Interview with Krista Souto, CAI

With the end of 2020 drawing near, many people are focusing on the negatives of this year. However, we wanted to take a second and see what bright lights there were in this past year. This interview, reflecting on 2020 and the future, is with Krista Souto, the Marketing Director for CAI.  

What “gift” have you been given in your job or professional life this year? Who gave you that gift?

If challenges are gifts in disguise, then this year I have been the recipient of many. One stands out as the most impactful – the gift of trust. I started a new position in March of this year as Marketing Director, Demand Generation, a week before COVID-19 demanded office closures. I had been acquainted with my CMO through our marketing industry affiliations, but I had only met my team members face-to-face a few times before the shut-down. Charged with building a world class marketing engine from the ground up, we virtually had mountains to climb, and suddenly our journey was all virtual – via Teams meetings and Zoom. We had to build trust quickly and it had to start at the top.

The definition of trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. It is a gift because it provides a sense of safety and a comfortable environment to share knowledge. When your team feels safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, take risks, and expose vulnerabilities. Trust works up and down the ladder and increases commitment to team goals. With it, communication improves, ideas flow, and creativity and productivity are at their highest. I thank my CMO, John Kunzier, for the gift of his trustworthiness, and I thank him also for the gift of his trust in me. It makes our team’s days happier, our confidence stronger, and our passion for excellence greater.

What is one thing that happened this year that you wouldn’t trade for anything?

My Dad, Vince Souto, was the St. Titus CYO grade school baseball coach for 30+ years. He led his teams to eight championships and was later inducted into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame. He is also a Master Baker, Bocce Champion, Renaissance Man, and awesome father to 4 children (1 boy, 3 girls). Our family lost my oldest brother over 20 years ago. My Dad weathered the storm of that loss, but the void of the father-son bond is one that is hard to replace.

For years, he has been talking about a reunion with his former baseball players. He did more than teach them the fundamentals of baseball: he taught them about life and about how to be good humans. Because of the relationships he built as coach, mentor, and friend, he is still connected to many of his players.

My sisters and I decided that we wanted to make this reunion happen for my Dad under the guise of his 79th birthday celebration in July. It would bring him so much joy. We didn’t want to hear his team’s stories at his funeral, we wanted him to know how much these players valued him and looked up to him real-time.

We started a private Facebook group in April, mined my Dad’s Facebook contacts for the team members of over 30 years, and invited them to join us. The list grew from 8 members to 75 members overnight. July passed, COVID was still a threat, so we put it on hold until further notice. The teams stayed with us, posting pictures of championship games, team picnics, and team parents’ pictures. There was also, of course, some healthy competition – a poll of which championship team was the best – with the winners challenging each other to a softball game for bragging rights.

The event came to fruition on September 12th. We rented a softball field and a pavilion and prayed for good weather. The universe delivered. On a glorious fall Saturday, his players “showed up”, just like he taught them. To say it was a surprise is an understatement: my Papa was overwhelmed with emotion and pride. We played softball, signed a scrapbook of memories, swapped stories about life and baseball, and a few of his players roasted “Coach Toot”, which we caught on video for posterity. Seeing my Dad’s face, the moment he realized that his former players came out to celebrate him, was priceless. The joy that I felt in bringing him this experience is the one thing that happened this year that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

What bright spots are you seeing headed into next year?

Bright spots – there are many. On the work-front, my team continues to embark on building a world-class marketing organization. We are in the throes of implementing new technologies to make our team stronger, smarter, and give us the ability to measure the value of our work within the organization. Our corporate culture continues to evolve. The growth of our diversity and inclusion initiatives reminds us to embrace and celebrate our differences. Old-school mentalities are beginning to come around to what’s new and current. Slowly we are changing minds so that they believe in the art of the possible.

On a personal note, I continue to seek learning opportunities. My goals for next year include obtaining a yoga teacher certification and skydiving (most likely in that order so I can gain the inner peace to face my fear of heights!).

My last bright spot is to remember to look for the bright spots in the universe – no matter how challenging life becomes; they surround us if we pay close attention.

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