When Nancy Silberkleit stepped into her role as co-CEO of Archie Comic Publications after her husband Michael died, she made history as the first female executive to ever walk through the company’s doors.
She had been an art teacher for 25 years. “Little did I know that I would be stepping out of the classroom and into the Archie boardroom,“ she said.
It’s been a decade since she became co-CEO but Nancy, who is in Manila for National Bookstore’s Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, said she still sees herself as a teacher—this time at Riverdale High, with Mr. Weatherbee as her principal.
Here are just a few of the many lessons she has to teach.
Take chances. When she had to decide if she was going to say yes to helping run Archie comics, Nancy thought about saying no. But she didn’t. “Thank goodness I said yes. Because I’m telling you, I did not think I should be doing this. I didn’t think I’d become an entrepreneur.” Now she stresses the importance of “having the guts and always saying yes.”
Don’t underestimate yourself. “I was very apprehensive, I was very concerned because I had no business experience. At that time, that’s what I thought.” It took Nancy several years to realize that her experience as a teacher had prepared her for her role as co-CEO. “It gave me my personal MBA. It was my job for 25 years to get information to individual minds in a way that could comprehend what I was presenting. It’s the same for the person in business… It’s our job to connect to people. Teachers are about advancement. What does a company leader want to do? Advancement and growth. Same thing.” She said the patience and tolerance she has developed as a teacher have also been essential tools. “If I didn’t have the background of a teacher, I don’t know if I would have been able to succeed in business,” she said.
Kindness goes a long way. We agree, people need to be kinder—even (or maybe especially) online. Nancy talked about “clicking with kindness.” “Was your click necessary? Was your click helpful? Was your click kind? Always click with kindness.”
In the story “Kindness Works,” Nancy introduces Scarlet, a character with autism. “I always said that we have to reflect who is in the high school and in the school where I taught, we had a very successful autistic program. I can tell you firsthand that for neuro-diverse children, friendships matter to them. Any human being, any living thing wants kindness.” (Readers interested in the story can email Nancy at [email protected])
Don’t let titles get to your head. Nancy has no problems giving out her email address and inviting fans of her company to email her, something we found surprising for a CEO. She said, “Titles shouldn’t put you on a different platform. I’m a person. I’m a person who believes that graphic literacy can move people to do things so I want to spend the time speaking to the people.”
Use your voice and your platform for good. Nancy believes in the power of comic books to spread messages and to get people to move. “I did one with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I did another one on plastics, I did one on entrepreneurship.” She continues to do exactly that in the foundation she put up called Rise Above Social Issues.
Never let anyone else define who you are. Bullying is another issue that’s important to Nancy. “Suicide rates are rising… There was a young man who killed himself, Tyler Clementi. And there was another young girl. And there was Mitchell Wilson, 12 years old, a little boy from Canada who killed himself because of bullying. I wanted to let people know what gets me through my day when the going gets tough. What gets me through my day when the going gets tough is never let anyone define who they want you to be. Can you imagine someone telling you what you can do, what you can’t do, what you said, what you didn’t say, just making your head go wild? Don’t let yourself get in that box. You know who you are. I know how painful it is to be bullied so I just thought I’d like to give it a shot and get that message out. Because if I can save one person, that’s a huge thing.”
It’s never too late to fall in love with reading. Before she became co-CEO, Nancy admits that she wasn’t much of a reader. In fact, it was her plunge into the world of Archie that helped her discover the joys of reading. She had piles and piles of the comic books and soon, she said, “I ran out of pages to turn so I started going to bookstores to buy books.” Since then, Nancy has dedicated her time to using comic books as a tool for developing literacy and instilling a love of reading in people of all ages.
There’s no such thing as being too old to read comic books. “Look at me, I’m reading and I’m gonna be 65. Reading Archie comics for 30 minutes, you’re getting lost in fantasy and you get to recharge your batteries. Give it a chance. Try. Once you bury your nose in the panels of a comic book, you will find a whole different literacy experience and you don’t know where it will take you. I think that’s exciting.”
Nancy Silberkleit’s talk and book signing will happen at 3:30 p.m. on August 11 at Raffles Makati’s Ballroom 1. Read more about Nancy soon in the pages of Inquirer Lifestyle.