Written by 21CL Youth Ambassador Spencer Johnson, class of 2020, Home School

I was given the opportunity to interview the newest addition to the 21st Century Leaders Board of Directors, Mr. Steven Staes.

Mr. Staes is an excellent example of what it truly means to be a leader! A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mr. Staes grew up in an encouraging and motivating household. Setting the bar high for his future goals and careers, Mr. Staes’ father was a school teacher and principal and his mother a banker, and both parents were college graduates; his family heavily influenced his morals and priorities. Education came first and was Mr. Staes’ top priority during younger years. Today, he holds a Master’s Degree in finance and received his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) and Bachelor of Science in Management (B.S.M.) at Tulane University.

Currently, Mr. Staes is the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel at K&G. With 90 stores reporting to him, Mr. Staes displays accountability, dependability, and leadership skills on a daily basis. Mr. Staes considers the skills that contribute to his success at K&G: recognizing talent in others, uplifting and encouraging employees, and relating to the lives of others. Mr. Staes takes pride in initiating the same level and depth of conversation with a CEO as with the janitor of the company. This shows a real leader is one who not only respects his authorities, but extends the same politeness and sincerity to the lowest of positions. In the end, each and every individual in a company is human and deserves the same level of kindness and respect.

When asked what advice he would give to a high school student, Mr. Staes did not hesitate in his response. He clearly stated, “Students must work hard to find out what they are passionate about and have the courage to pursue that path. How to find one’s passion lies in research, lots and lots of it.” With limitless amounts of readings of related articles, Mr. Staes advocated the internet as the most powerful tool for students to discover their passion. Back in his day, individuals did not have the power of the internet at the touch of their fingers. Taking advantage of these resources is the crucial backbone for success in the 21st century. In addition, Mr. Staes explained that people should seek out others already doing what they are interested in and talk to them. “What does it mean day to day to be surgeon or an engineer? Talk to them,” was how Mr. Staes put his answer in perspective.

Before 2006, Mr. Staes was introduced to 21st Century Leaders by one of his colleagues. Over the past 10 years, Mr. Staes’ children attended 21CL summer institutes and, eventually, he became a donor and was invited to various functions as a volunteer. As a new board member, Mr. Staes’ goals are to spread 21st Century Leaders’ 21CLubs in high schools and see the organization grow and reach students all across the state of Georgia.