The Nine 2023: Karen Castaño

Karen Castano, The Nine 2023
(Image credit: Future)

Title: Director of National Business

Company: Exertis Almo

Location: Dallas, TX

Overtime: While she enjoys photography and writing, you’ll most likely find her chasing around her two-year-old triplets in her spare time (which she photographs and writes about in her blog).

Why You Need to Know Her: Her own ambitions are secondary to her team’s where she is a strong advocate for promoting the future talent of Pro AV. “My joy is seeing other people succeed,” Castaño said. “It's far more important than my personal glory.”

Karen Castaño has had a wild ride in her recently celebrated sixth year in the Pro AV industry. Exertis Almo’s director of national business started with Stampede in 2017, saw the company transition from Exertis and then to Exertis Almo in January of 2022 before being named to her current position in April of the same year.

A career in Pro AV wasn’t necessarily Castaño’s future. No, Castaño attended UCLA undergrad as a theater major with aspirations of being an actress. She then got her MBA at Claremont Graduate University in California, and while her focus on marketing and strategy helped her get to where she is today, so did UCLA. “That theater degree serves pretty much any job that you do because at some point, you're going to have to get up in front of people, whether you're in an interview, you're in a sales position, you're in a coaching position, and you're going to have to perform,” said Castaño. “Learning that gives you a lot of confidence to be able to do it.”

I discovered that the thing about the industry that's really amazing is the people are just really incredible. That was it hands down.

Today, she guides a national team of account managers and customer engagement representatives. Well, at least per her job description and resume. What stands out about Castaño is her passion for her people. “That's probably my biggest role,” she said. “I'm in the business of growing my people.”  

Castaño was at a software company when the idea of Pro AV came calling. As she said, “it was the strategy piece of it that felt really interesting.” She entered the industry in what she called “trial by fire” and quickly learned what made it the right fit. “I discovered that the thing about the industry that's really amazing is the people are just really incredible. That was it hands down. Even when I was having a tough day or frustrated by things, I would go back to these people that I worked with or these vendor relationships that we had and the sales managers on the vendor side and I was like, ‘This is a great industry for the people.’”

All this makes her current role a perfect fit. It married her two passions, a team and strategy, together and, as she said, “it brought me back to that people development and that people growth thing that really speaks to my heart.

“You think of what's happening right now, like the mergers. Yesterday's little company might be bought and then they become the next day's big, big company. It's the same thing with account managers. These people who start out tomorrow, they might go and become a field manager, they might become a business development manager. And they're all the future leaders of what we're doing. I'm shaping that and I think that that's a big role and a big responsibility.”

While Castaño may not have intended to be, she is part of the changing landscape of Pro AV. As a strong and successful female leader, she is one of many who are rising to positions that not long ago were male dominated. “You can feel [the shift]. And it is really nice because I do think that that is changing dramatically.”

Castaño now spends her time “pulling all the pieces together,” and that includes sales strategies, traveling to conferences, and of course, managing her team. What advice does she impart on the future of Pro AV? Be curious and be flexible. “It's a great place to get your feet wet,” she said. “If you can be flexible and just know that changes are part of what happens when you have this many products and this many manufacturers, then the cool part, especially about distribution, is you have so many choices—and that's awesome.”

Meet the rest of The Nine.

Wayne Cavadi
Senior Content Manager

Wayne Cavadi is the senior content manager of Systems Contractor News. Prior to taking a leap into the Pro AV industry, Wayne was a journalist and content lead for Turner Sports, covering the NCAA, PGA, and Major and Minor League Baseball. His work has been featured in a variety of national publications including Bleacher Report, Lindy's Magazine, and The Advocate. When not writing, he hosts the DII Nation Podcast, committed to furthering the stories and careers of NCAA Division II student-athletes. Follow his work on Twitter at @WayneCavadi_2 or the SCN mag Twitter page.