“Believe in yourself as much as others believe in you” Caroline Connolly, CEO of Optotest – a worldwide leader in fiber optics testing solutions based in Camarillo, California.
What is interesting about Caroline’s journey is how she transitioned from a minority owner in the business to the majority owner and CEO. When her business partner died in 2013, there was no formal buy-sell agreement in place. It took several years of discussions and negotiations between herself and her former partner’s family to agree upon the transition plan. She shares how she had to embrace a variety of risks in order to make the jump to majority owner and CEO. She credits her support system, specifically her Vistage group, with helping her make the transition. One of the critical lessons Caroline learned is that a formal buy-sell agreement is mandatory. Many entrepreneurs understand the need for one but think they will get to it later because early in the lifecycle of the business you need to focus on sales and revenue. The problem is that owners typically don’t go back and formalize the agreement which puts everyone at risk.
She shares her perspective on why culture should be a CEO’s number one priority. At Optotest, the company philosophy is that the customer is #1 but this definition is not limited to just external customers, it applies internally as well - meaning your colleagues. Her management philosophy of changing the company’s organizational chart to an inverted pyramid is a practical application of the company’s values. She recommends that CEOs document their company’s core values. Additionally, set up a platform like regular meetings where staff are encouraged to talk about them on a regular basis. This will ensure your team feels engaged.
Lastly, she shares her 2 action items for owners: