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Solving problems equals visibility

Another way Kathy Prime stands out? Her people skills

Kathy Prime - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Kathy Prime learned early in her career that to get noticed, you had to raise your hand – enthusiastically – for the jobs that no one else wanted.

But don’t just go through the motions. Shine it up. Solve the problem.

“I did things others didn’t want to do,” she said. “Solving business problems gave me visibility. It’s a good way to get in, get seen and be known.”

And being seen and being heard happens often now – almost nonstop for the Lancaster County executive.

As chief learning and talent development officer with The High Companies LLC, Prime is either meeting or talking with 50 different people in any given week.

“Today alone I talked to 15,” she said during an early afternoon phone call in March. “Four or five business leaders … Thirty percent are new (contacts).”

Prime’s responsibilities? She develops leaders, she trains, she educates and she recruits.

Her professional background is diverse. She’s worked in New York state politics, has run mergers and acquisitions – she understands the numbers. She headlined public relations for one company’s bout with crisis communication. She’s traveled – a lot. In a given year while working for PNC Financial Services, her average travel days easily surpassed the days at home, bags unpacked.

Oh, and she’s fun to talk to. Big, friendly smile, engaging the minute you meet her. Infectious laughter.

“It’s rare that I can say hello in less than five words,” she said.

She helps grow and attract talent

Prime joined High in November after holding executive positions with Susquehanna Bank, PNC and Sterling Financial Corp.

At High, Prime helps the organization align people with its business strategies. In short, she helps grow and attract talent that will help grow the company.

“What is it about our company that makes people want to work there? What are our attractions? And then … I network,” she said.

OK, so sell me. What makes High so special?

“Diversification. We have so many different business. We have steel, real estate … It’s a strong financial company that gives you a lot of opportunity,” she said.

Bring your whole self to the table

When she’s not pitching her company, she openly shares bits of her life: her struggle with cancer, her family, her career challenges and taking some professional leaps. She’s comfortable, confident with where her professional growth has taken her.

“Companies benefit from the whole you,” she said.

And sometimes, small, yet important conversations help bring about change.

For example, Prime referred to a meeting in which she was the only female on its executive committee. She was in her mid-30s at the time. In that meeting, the group agreed that they needed to meet the next day at 7:30 a.m., earlier than normal for a workday.

Her manager singled out Prime in front of the others. Was that time also acceptable for her?

“‘Kathy will that work for you?’ He asked me in front of everyone,” she said. “Later, I pulled him aside and asked ‘Why did you do that? When you say statements like that, that sets me apart.'” It unintentionally indicates that Prime needed special exceptions to do her job, when she didn’t.

The supervisor was apologetic. “‘I never saw it that way,'” she said he told her. That conversation helped to make the company more inclusive.

But speaking up didn’t come easy. If Prime could go back and guide her younger self, she’d tell the 20-something Kathy to not worry about being perfect.

“I wanted always to have the answers then. Now learning comes from the mistakes you make. Step out of your comfort zone,” she said.

And what’s the best advice she follows now?

“Thank somebody for their help they have done,” she said. “And try to do something for myself once a week. Those are important for me, because I’m not always good at them.”

Giving back

Part of Prime’s personal journey was a recent breast cancer diagnosis.

She flipped that diagnosis to a giving-back opportunity.

For her 50th birthday, she hosted a “50 Shades of Pink Party” that raised $50,000 for breast cancer research.

“That kind of pay it forward? That’s what we women do,” she said.

Cathy Hirko
Cathy Hirko is managing editor, news, for the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. Email her at chirko@cpbj.com.

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