Carmen Castillo

Top leaders either have it or they don’t, and Carmen Castillo has it — confidence, vision and goals, all wrapped into one package called control. As president and CEO of Superior Design International Inc., she has grown the 500-employee company to $125 million in revenue by hiring smart people and being passionate about what she does. Smart Business spoke with Castillo about how these principles guide her success.

Hire the best.

We hire really good people that already have years of experience in our industry, someone that is a superstar, or maybe he or she comes from a different industry, and that person works with me or one of my executives for a little while just to catch up, and then they are on their own.

I try to hire the brightest people — brighter than me, smarter than me, hard workers. Someone that really wants to make money, have a career, and good people, people with passion, people that love their jobs and wake up in the morning and come here with a smile and are passionate about their jobs.

That’s why you interview a person two or three times. It’s psychology. I think CEOs, we have to have a little psychology to read people’s minds and to read people’s eyes and see where they’re coming from and get that feeling, get that chemistry, get that connection, get that energy. If I connect with them or they connect with me, I know there is something there.

I can’t do everything myself, and I delegate so much. I have to delegate in order to get the business growing and doing new things and new services. I’m not afraid to hire smarter people than I am. If I could just have the smartest people working for us, that would make me the happiest because it makes my company stay strong and grow, and we all work together because smart people understand other smart people.

Be passionate.

I take the business one day at a time. I know what I want to do. I’m very passionate and proactive.

I try to think of new services. I try to be ahead of our competitors. I try to provide services to our customers are that are value-add and none of the other competitors are offering, but those are not goals. Those are just part of what I do daily, what the president and CEO needs to be daily to have a solid and strong company.

Be creative.

It’s part of my job. It comes naturally. Be creative. I read a lot. I know what’s going on in my industry. I try to think of new ways to improve our services, to improve our pricing, to improve or create value-add to customers, to keep our employees motivated, to work harder and harder every year — all those things combined in one big basket, and it works.

Find a balance.

No matter how frustrated, no matter how tired I am, no matter how depressed I am for business, no matter how many problems I have, I try to get a good night of sleep. I exercise. I run. I do workouts. I eat healthy and well, and I sleep, because if I don’t sleep, I can’t function the next day — my brain is stuck.

You’ve got to look good when you’re in business, especially when you’re a woman. If you’re a woman, and the CEO, you have to look healthy and feel comfortable the way you are, very comfortable with yourself. Really feel good with yourself, and that’s part of the exercise, the healthy life, good eating habits and a good night of sleep.

Be in control.

When you are the CEO of your company, you don’t need anyone to tell you what to do — you’re supposed to know what to do. When you are president or CEO or founder of your company, you’ve got to be one with that.

You know by nature what to do, because otherwise, you will never be successful, you will never be CEO of a big company. If you don’t know what to do when you’re on top, who will? If you’re not a leader, if you’re not in control of your company, who will be? Nobody.

It’s very difficult to give advice to CEOs and to presidents because they’re already there. They know. All CEOs or presidents — we all come from the same planet. We all have the same ideas. We all think pretty much alike. We’re all very strong people.

We’re all very energetic, very passionate about what we do. And no matter how many CEOs you ask, they’re pretty much going to tell you the same thing —either you have it or you don’t have it. If you don’t have it, you will never make it to the top. If you’re already there on the top, you have it.

Learn from real-world experience.

The passion, the energy, the willingness to do it, the not getting frustrated — it’s a whole package, and you have to be one with it. You have be one with that entrepreneurial skill. If you’re not one with that, you can’t learn it.

No matter how many masters’ or Ph.D.s you have, you cannot learn it. The best, most successful entrepreneurs in the world don’t have Ph.D.s — they hire top-educated people to work for them, but most of the time they don’t have the Ph.D.s or graduated from Harvard — those are executives, but they’re never the top leaders. There are some exceptions, there are always exceptions, but in general, you’re just one with that.

Learn from customers and competitors.

Try to be on top and learn from customers and learn from competitors, too. All the mistakes they do, I try not to, although I do make quite a lot of mistakes too.

It’s the best way to learn. You never forget a lesson that you learn from your own mistakes. I’m very happy that I screw up once in a while because when I make mistakes like that, I know it will be the first and the last — I learn my lesson for life.

HOW TO REACH: Superior Design International Inc., www.sdintl.com

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