Rita L. Reicher ’74 was recently featured in the “Sunday Conversations” section of the Post-Standard (Syracuse). She is currently the president and chair of KS&R, a market research firm she co-founded more than 20 years ago. The article notes KS&R “grew into a national powerhouse. That was not an accident.”
“We decided early on that we didn’t want to be a mom-and-pop operation. We were going to compete with the big guys,” said Reicher. “That’s been our focus, and that’s what we do.”
She cited William Smith as a place where she was able to have leadership roles.
“There was a strong emphasis on women taking leadership roles. We had separate student governments, of which I was a part. In my senior year, I was elected to be the student trustee of the Board of Trustees,” she said.
Reicher earned a B.A. in mathematics from William Smith College with honors. In addition to serving as student trustee, she was a member of William Smith Congress, was inducted into Hai Timiai and was a member of the Herons lacrosse team.
The full article follows.
Rita Reicher on leadership: Be confident, build consensus, aim to compete with the big guys
Stan Linhorst • March 30, 2014
Rita L. Reicher is one of six people who founded KS&R in 1983.
KS&R, the market research firm headquartered in Syracuse, grew into a national powerhouse. That was not an accident.
“We decided early on that we didn’t want to be a mom-and-pop operation. We were going to compete with the big guys,” said Reicher, president and chairwoman. “That’s been our focus, and that’s what we do.”
The company has about 200 employees and ranks annually in the top 50 American market research firms. It has long-term relationships with such business icons as AT&T, FedEx, IBM and Microsoft.
KS&R started in a small office on South Salina Street. Now Reicher, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, has a commanding view from her 15th-floor corner office in AXA Tower 1 in downtown Syracuse.
Were you in leadership roles growing up?
I went to William Smith College (a women’s college), which is a coordinated college with Hobart.
There was a strong emphasis on women taking leadership roles. We had separate student governments, of which I was a part. In my senior year, I was elected to be the student trustee of the Board of Trustees.
It was a great way to encourage women to take action and to become leaders.
What did it teach you?
The most important thing is confidence. You begin to try things and realize that you can do them. You become confident about taking on responsibilities.
Any leadership positions while earning your Ph.D. at Yale?
I chose a teaching assistantship instead of a research assistantship. If you think about being in front of a classroom as leadership, yes.
What did you learn leading a classroom?
You have to bring enthusiasm. Economics can be a dry subject. You gotta liven it up a little bit — if nothing else by your actions in front of the classroom.
Is that a skill you apply in your professional life?
Absolutely, in two ways.
For new staff as you try to mentor them and have them understand the analytics that we are involved in.
It’s even more importantly on the client side. You have to make sure that you provide those analytics in a form that they can understand and that they can share.
Who influenced your leadership style?
First, I would say my parents and my grandmother.
My grandmother (Maddalena Calligaris) on my father’s side was a very strong woman. She had to be because her husband died when she was in her late 30s. She was a strong person and role model.
Then my parents, particularly my father. He had four daughters, so he had to put aside some of his thoughts about men versus women and success. He always said, “Good, better best, never let it rest. Till good is better and better is best.”
That was something we all strived for. Being the best was ingrained from the beginning.
Then Ann Michel. (Michel, who died in 2004, was one of KS&R’s cofounders). She was a very strong woman. She was a mentor to me throughout her life.
How did your grandmother influence you?
It wasn’t necessarily the things she said. She was an immigrant from Italy. Her English skills were not all that good.
At the age of 40, she had to disguise her age to get a job. That made her 39 when she went to work. She lived by herself from the age of 39 on. She was an independent lady. She had strong opinions. She had no qualms about sharing those opinions. That strength helped me think that I could be a strong person as well.
Why did she have to disguise her age?
Employers would not look at people who were 40. So she became 39. She worked at Camillus Cutlery. She sharpened knives.
Every industry is going through change, either because of the recent economy or more fundamentally to adapt to the digital age. How do you go about changing an organization and its culture to succeed in a new environment created by external pressures?
It’s not easy.
Part of it is just building that knowledge within the employee base that we need to do new things.
Doing it gradually — as gradually as you can. Some things have to happen fast.
We’re fortunate in the sense that many of our services have been using technology for a while. In particular, let’s talk about survey work. There’s been a gradual movement away from telephone-based survey work and to online research. So we’ve made that transition and have some very good online-based services.
Probably the more challenging aspect — just from a resources point of view — is the I.T. infrastructure.
We are building applications now, customized applications. We’re doing things that we never thought we would have to do.
So we’ve invested considerably in our I.T. Not only in our I.T. physical infrastructure, but in our I.T. capability. We’ve built an I.T. personnel base.
If you’re going to list the keys to successful leadership, what would they be?
A love of what you do.
Then the ability to gain respect. Certainly from your employees, but also from the people you work with — your clients.
Please talk about those keys.
People are looking for a leader who is confident. In other words, they believe that the person can be successful at leading the company.
But they’re also looking for honesty, in terms of wanting to know that or get as much insight as possible on the true outlook of the organization.
They want somebody to be confident, but not so overly confident that they mislead.
You have to believe in yourself and believe in your company. If you want to lead you have to believe in yourself. That you can be successful. That you can make whatever you’re trying to do, whatever your goal is, you can get your organization closer to those goals.
Goals are not necessarily meant to be fully achieved, but you can move people forward on those goals.
Objectives are different.
What is the difference between goals and objectives?
Goals are sort of those far-out goals – they may not be fully achievable.
Objectives are the steps toward getting toward those goals.
Any other lessons to share on leadership?
I tend to work in teams.
I like to build consensus or at least buy-in from the team.
I’m not the type of person who dictates, unless there is something that has to be dictated. That’s not my style. It’s more building consensus.
“Sunday Conversations” run regularly in The Post-Standard’s Business section, featuring interviews with local citizens about leadership, success, and innovation. The conversations are condensed and edited. To suggest a person for Sunday Conversations, contact Stan Linhorst at firstname.lastname@example.org.