The History of Strata Leadership

Image of Strata logoStrata Leadership, LLC (Strata) was founded in 2009 by Dr. Nathan Mellor and Frank Smith. At the time of Strata’s launch, Dr. Mellor was the Vice-President of Community Engagement and Assistant Professor of Leadership at Oklahoma Christian University. Mr. Smith, a former CPA, was the owner of the Ark Group, Inc., which included Beam’s Industries (a seatbelt company which was sold in 2013) and a handful of Cartridge World stores located in the Oklahoma City metro.

The Early Days

Strata’s first employee was Wayne Whitesell who served as Executive Vice President of Strata until departing in 2012 to oversee the multi-site management of Cartridge World stores. Our first location was a small office rented in the Enterprise Square building located on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. Our office moved across the street to Heritage Plaza in January of 2010, and to the historic Hightower Office Building in downtown Oklahoma City in June of 2012.

The goal of starting Strata was to provide quality and affordable leadership training, dispute resolution services, and management consulting. Our first training client was the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and we are grateful to continue providing training programs for them today.

Through growth and acquisitions, our client base has grown and we now serve an estimated audience of 850,000 people each month in 28 countries—from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Character First

Image of the CF LogoOne of the first organizations to utilize our management services was the Character Training Institute, Inc. (more commonly known as Character First) located in Oklahoma City. Little did we know this opportunity would prove to be a defining moment for the future of our company.

Founded in 1992 by Tom Hill, the Chairman of Kimray, Inc., Character First was designed to provide a practical resource for shaping the culture of Kimray. Over the next few years, based upon the success of Kimray’s efforts, other companies sought to use Character First materials for their organizations. In time, Character First would expand to offer specialized programs for businesses, schools, and law enforcement. The efforts expanded throughout America and abroad, and included a special initiative to assist communities seeking to be known as “cities of character.”

To learn more about the early history of Character First, please read Tom Hill's book, Making Character First

Special Note: As Strata Leadership began working with Character First in 2009, we discovered a common misunderstanding about the relationship between Character First and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (and its founder Bill Gothard).

Although Character First was legally and organizationally autonomous, the relationship was blurred by the fact that Character First based its original list of character qualities and artwork on the Institute’s “Character Sketch” books (adapted with permission), Character First shared office space at the Institute’s Oklahoma City Training Center, and Tom Hill served as a board member for the Institute from 1993 to 2005. Even after Tom Hill’s resignation from the Institute’s board, Character First moving to a new location, and ongoing curriculum changes and revisions, we found the misunderstanding persisted.

In an attempt to provide greater clarity and to ensure that Character First is properly represented, Strata Leadership issued a formal policy in 2010 that Character First was not to be co-branded with any other entity or represented by anyone in any way without permission from Strata Leadership. In 2012, Strata officially acquired Character First, and as a result of this purchase, Strata Leadership, LLC is the sole owner of Character First and all related materials.

If you have questions about this aspect of our history, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Ongoing Development

Beginning in 2013, Strata expanded its list of resources by developing a character-based executive coaching system. Through this method, our experienced coaches are able to guide leaders through a tailored leadership development system. We now offer a full spectrum of core strengths and leadership assessments (including the TKI, CPI 260, MBTI, and others upon request), plus a customized coaching plan based upon the needs of the individual.

In late 2013, Strata was approached by the Oklahoma City-based non-profit, Fields and Futures, with a unique opportunity to provide area schools with a character-based resource for coaches and athletes. Building upon our past experiences with schools and athletic departments, we developed and launched the Academy of Sports and Character to provide training and curriculum for coaches and athletes to build character through sports.

Programs Powered by Strata Leadership

As Strata continues to grow, we’ve segmented our business into five major divisions or brands. Here is a summary of each:

Strata Leadership resources and programs focus on developing a workplace culture of excellence and integrity by inspiring and equipping leaders. We do this through training, executive coaching, personal assessments, company assessments, strategic planning, leadership retreats, and management consulting.

Strata Leadership, LLC is also the parent company of the other brands listed on this page.


Character Core is designed for organizations that want to build a culture of character, competence, and consistency from top to bottom. Members receive a variety of resources every month that focus on a different “core strength”—including specific character attributes and leadership traits such as resilience, responsibility, cooperation, trustworthiness, honesty, and alertness. Learn more


Character First Education provides training and curriculum designed for preK–12 public and private schools and for homeschool parents. Resources include ENGAGE: An Active Response to Bullying (for grades 5–12) and the recently redesigned Character First Elementary Curriculum (for grades pK–5).


The Institute for Emerging Leaders is designed to equip developing leaders with the character, competence and community connections needed to lead effectively. Through intensive and engaging learning experiences, participants are able to create a community of leaders who have a shared vocabulary and common commitment to making life better for all in their city, state and beyond.


The Academy of Sports & Character provides training and resources for athletic directors, coaches, and athletes to build character through sports. The primary resource for this is called ELEVATE, which is a 4-year program focusing on 10 character traits each year.




A Bright Future

We look forward to the future at Strata and we are grateful for our team and the opportunity we have to serve a broad range of leaders from all walks of life. We are known for our work ethic and professionalism, and we find great satisfaction in helping leaders make a difference in the culture of their organizations.