Alumni Spotlight Q&A: Deborah Castro, EML ’12
Deborah Castro is the president and CEO of Creative Productions, a strategic marketing agency that specializes in strategy, creative and digital solutions. In 2014, the Long Beach Women’s Business Council named Castro the inaugural recipient of its Entrepreneur of the Year award.
In addition to her professional achievements, Castro is a member of several philanthropic, professional and industry organizations in the greater Los Angeles area and nationally.
At USC, she has taken on an active role as a leader and volunteer, having led parents in USC Day of SCervice events at the Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission and launching a first-of-its-kind Trojan Family Weekend mobile app to boost alumni and parent engagement, among many other efforts. Currently, Castro serves as chair of the Leadership Council for the USC Price School’s Athenian Society.
Can you explain your work as president and CEO of Creative Productions?
My role is to set the vision and direction for the company and continue to innovate, while at the same time preserving our core principles and enhancing growth. A big part of it is evaluating risks and rewards for new ventures, supporting community and philanthropic involvement, and encouraging my team in their success. Because our business depends on technology, where change is constant, continuous learning is a key priority to stay relevant and find new solutions.
What motivated you to start this agency?
The freedom to build a company from the ground up—the opportunity to be surrounded by people who were equally excited and passionate about doing good work as a team. I started my first business at the age of 17, while I was studying business at USC. Soon after, I was tapped by an ad agency to be an “intrepreneur,” where I started a new division. When the opportunity to start my own agency presented itself, through a unique one-year project hosted by William Shatner and Fortune Magazine, I made the choice to take the leap and begin building my business.
What do you consider the best part of your work?
I enjoy the excitement of learning about a client’s organization and drilling down into the unique differentiators and opportunities that can be leveraged for success, whether they are looking to increase revenues, reduce attrition, or gain greater engagement, each comes with its own challenges. The reward is developing a strategy that delivers results through orchestrating a variety of tactics. Working with a broad range of public, private and nonprofits, keeps the business interesting by applying knowledge from different sectors to deliver creative solutions that are often unexpected.
What would you say are the biggest challenges you face in your leadership role?
Time management is the biggest challenge. Ensuring that I am focusing on the right things at each moment. There are competing priorities and it is important to stop and ask the question, “Am I working on is the most important activity that aligns with the company’s priorities?”
What sparked your interest in getting involved and volunteering at USC?
I came back to USC in 2010 for the EML program at the same time my son was accepted for his freshman year! While my husband and I had been involved with athletics after undergraduate studies, I became inspired to support USC when I witnessed the transformation that was taking place at the university; the timing was right as a parent, alumnus, and EML student. Under Dean Knott’s leadership, the Price School provided a great perspective toward improving the quality of life for people and our communities. As I became more involved with several areas of the university, I was energized to give back to USC and to my community as a donor and as a volunteer.
You’ve led numerous USC volunteer efforts — what’s been the most rewarding experience?
It is difficult to name one, but the one of the best experiences was speaking at summer/winter orientations with my husband (Larry), through our tenure on the Alumni Board of Governors. We shared our stories and enthusiasm about our USC involvement to encourage parents and students to get involved and enhance their USC experience. This further translated to our Day of SCervice, with a waiting list of dedicated parents and families ready to help.
How did USC Price and the Executive Master of Leadership (EML) program prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
EML is a program that helps leaders learn, grow and reflect on their leadership. One of the big takeaways was getting comfortable being uncomfortable; it is simple and profound. When I entered the program, I wanted to challenge myself and learn from faculty and peers in different disciplines. I wanted to grow personally, which would help me become a better leader. Another goal was to gain a greater perspective of public-private partnerships; specifically, how public entities balance their priorities and desired outcomes to serve the public good, in contrast with the private sector that typically focuses on the financial bottom line. EML delivered.
Was there a Price faculty member or course you found particularly inspirational?
Our cohort was fortunate to have accomplished faculty, amazing guest professors and leaders who were able to share their experiences, such as Dr. Robert C. Myrtle, an exemplary leader and one of the founders of the program. The course on strategy led by Dr. Rick Culley, provided me with great frameworks for strategic planning, which added practical tools to my toolbox going forward. One thing that Dr. Culley encouraged us to do was to take risks and get out on the “skinny branches.” That really stuck and applies to several aspects of my life. Thank you!
What was your favorite part about being a student in the EML program?
Working with teams and learning from the members of our cohort (Cohort 4). The program is very kinetic; it provided us opportunities to interact, work on team projects, and learn from our professors and colleagues in various settings. Writing weekly reflections was an important part of the self-discovery process to encourage more mindfulness in our leadership journeys.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with students as they launch their own careers?
Follow your passions and do what you love. At the same time, be flexible when opportunities present themselves, and lean in. You never know where an opportunity or job will lead; it is important to be open to possibilities that may not appear to be a fit. Be willing to do more than is expected, surprise your employer by being one step ahead, staying late, or asking for more work. Play to your strengths and continue to build on them, as these are the qualities that will enable you to set yourself apart. Network with your fellow Trojans from Price School and continue to stay involved with USC. The Trojan Family is the greatest network in the world and we are all fortunate to be Trojans for life!