Kate Mays

Relentless forward motion

How Kate Mays climbed the ladder from intern to Chief Operating Officer at CSI Companies.

For Kate Mays (BSBA ’06), the decision to bolster her education with a degree from the University of Florida was straightforward. The Jacksonville native’s father was an alumnus of UF Law, and her older brothers were both Warrington graduates. Her mother was in the first class of women at Dartmouth College and had always encouraged Mays to pursue an education that would challenge her.

Mays’ most pressing decision would be in what she would do after she completed her degree in marketing from the Warrington College of Business.

Her path began to take shape with two experiences guiding the way – a lesson in Bill Rossi’s entrepreneurship class and an internship opportunity through the Career Resource Center.

“Dr. Rossi, throughout his lectures, would drop this quote every once in a while, ‘There’s no such thing as luck. It is when preparation meets opportunity,’” she said. “That quote has impacted me since the moment I heard it.”

The quote would serve as a constant reminder to Mays that there is no substitution for putting in effort and how critical it was to do so during the early stages of her career.

With Rossi’s advice and her family’s encouragement for continued educational experiences, Mays applied to join the first internship class at CSI Companies, a company that was focused on staffing at the time and had recently opened an office in her hometown of Jacksonville.

“At the time, the internship program wasn’t completely developed, and we did a lot of shadowing, but I knew that I wanted to be a sponge and soak up all that I could from the experience,” Mays recalled. “It really opened my eyes to something that I didn’t realize that I was interested in.”

In doing so, Mays would find what she had been looking for – her path forward, which would continue to progress all the way to her current role as Chief Operating Officer at CSI Companies, now a $500 million workforce solutions company.   

After graduating from UF, Mays returned to CSI, initially serving as a recruiter, seeking out other recent graduates like herself to fill positions within CSI. Mays later transitioned to a role in sales, specifically the company’s IT consulting team.

As a young woman with no background in IT, Mays recalled how rocky this portion of her path was.

“I was the only female on the team, and I was the youngest, at 25 years old,” she said. “The demographic for my product was someone who was in a CIO-type role, which usually meant an older man. It was definitely intimidating to be in that position.”

Through time and practice, though, Mays learned that she didn’t need a strong IT background or be anything other than herself in order to make a connection with her clients.

“I learned that selling was more about relating to people rather than the IT knowledge itself,” she said. “Being successful meant more about customer service and relating to individuals.”

Mays’ understanding of her craft would bring her up through various leadership positions, including director of sales and division president before joining the C-suite. Despite all her career successes, Mays remains rooted in the belief of preparation and opportunity over luck.

“I am fortunate to be in a setting that doesn’t have any ceilings, but I still have to remember to push myself – to work and to produce,” she said.

Working towards goals that Mays is proud to support helps make her efforts well worth it, she noted. With turning its focus to workforce solutions, CSI provides a number of technology, healthcare, and finance businesses with the solutions they need to be successful, from sourcing staffing to in-house consulting.  

Internally, Mays is most proud of the work she gets to do in helping CSI employees find a career path that is tailored to them as individuals.

“We’ve created plans that allow people to follow their path by providing them with the tools they need to find their success,” she said. “I remember, for myself, how challenging it was to find my own path. It can be life changing once people find where they belong.”

As someone who truly has climbed the ladder from the ground up, Mays has learned plenty of important lessons along the way as to what it takes to have sustained career growth.

First, she notes, is how critical it is to find a mentor. But just one mentor shouldn’t be expected to guide every aspect of your life.

“One challenge I had in my career was that I’ve never had one mentor,” she said. “It was hard to find someone who has done what I’ve done in my career, so I changed my mind set and learned to find multiple role models. There are so many different people who have various aspects of what you want to achieve, so seek them all out.”

Second, Mays encourages learning about every aspect of your company, even areas where you don’t have expertise.

“I like to sit in every seat in the company, whether that’s actually performing the work or listening to others in that area,” she said. “Having an understanding of different perspectives makes you better. For example, if you’re in sales, then it’s important that you know what the accounting team needs to complete the sale.

“People will be more willing to respect you and your opinion because they know you’ve experienced what they do on a daily basis.”

Third, just keep moving, no matter how difficult things might get.

“Keep relentless forward motion,” she said. “Being in the sales environment, you’ll get ‘noes’ all the time, but if you keep pressing on then you’ll eventually figure out how to win. Little steps are still movement forward.”

Mays found this mentality particularly critical at a recent retreat by Jesse Itzler that includes a half-marathon race up and down a large hill, Hell on the Hill.

“It’s brutal,” she said. “But it’s more of a mental challenge. You just have to keep moving – one foot in front of the other.”

Hell on the Hill is just one of the many additional activities that Mays does outside of her time at CSI. In addition to serving on the boards of the American Lung Association and American Heart Association, the fitness-enthusiast and her husband are keeping up with their three children, including their 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son who are on traveling soccer and baseball teams, and their 10-month-old daughter who keeps everyone’s spirits up as the team mascot.

“I always try to be a good example for them,” she said.

A “good example” is an understatement as Mays continues to inspire others in both her personal and professional life, embodying the true meaning of determination.