By Nancy Cawley Zugschwert, ’19 M.A.
Is there a perfect blend of education and experience that lets a person know they’re ready to be a company CEO? Kim (Gibson ’91) Hanson, CEO of LearningRx, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, would say there’s no such thing.
“I don’t know that you’re ever ready,” Hanson said. “But the key is, are you willing?”
When she was asked in 2017 to take the reins of the company her dad, Dr. Ken Gibson, had founded 30 years earlier, Hanson was more than willing. She was passionate about its mission and is motivated by the belief that people need their products and services for a better life.
LearningRx (learningrx.com) identifies itself as a brain training company. “There are two parts to smart,” Hanson explains, “the academic, or information part, which is what the school’s job is, and then there’s how you process information. LearningRx is on the ‘how you process’ side and works to help people learn faster, easier, and better.”
Hanson noted that the company started a research foundation that has done more than 20 studies, and they have been in 14 peer-reviewed journals.
Experience leads to readiness
Hanson’s training for the education industry started at North Central University. After graduating with her degree in Elementary Education, she taught fifth grade at a school for behaviorally challenged kids. “It was kind of a disaster,” she said, noting that the school couldn’t keep a substitute teacher in that class past noon. Although it was hard, she learned a lot and still values the experience she gained.
When Kim and her husband, Wayne Hanson ’92, moved to Nashville, she continued to teach in inner-city schools until they moved to Colorado, where they both worked for Fellowship Church. Wayne was a youth pastor, and Kim started a drama department and later ran a kids’ church program that grew from 35 kids to more than 300. During that time, her dad also hired her to do projects for his company. When the company moved to a new franchising model in 2004, Kim went to work with LearningRx full time.
Her new job was overseeing the support department, working to ensure franchisee success. She obtained credentials as a Certified Franchise Executive and a designation as a cognitive specialist.
Kim Hanson has learned that all experience contributes to readiness. Yet, while there is no formula for CEO preparation, there are definite attributes required of her, including thinking strategically, casting vision, solving problems, and influencing culture.
True measure of success
Ultimately, Hanson doesn’t measure success in numbers and return-on-investment figures but in lives changed. Shortly after she stepped into the CEO office, LearningRx hit a milestone of having helped more than 100,000 people since its founding. Hanson pictures that as an Ohio-State-sized stadium filled with people whose lives are better because of their company. “My vision is to triple that,” she explained. “I would love to have three football stadiums full of people we have helped; my job is to keep our teams focused on the important things and to help them strategically work toward goals.”
As far as culture goes, Hanson is committed to maintaining the company’s historically faith-based ethos. “We have devotions every Wednesday, and we pray before meetings,” Hanson noted. The company lives out its values in the organizations it supports philanthropically, and has trained missionaries and staff at orphanages to do basic cognitive training with the children they serve.
Hanson said the faith culture includes a core belief that the company wants to leave everyone they work with—inside and outside the company—feeling better about themselves and “just leaving a little bit of Jesus with them” in every interaction.
But integrating her faith and her work as CEO goes much deeper than company culture. “Every single day, I ask God for wisdom,” Hanson said of her leadership ethos. “Honestly, it’s God’s company. I ask Him for wisdom because I’m not always sure what to do, but God always comes through for me!”
She points to the COVID-19 crisis as an example of a time God gave the company wisdom—before they even knew they needed it. “Two years before the pandemic, we piloted a program exploring how to do our unique training over Zoom,” she said.
“Our curriculum is not just like a workbook—there are a lot of complicated procedures that use manipulatives, cards, or different tools [that don’t convert easily to a virtual environment],” she explained. After piloting the training with 10 centers, the company was planning to roll it out company-wide in July 2020. “Last March, when the world shut down, we were able to get our centers up and running within weeks to transition to remote training,” she said, still amazed that God led them so beautifully.
Hanson’s passion for her work is evident, and she has many stories to illustrate the impact when they teach someone new ways to learn. She shared one report from a 20-year-old student who went through the LearningRx program, paraphrasing what the woman had told her:
“I didn’t know this, but I was going through life behind what felt like a dirty window. As I was going through the LearningRx training, I felt as if all of a sudden, my window became clean. And as I continued to train, I realized I no longer had a window standing between me and the world! Now I could walk out into the world—and I’m part of it!”
Hanson said she had seen many similar breakthroughs for people, noting that helping people understand and then overcome their cognitive weaknesses helps them have confidence that goes far beyond the classroom.
The higher purpose—doing work that honors God and transforms people’s lives—keeps Hanson going when
her role gets tough. When faced with a big problem that requires clear thinking, Hanson practices the discipline of writing down what she knows about the hurdles in front of her. “And then I’ll just ask God to guide me,” she said.
Her focus is always on the people she serves. “Even when I know it isn’t going to be easy,” she said, “I just think, ‘the kids in this world who are struggling need me to step out and do it.’”
This article originally appeared in the spring 2021 issue of NCU Magazine