First Book Leadership

Executive Team

Kyle Zimmer

President, CEO, and Co-Founder

Kyle Zimmer, CEO of First BookIn the late 1980s, Kyle Zimmer, then a practicing attorney, was volunteering at a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. Realizing that the kids she was working with had no books in their lives, she set out with two friends to build a market-driven solution to ensure all children have access to high-quality books and educational resources.

Since then, First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise she co-founded in 1992, has become a leader in furthering equal access to quality education.  First Book’s work is driven by educators in the First Book Network – the largest and fastest-growing network of schools and programs serving in the lives of children in poverty across the U.S. and Canada.  

Under her leadership, First Book has grown into a family of social enterprises that addresses a spectrum of educational barriers faced by children in need. By aggregating the voice, purchasing power, and needs of educators serving low-income communities, First Book creates a market force that drives down costs and increases access to diverse, high-quality educational resources. Kyle pioneered the organization’s sustainable, nonprofit e-commerce model that provides educators with free and affordable, diverse, and inclusive new books, educational resources, and basic needs items. She also expanded First Book’s capacity to conduct original research with educators on the front lines; accelerate educators’ access to actionable resources developed with leading experts; and engage cross-sector partnerships to deliver targeted funding solutions. These models work both individually and collectively as an ecosystem to drive systemic change, elevating educational equity for children in poverty. Since its founding, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a value of more than $2 billion.

Kyle is a passionate advocate for social entrepreneurship, and the importance of educational equity and literacy to further social justice, economic competitiveness, and global understanding. Her commitment to innovation and collaboration has earned her a reputation as a social sector leader.  She and First Book have been featured in numerous books, including A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Additionally, she has been a speaker at the World Economic Forum, the Aspen Institute, the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and at a host of corporate and social sector events. She is a regular guest lecturer at the Wharton School of Business and Columbia Business School.

Kyle serves as a member of the board of directors for Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., which is responsible for protecting and overseeing the integrity of Dr. Seuss’s books, properties, licensing, and related products.  She is an Ashoka Senior Fellow and serves on the international board of directors for Ashoka, which supports the finest social entrepreneurs in more than 70 countries. In addition, she is a Fellow with the Schwab Foundation on Social Entrepreneurship, a sister program of the World Economic Forum; where she served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Values (2013-2016), and as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Entrepreneurship (2010). Kyle is also a member of the Forbes Nonprofit Council; and she and First Book are founding members of Catalyst 2030, which elevates organizations supporting the SDGs.

Kyle has also been honored as a DC Alpha Alumna Initiate of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women (2019), the Texas AFT’s Child Advocate Award (2019), and EY Entrepreneur of the Year® 2017 Award-Mid-Atlantic Region. Other awards include the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting the Disadvantaged (2016), Peggy Charren/Free to Be You and Me Award from the Ms. Foundation for Women (2016), the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Pacesetter Honors (2016), the Library of Congress David M. Rubenstein Prize (2015), the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award (2014) and the National Education Association Foundation’s Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education (2013), the Carle Honors Angel Award (2009) and the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community (2005). From 2004 – 2008, Fast Company named Kyle one of 45 Social Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World. 

An attorney, Kyle received her juris doctor from The George Washington University Law School and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Iowa. 

Peter F. Gold

Co-founder and Senior Advisor, First Book

Peter Gold is co-founder of First Book and, for 25 years, served as Chair of its board of directors. He is also president of Gold Group Consulting, LLC, advising the U.S. and European investment banks and hedge funds on antitrust and regulatory issues that arise in mergers and acquisitions.

In the decade before the formation of Gold Group, Mr. Gold co-founded the Washington, DC office of Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, and from 1984 to1994 managed its legislative and regulatory department, working extensively with trade associations, foreign governments, foreign and domestic corporations, and Native American organizations.

Prior to returning to the private sector, Mr. Gold was legislative director for Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) from 1975 to 1981, and the national coordinator for policy in the Senator’s 1984 presidential campaign.

Before moving to Washington, DC, Mr. Gold spent four years as a litigation attorney in the New York office of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Mr. Gold has a Juris Doctor from the New York University School of Law, a Master of Science ( Econ.) from the London School of Economics, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University.

Julie Fortenbery

Executive Vice President, Finance Accounting

Julie oversees First Book’s Finance department and is responsible for the organization’s Finance & Accounting functions, including financial reporting, accounting operations, financial analysis, and cash management. Julie collaborates with the leadership team to develop the organization’s growth and funding strategy, serving as a key point of contact on strategic funding proposals. She also manages relationships with key banking partners, external auditors, and other key financial partners.

Before joining First Book, Julie spent her career in agriculture banking within several Farm Credit System Institutions, where she served in multiple roles spanning corporate finance, risk management, and accounting. Julie is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Marketing from Marquette University and a Master of Accountancy from Auburn University.

Becki Last

Chief Programmatic Officer

Becki Last is First Book’s Chief Programmatic Officer. Becki leads First Book’s efforts to grow, engage, and support the First Book Network of educators and practitioners serving children in need. Under Becki’s leadership, the First Book Network of educators and practitioners has grown from 18,000 to more than 525,000 members and has evolved into a true community of child advocates. Becki founded First Book’s Research & Insights practice, as well First Book’s Accelerator initiative, which repackages expert research and best practices into digestible, actionable resources, and uses the First Book megaphone to exponentially speed the time it takes for these resources to reach educators and practitioners on the front line. In addition to First Book’s Network analytics, resource creation, and program management, Becki also oversees First Book’s individual and enterprise-level eCommerce sales, including Network-facing marketing and user experience, as well as outreach to First Book’s non-profit partners. She and her team have managed to grow the distribution of resources on the First Book Marketplace by 23% annually since 2011. As a result, Becki is heavily involved in First Book’s organizational strategy and new enterprise implementation. 

Becki comes to First Book from a successful career in strategic marketing and market research for companies like USA TODAY, Time Warner Cable, Sprint Nextel, and MCI. While at those organizations, Becki was often responsible for researching, designing and prototyping, and marketing new products and services to bring to market. Becki holds a Bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and an MBA from the University of Maryland.

Carey M. Palmquist

Chief Operating Officer

Carey Palmquist is responsible for assisting First Book’s leadership team to execute new ideas for growth strategy and innovation. Carey joined First Book after more than four years as executive director of Operation Warm, a national nonprofit providing brand new coats to low-income children. Prior to joining the nonprofit sector, Carey served as vice president of operations for a state-of-the-art, multi-billion dollar cancer treatment company where she was responsible for all operational aspects of the company’s flagship treatment center in Oklahoma City. She has also served as a human resources executive in the healthcare, technology, and financial industries. Carey serves on the Institute for Global Youth Development Programs board, holds a Master of Management from Cambridge College, and is a certified Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt.  

Daniel Stokes

Chief Administration Officer

Dan manages First Book’s human resources department, oversees day-to-day operations at First Book’s headquarters, and provides strategic and operational guidance as part of the executive management team. Before joining First Book, Dan spent his career in accounting. He worked with publishing and media companies in New York, the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, where he led their accounting and human resources departments. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in human resources, and an MBA, all from the University of Maryland.

Board of Directors

Dr. Martha Molina Bernadett

Acting Chairman, First Book Board of Directors President and Founder, The Molina Foundation

Family physician and healthcare executive Dr. Martha Molina Bernadett has worked for three decades creating innovative programs to reduce disparities in access to education and health in communities across the country. As president of the Molina Foundation, she has partnered with First Book, Imagine Science, Cooperative Extension, 4-H, and Code for America to reach more than 7 million children and families. Dr. Bernadett served as executive vice president and chief innovation officer for Molina Healthcare, a Fortune 200 company, where she led major initiatives to transform the delivery of healthcare services. Using big data analytics to create digital solutions, she supported enterprise operations. She has consulted for hospitals, health systems, and municipalities across the nation. Dr. Bernadett founded the Molina Institute for Cultural Competency to reduce the barriers faced by providers and patients with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In addition to corporate leadership, Dr. Bernadett has served as principal investigator and delivered research, programs, and solutions for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Governors Association, and First5 California.  

Christopher Cerf

Co-founder and President, Sirius Thinking Ltd.

Christopher Cerf is an Emmy- and Grammy-award-winning author, composer-lyricist, voice actor, and record and television producer. Since 1970, he has been a regular contributor to Sesame Street, creating award-winning music and lyrics and producing music albums, earning him two Grammy Awards and three Emmy Awards for songwriting and music production. In addition, he served as the executive producer and music and audio producer of “Between the Lions,” which twice won the Television Critics’ Award as the nation’s outstanding children’s program. In two independent studies, the program also demonstrated success in helping kids – including those at the highest risk of literacy failure – to learn how to read. He also co-created the PBS Kids show, “Lomax, the Hound of Music.” His other award-winning work includes editing and producing the “Marlo Thomas and Friends’ Free To Be…A Family” book, album, and TV special; and “Thomas’ Thanks & Giving: All Year Long,” a book and CD about generosity and sharing. Chris has co-authored many books including “Encyclopedia Paranoica (Simon & Schuster, 2012),” and “The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook (Villard, 1993).” Earlier in his career, Chris spent eight years as a senior editor at Random House and as a contributing editor for National Lampoon. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University.  

Libby Doggett

Libby Doggett Consulting

Libby Doggett, First Book board of directorsLibby Doggett is the former deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning for the U.S. Department of Education, where she oversaw the Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge and the Preschool Development Grant program, provided expertise and policy guidance to the secretary of education and served as the department’s early learning liaison to the White House and other federal and state agencies. Prior to joining the Department of Education, Doggett worked at the Pew Charitable Trusts, directing its home visiting campaign and working with advocates to build political and public support for data-driven investments aligned with federal guidance. She also previously directed Pre-K Now, a 10-year campaign to advance high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds. Doggett also worked for the National Head Start Association and began her career as a bilingual first-grade teacher at Ortega Elementary School in Austin, Texas. She holds a doctorate from the University of Texas in early childhood special education.  

Kathy Franklin

President, Franchise Development; Lightstorm Entertainment

Kathy Franklin, First Book Board MemberAs president for Franchise Development at James Cameron’s and Jon Landau’s Lightstorm Entertainment, Kathy Franklin oversees global brand strategy and management for the “Avatar” franchise. She leads the expansion of the reach and impact of “Avatar” – and its three sequels in development – across all categories and platforms in partnership with 20th Century Fox. Prior to joining Lightstorm in 2011, Kathy was vice president of global franchise development for Disney Consumer Products, where she led brand management of the Disney Princess, Disney Fairies, “Cars,” and “Toy Story” franchises. She earlier served as vice president of marketing and communications for Disney’s corporate citizenship division, where she was responsible for Disney’s domestic and international relationships with its signature children’s charities, including directing cause-related marketing campaigns, public relations strategies, and other charitable programs tied to specific Disney business units. Before coming to Disney in 1998, Kathy held a range of finance, education, and design positions. She received an A.B. degree from Princeton University and an M.A. from the Teachers College at Columbia University.  

Karen Kehela Sherwood

Co-chair, Imagine Entertainment

Karen Kehela Sherwood is an independent film and television producer. After earning her bachelor’s degree in communication studies from UCLA, she joined Imagine Entertainment, where she served as president of production and later as co-chairman of Imagine Films. As co-chairman, Karen developed and produced Imagine Entertainment’s motion picture slate, in addition to guiding the company’s development team in tracking, acquiring, and shepherding all Imagine Film projects from concept to theatrical release. In 2001, Karen executive-produced “A Beautiful Mind,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. She served as producer alongside Brian Grazer on “Blue Crush,” and as executive producer on “Inside Man” and the Academy Award-nominated “Frost/Nixon.” Karen also contributed to “Angels & Demons,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks; “Robin Hood” and “American Gangster,” directed by Ridley Scott; and “Tower Heist,” starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. Karen also helmed the Imagine Writers Lab from 2010-2012, a group of nine writers financed by Reliance Big Entertainment that adapted acquired and original material for Imagine Entertainment. She is currently working to move the scripts to production. “The Good Lie,” starring Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon, was completed in 2013.  

Chequan Lewis

Vice President, Operations, Pizza Hut

Chequan Lewis, First Book Board MemberAs vice president, operations, Chequan Lewis helps lead the holistic operations vision and strategy for the Pizza Hut U.S. business. Immediately preceding his newly-expanded role in the Pizza Hut business, Chequan served as chief equity officer for Pizza Hut U.S. In that role, he guided the company’s equity and inclusion vision, strategy, and initiatives across Pizza Hut’s footprint as a franchiser, employer, and community pillar.

Chequan has previously held other leadership roles in the company since joining in 2016. Most recently, he served as Senior Director of Express, leading the team responsible for the license of ~1,500 locations in airports, stadiums, military bases, Target stores, movie theaters, transportation centers, colleges/universities, and other venues. Prior to that, he served as Director of Legal, leading the company’s legal efforts in franchising issues.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Chequan is a former business litigator at Baker Botts LLP. Before becoming an attorney, Chequan graduated from Howard University and worked in business management with McMaster-Carr Supply Company.

Chequan is committed to civic engagement. Among a number of policy-focused experiences, he has worked with the Office of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to analyze economic revitalization efforts in southern Dallas and previously served as chairman of the City of Dallas’s South Dallas-Fair Park Opportunity Fund. In his capacity as chairman, he led the city board’s efforts to invest municipal funds, via grants and loans, in a historically marginalized area of Dallas. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for both the Dallas Zoo and City Square and on the Board of Advisors for the SMU Dedman School of Law Robert B. Rowling Center for Business Law & Leadership.

Chequan is a Presidential Leadership Scholar and a recipient of the Dallas Business Journal’s Minority Business Leader Award. He is also an alumnus of the Latino Center for Leadership Development Leadership Academy and the Dallas Mayor’s Star Council. Chequan is also a contributor to the Dallas Morning News, focusing on sociopolitical issues. Chequan resides in Oak Cliff with his wife, Whitney, and their children, Carter and Claire.

Manish Madhavani

Partner in Charge, New York Financial Services, KPMG

Manish Madhavani, First Book Board MemberManish Madhavani leads KPMG’s New York Financial Services Audit practice. In his role, Manish is responsible for driving the client experience for KPMG’s financial services client in the tri-state. Prior to his current role, he led KPMG’s Stamford office as the Office Managing Partner. Manish has over 26 years of experience in providing audit and related services and also serves as a lead audit partner on financial service clients. Manish was admitted to the partnership in 2006.

Manish is passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion. He was tapped by the Chairman of KPMG to be part of Accelerate 2025 task force charged with increasing underrepresented communities in the organization. This initiative led to KPMG releasing its first transparency report.

Manish is very active with NACD – Connecticut and KPMG’s Asia Pacific Islander Network. Previously he was on the Board of the Business Council of Fairfield County.

Manish is a graduate of the University of Mumbai. He started his professional career with KPMG’s member firm in India in 1995. Manish joined KPMG US in 1998. He, his wife (Surbhi), and two boys (Neil and Dev) live in Wilton, Connecticut.

Lidia Soto-Harmon

CEO, Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital 

Lidia Soto Hartmann, First Book BoardLidia Soto-Harmon has a proven track record in the corporate, non-profit, and government sectors. She leads the largest Council in the country and serves as the champion for girls and their mentors. The Council covers the Greater Washington Region, including the District of Columbia and 25 counties in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. In this role, Lidia’s priorities include developing strategies to build membership, creating a culture of philanthropy, and championing youth development. Lidia is in the leadership of several boards of directors, including two foundation boards.  She is an expert in nonprofit governance, marketing/communications, and strategic planning. 

She has a background in international issues affecting women through the US Department of State.  She teaches a graduate-level course in nonprofit management at George Mason University.  She is a proud Latina, earning a Master’s in Public Administration from George Mason University and B.A. from Drew University.

Artie Starrs

CEO, Topgolf

Artie Starr, First Book BoardIn his role as CEO of Topgolf, Starrs is responsible for the continued growth and expansion of Topgolf as one of the premier golf entertainment companies in the world. Previously, Starrs was the CEO of Pizza Hut and was responsible for driving the company’s global growth strategies, franchise operations, and performance. He has also served as President of Pizza Hut U.S. with responsibility for the company’s overall strategic vision and planning, including all aspects of the business, culture, and people capability. A proven leader, Artie has a passion for the customer experience and is highly regarded for delivering results, rallying the entire Pizza Hut system to stay laser-focused on the company’s strategy and growth mindset. Under his leadership, Pizza Hut has put in place a widely successful global platform dedicated to tackling illiteracy, called Pizza Hut: The Literacy Project. Through this platform, Pizza Hut has a goal to impact 100 million lives over ten years by enabling access to books and educational resources, empowering teachers, and inspiring readers.  Artie has an A.B. degree in Economics from Princeton University and currently resides in Dallas with his wife and two children.

Carla D. Thompson Payton

Vice President for Program Strategy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Carla Thompson, First Book BoardCarla Thompson Payton is vice president for program strategy for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In this role, she supports the foundation’s efforts to promote thriving children, working families, and equitable communities. Thompson Payton provides leadership and management for the creative and strategic direction of programming from design through implementation, evaluation, and dissemination. As a member of the executive team, she is also responsible for the overall direction and leadership of the foundation.

Prior to joining the foundation in 2012, Thompson Payton was deputy director of the Office of Child Care at the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. There, she was responsible for developing national early childhood education policy, managing the $5 billion annual budget of the Child Care Development Fund and providing oversight to 10 regional offices serving states, tribes, and territories. Previously, she was assistant superintendent for early childhood education for the District of Columbia, where she initiated the first publicly funded pre-kindergarten program. In other professional experience, she has held positions with the Department of Education and Department of Public Welfare for the state of Pennsylvania; United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; and the U.S. Department of Education. 

Thompson Payton has been honored for her leadership in early childhood education by the Administration for Children and Families, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Temple University Institute on Disabilities. She also has served on boards and committees for nonprofit associations and professional organizations. In addition, she is the author of three publications related to school readiness and advocacy. 

Kyle Zimmer

President, CEO, and Co-founder, First Book

Publishing Committee

Terry Downes,
VP, Publishing Operations, Disney Publishing Worldwide

Laura Geringer
Bass, Author, Editor and Publisher

Chip Gibson

Judith Haut
Senior Vice President and Associate Publisher, Random House Children’s Books

Susan Katz
Former President and Publisher (Ret.), HarperCollins Children’s Books

Craig Low
President and Owner, Lee & Low Books

Barbara Marcus
President and Publisher, Children’s Division, Random House

Kristina Peterson
Former Director of International Publishing (Ret.), Workman Publishing Co., Inc.

Rick Richter
Literary and Entertainment Agent and Partner, Aevitas Creative Management

Don Weisberg
CEO, Macmillan Publishers US

Advisory Council

Robin Adelson
Executive Director, Books for Kids

Elizabeth Arky
Co-Founder, First Book; and Principal, Arky Group Consulting, LLC

Jennifer Bohler
Owner, Alliance Management

Meghan Bracken
Director, Community Impact, KPMG

Cara Dingus Brook
President & CEO Foundation for Appalachian Ohio

Kelly Butler
Chief Executive Officer, The Barksdale Reading Institute

Andrea Camp

Harold Clarke
President Harold Clarke & Company, Inc.

David Dotson
Special Projects and Board Member, The Dollywood Foundation

Julie Baker Finck
President, Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

Jenn Flynn
Managing Director, KPMG Community Impact and Alumni Network, ‎KPMG U.S.

Gina Goff
Former Senior Director of Community Involvement (Ret.), C&S Wholesale Grocers

Leslie Goodman
Communication & Public Affairs Consultant

Susan Grode
Partner, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Lisa Holton
Principal, Holton Consulting LLC

L Spencer Humphrey
President, Rocky Hill Group

Brian Kagan
Brian Kagan Company

Ilene Leff
CEO, Leff Management Consulting

James Loy 

Colleen Ludington 

Elsa Palanza
Managing Director, Global Head of Sustainability & Citizenship Barclays

Jennifer Plagman-Galvin
Director of Operations, Iowa State University College of Human Sciences

Carol Rasco
Former President and CEO (Ret.), Reading is Fundamental

British Robinson
President and CEO, Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy

Dr. Susan Roman
Professor & Dean Emerita School of Information Science, Dominican University

Harriet Sanford
Former President and CEO (Ret.), The NEA Foundation

Terri Santisi
Business Advisor

John Schreiber
President and CEO, New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Ralph Smith
Managing Director, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Heather Steinmiller
Managing Director – Claims & General Counsel, Conner Strong & Buckelew

Jamienne S. Studley
President and CEO, WASC Senior College and University Commission

Mary Tatum

Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers

Judee Ann Williams
Co-Executive Director, Creative Artists Agency Foundation and Co-head, Social Impact, Creative Artists Agency

Ginger Young
Founder and Executive Director, Book Harvest

Judith Zimmer