. Transitioning her business was quite another. It was another moment of reinvention. Much of Ritchie’s business is secured through referral, but she wasn’t afraid to prove herself again in a new environment and to new business leaders. Now, 19 years after she first started her firm, and with her girls out of school, Ritchie is finally feeling settled into life in New York City. She’s courting new clients, traveling to Asia and Australia and focusing on what’s to come. “I finally feel like I have the mental space freed up to think about what’s next.”
Ritchie is currently reinventing again, focusing on the next chapter for her firm. That includes the potential for bringing in partners, capitalizing on intellectual property she’s created and ensuring she has a legacy or succession plan when the time’s right. Her business is transitioning from a career to a financial asset.
“Financial planning is an area that’s really important to fulfill your dreams. It gives you choices,” she says. Ritchie has found someone she trusts to help her navigate her dreams for the future—her Northwestern Mutual financial professional. The pair has walked through Ritchie’s personal financial plan and is now tackling the business side of things.
Ritchie is honest about her desire for financial planning help from someone she feels she can trust. “When you shift between countries, the differences are scary because you don’t know where they are. You can make assumptions that things are the same, but they aren’t; and you can fall into a hole that you didn’t even know is there. So having someone I can trust has been a very valuable experience.”
KRStrategy is still in growth mode, but Ritchie and her team are focused on planning for the next 10 years and beyond.
Ritchie’s knack for reinventing herself has lead her down a career path not many people would—or could—follow. To those just starting out, she advises, “Hold onto your presence and self-confidence as you work, and then just learn the rest block by block. Respect how people work, and listen to them. Be clear, and do not go soft when your decision needs to be made. Respect is built over time.” Ritchie has built respect by becoming the change agent she first imagined she’d be years ago, both for herself and her clients.