October 20, 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

Breaking the rules

To build Craig, she mortgaged their home, maxed out eight credit cards and built the company while also raising Danny, launching the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research, raising Gillian, singing in the choir and playing hand bells and piano at churches. “I can compartmentalize pretty well. Maybe with aviation I learned a little bit of that. Although I have my moments — you know, break down in tears. Might last for a few minutes and then I’m good to go. Ask some of these guys. They know. It’s usually something random because somebody said something mean about me or because I feel bad about Danny but then I just go, ‘No, OK. I can make this better. Crying is not going to solve it. I’m going to get on the internet and figure out who’s the next best doctor or I don’t care what these people say I’m going to succeed and that’ll show them.’ Moments of weakness. I’m real, you know.”

Craig Technologies made its living providing IT and engineering services as a government subcontractor. Any prime contractor that put her company on its team benefited in six scoring categories: Minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, service-disabled veteran owned, small business, operating in a hub zone.

From the start, friends and family were central to her business. She hired her mother, who still works for her, and her best friend from college, the first of many family-and-friends hires. She is CFO. While still a tiny business, she reinvested profits to establish policies and procedures — industry standard quality certifications, for example — to support the large organization she planned to build.

Her kids shaped a key component: Employee benefits. Wages are in line with regional averages. The company pays all employee medical premiums and 80% to 85% of dependent premiums, plus premiums for employees’ short- and long-term disability and triple of salary life and disability coverage. Craig always wanted top benefits. The first core value on the company list is “family.” She also has a favored list of sayings: No Regrets. No apologies. Semper Gumby (always flexible) and Did anybody die?

Higher margins

Craig Technologies grew well, but contracting still is an iffy business, and services is low margin, 5% to 7% most of the time. In search of higher-margin work, she thought of manufacturing.

In Craig Technologies’ new headquarters on Astronaut Boulevard sits the highly specialized equipment for reverse engineering shuttle parts, to peer at a turbine blade for microscopic cracks or to take a shuttle pipe and expose it to extremes of heat and vibration — “shake-and-bake” — to test for failure. Much of the equipment she got in a trade with NASA in return for maintaining it for five years. A walk — a very long walk — through the old shuttle center displays both the depth of equipment and capabilities — design-to-production, avionics, X-rays, environmental testing, a clean room, a composites oven with doors blast-furnance thick. So far, jobs are scant, and vast rooms of cubicles sit empty.

President of the 25-worker Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing Center is former Florida Today Publisher Mikolajczyk. “She convinced me it was an opportunity, and I thought, you know, 52 years old, I’ve got another career in me,” says Mikolajczyk, who joined her in January 2012. “You can find pieces of this equipment across Florida but nothing in one location like this.”

In June, he was at the Paris air show selling the center’s services. Craig, meanwhile, is pitching Florida manufacturers to use it as a subcontractor. Ahead, she expects to bid more engineering services work as a prime contractor. She has started a software company for business data applications, also a higher margin business, called GCC Innovative Technologies. She named the firm after daughter Gillian, who complained that Craig had never named anything after her. “She’s got my personality, I think,” says Craig.

Danny’s doing well, she says. “Everyone has their challenges, whether you’ve got typical kids or kids with disabilities.”

Meanwhile, Craig is active in Brevard Workforce, the local economic development commission, the Florida High-Tech Corridor Council, the University of Central Florida Foundation, the Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech, Junior Achievement, United Way, a local disability council, and she’s one of a dozen members, and the only woman, of the Panthers Football Founders Club, who collectively pledged $1.2 million to launch a football program at Florida Tech. She started the Danny Craig Foundation in 2010 and is pursuing a doctorate in systems engineering at Florida Tech. (A Ph.D. she started at UCF is on hold.) “I hate school. My attention span — I can’t sit still for three hours,” she says. “I am definitely the dumbest person in those classes and feel like it.” She recently bought an electric violin and electric cello — because her grand piano doesn’t travel, nor does her drum kit. She’s pushing to found a clay-shooting business in Brevard.

“My dad always said, ‘When God made you, he broke the mold — thank God.’ What is it? Is it my personality? Is it my parents who brought me up to want to do just about anything? To be excited about life? To be excited about everything around me? I have these moments of mortality and panic where I go, ‘I don’t want anything to happen to me because there’s just so much more to be done.’”

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

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