August 29, 2014

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Carol Craig is Making Opportunities

In a cavernous plant that once hummed with shuttle workers, CEO Carol Craig wants to build a manufacturing center.

Mike Vogel | 7/25/2013

Humility

Craig, like Clark Kent, was raised by adoptive parents in the Midwest. Craig’s biological mother, an Illinois college-student daughter of a Cuban immigrant, put baby Elizabeth Sanchez up for adoption at 3 days old. “Back in that day, of course, abortion was not legal — thank goodness.” Carl and Thelma Bovard took her home when she was 9 days old, their “Christmas Carol.” They never kept her adoption secret from her. Her adoptive parents told her, “We wanted you. We’re so blessed to have you.” She came home to an adopted brother and later a biological sister. “My adoptive parents are very mellow. My brother — kind of a quieter guy. My sister, quiet. And I was the cruise director of the Bovard family.”

Her biological parents were musicians, and her adoptive parents nurtured her talent with piano and violin lessons during school. She ran track, was in the flag corps and math club and played hand bells in church. “My mother is this amazing Christian — the woman’s never drank, never smoked, sees the good in everyone. She’s just such a solid individual, and that’s where I’ve gotten my faith. I’m not perfect, and we all have our doubts, but I’ve always been involved in churches,” Craig says. Her mother also taught her about humility — “not to become too-big-for-your-britches. Anything can happen to anybody. Nobody’s insulated from anything.”

Craig earned her bachelor’s in computer science from Knox College, where she still holds several school records in the high hurdles and high jump. She has a bachelor’s in computer engineering from the University of Illinois and a master’s in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Massachusetts. For the Defense Department, she developed cockpit software. The reference point she offers is that of the Kelly McGillis character in Top Gun, the one explaining to the fliers how to use the equipment.

Craig discovered the disconnect between what an engineer thinks is a good solution and what the user thinks is a good solution. Her resolution: She would become a naval aviator, something with added attraction for her because she was afraid to fly. She hated the idea of fear beating her, and she joined the Navy in 1991.

She met John Craig, a fighter pilot who became her husband, in 1994 while both were stationed in Jacksonville, she flying in the P-3C Orion anti-submarine and surveillance plane. (He now flies for commercial airlines while continuing in the Reserves as a Navy emergency preparedness liaison officer and acting as government liaison for Craig Technologies.) Craig by now had four strong skill sets going for her. Engineering meant problem-solving and focus. Flying taught situational awareness — the ability to be hit with tons of information and stay focused on critical factors like where the ground is — and it taught compartmentalization. An injury in survival training in 1996 ended her flying career. (Her knee still swells up after even a short run.) She founded Craig Technologies in 1999 as a one-woman consultancy, and that’s what she was doing as a trailing spouse in Virginia in 2001 as they awaited the birth of their first child.

They named him Danny. The Navy doctors said he was born without part of his brain. “I still remember waking up with my skin crawling — like you wake up from a bad dream but, nope, I’m waking up to a bad dream.” The doctors were wrong about Danny’s brain, but he did have Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disability that requires lifelong management. Craig dealt with it by trying to control it. “When we thought it was brain damage, I was researching brain damage. And that’s how I kind of kept it. It’s the same thing with the business. If I start to stress, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to be more diversified. We need more customers.’ OK, I need to get online. I need to make phone calls. I need to get on the road.”

Daughter Gillian was born in 2002, the year before John Craig moved into the active reserves and Carol began building her company into something greater than just her as a consultant. As she was doing that in 2004, the family moved to the Space Coast.

Tags: Trendsetters, Manufacturing/Distribution, Research & Development, Technology/Innovation, Best Companies

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