LAKEWOOD RANCH — Heather Kasten took a winded and twisted path to the top.
Kasten has sold pharmaceuticals, helped attract and keep members at a large nonprofit, and even had stints as a housewife and as salesperson for the world’s largest amusement park company — Six Flags.
She didn’t plan for it to be this way, but Kasten’s career has brought her here, to be the executive director for the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance.
“It’s been quite the roller coaster,” said Kasten, two weeks before she begins work at the alliance May 12. “This will be my first time sitting in the chair. I want to do this. It’s kind of where my path led me and it’s great timing for me, professionally and personally.”
Kasten, most recently the vice president of membership at the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, understands the competitive nature of running a nonprofit — how organizations vie for the same sponsorship dollars.
And she appreciates the challenge of running a small business — how to manage growth while balancing a budget. Her husband, Clint, is an entrepreneur who runs three small businesses.
With the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Kasten will work for a board of directors determined to see growth.
She will be tasked with leading a nearly 10-year-old nonprofit organization into its next life phase — to add to its 1,300 active membership base, enhance its sponsorship dollars and position the alliance as the engine for economic development in Lakewood Ranch.
“My whole life is in Lakewood Ranch, so I understand its growth potential,” said Kasten, who lives in Panther Ridge with her husband and their three children: Cole, 16, Crayton, 14, and Carly, 12. “The opportunities here are unbelievable, as a place to start a business, run a business and live. The alliance will be a part of telling that story. There’s excitement in getting in on something new, growing it and taking it to the next level.”
Signaling a desire to be a serious economic development player in the region, the alliance moved into its new 2,000-square foot office in late April.
After the alliance’s former leader, Robin Parsons, resigned in December, the organization’s volunteer board of directors crafted a new job description. The job title changed from business development director to executive director and the job ad made a point to require “exceptional communication at all levels of the organization and with external organizations.”
A human resources task force specially formed to hire the executive director honed in on Kasten shortly after she expressed interested in the position 10 weeks ago.
“Her communications skills are excellent,” task force member Marc Simms said. “She relates well with her current board of directors at the Sarasota chamber and she has earned a great level of respect from them. That shows she is very comfortable handling people from all ends of the spectrum, from volunteer to chairmen of the board.”
Kasten has been a member of the alliance for three-and-a-half years and is often spotted at alliance networking events.
When the top job at the alliance became open, a few familiar faces on the board of directors approached Kasten about leading the organization.
“I had no intent to leave where I was. I love the chamber,” Kasten said. “But, through continued conversations, I knew what a great opportunity this was. I want to come in, work hard and provide a great return on investment for the alliance’s members.”
Task force members believe Kasten’s local ties and experience working at and volunteering with nonprofits make her the best communicator of the alliance’s vision for growth.
Kasten says her work with the Sarasota chamber required “cross pollination” with the Manatee chamber.
“We’ve worked with our partners more than ever and really made collaboration a priority,” Kasten said.
Two weeks before beginning her new job, Kasten looks comfortable in her new desk chair. The space is still undecorated and Kasten seems more like a conversationalist than a commander-in-chief.
Kasten says her leadership style won’t change in her new role.
“My leadership style has always been, ‘If you’re not serving, you’re not leading,’” she said.
The Heather Kasten file
• Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa; master’s degree in marketing from Webster University
• Formerly worked at Eli Lilly and Co., Six Flags, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and more
• A native of St. Louis who lives in East County with her husband, Clint, and three children
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].