First published at Ladies Who Launch
Remember Charlie, Kelly McGillis’ character from the movie Top Gun? She was the no-nonsense civilian flight instructor who kept the jet pilots in line at the Miramar Naval Air Station. Meet Featured Lady Carol Craig, a real-life Charlie whose role at the Naval Air Warfare Center was the integration of Global Positioning Systems and Cockpit Display development for several Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. Today, she is the founder, president, CEO and CFO of Craig Technologies; a multi-million dollar federally certified 8(a), service-disabled veteran-owned, woman-owned business. Incorporated in 1999 and on track to earn over $20 million in revenue this year*, Craig Technologies specializes in systems engineering, project management, infrastructure installation, software design and engineering, research and development, modeling and simulation, training and a myriad of custom technical services.
Carol always wanted to be in the military, even earning a ROTC scholarship, but decided to go the traditional college route earning her BA in Computer Science from Knox College and a BS in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois. Carol’s love of computers emerged when she was a 13 year-old middle schooler with free time. Instead of chasing boys and getting into trouble, she enrolled in computer classes at a local college. It was then Carol “fell in love with computers.” They kept her focused and on track.
After graduation, Carol worked for the Department of Defense where she developed software systems for aircraft cockpits, acting as Charlie for the Naval Air Warfare Center – Indianapolis. However, she still hadn’t realized her military dream. Carol knew she wanted to do more than just design flight systems for military planes – she wanted to be a part of aviation in the military.
Carol received a commission through Aviation Officer Candidate School, became a Naval Flight Officer and was the first woman aviator in her P-3 Orion squadron. While with the Navy, Carol specialized in Anti-Submarine and Subsurface Warfare and earned her MS in Electrical Computer Engineering from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.
Unfortunately, a botched surgery on her injured knee abruptly ended Carol’s military career and she was discharged as a disabled veteran.
Prepared to follow her husband’s military career, Carol intended on returning to the Department of Defense; however, location and lack of that type of work stalled her plans. While working in Jacksonville Florida for a large transportation company, a friend suggested she incorporate “just in case” and in 1999 Craig Technologies was born. Within a few months, she unexpectedly began receiving requests for consulting work. To avoid involving investors, Carol used personal finances and maxed out eight credit cards to launch her company, which was in growth mode with planned losses for several years. “Business is all about opportunity,” she explains. “I didn’t know I had a winning idea. I just loved what I was doing and had confidence in my decisions.”
After her husband, Captain John W. Craig, left the Navy in 2003, the couple moved to Merritt Island, Florida. After years of learning the world of government contracting and focusing on securing contracts for government programs in aerospace and defense, her business took off. Carol’s unique dual perspective of being an engineer as well as a former naval flight officer served her well.
She also discovered government set-asides for women-owned, minority-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small-businesses and used them to her advantage. Carol “always operated the business as if we were in a recession,” reinvesting her company’s profits back into the business, which allowed for more strategic growth and kept Craig Technologies debt-free. Today, Carol still owns 100% of her business.
By 2008, Carol had offices in Cape Canaveral, Pensacola, and Jacksonville, Florida, Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Canton, Illinois, where her parents run the administrative office. Carol admits the company could have grown faster, but having a son born with a rare genetic disorder, Prader-Willi Syndrome, forced her to refocus her energy.
“I never wanted to miss a school outing or event because I had a meeting, “Carol says. “Family stays number one.” Husband John now serves as Carol’s “Special Projects Officer,” as well as flying for JetBlue Airways and pursuing his MBA. Their children are Danny, 8 and Gillian, 7.
Craig Technologies grew from one person in 1999 to 200 employees in 2010, and Carol plans to expand the business to 500 employees over the next five years. The company’s vision is to be the government contractor of choice with demonstrated employee-centric delivery of quality customer-centric results.
“The business today is about loyalty and relationships,” Carol says. “I always believed that family, friends and associates are much more important than revenue.” In fact, most of Craig Technologies’ business comes through word-of-mouth. Carol attributes her firm’s success to her and her team’s networking skills and ability to retain long-time customers as the company grows. Carol was named 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Society of Women Engineers and selected as 2009 Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration – South Florida District. She is a founding member and supporter of the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research (FPWR), an international non-profit organization dedicated to funding research and finding treatments for the syndrome and is also active on over ten boards in the local community including Junior Achievement, March of Dimes, and the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. Carol is pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical computer engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in industrial engineering at the University of Central Florida.
Content for Carol’s biographical sketch was provided by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.
*Article written in 2010. Actual revenues on track for $32M in June 2012.