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What Makes a Successful CEO?

By: Nissrine Hajbane, Marketing & Customer Engagement Specialist

I had the pleasure to sit down with our C.E.O. here at ControlCam Mr. David Freedman where I was able to ask him a few questions for our newsletter. The interview was both informative and intriguing as it allows you to understand the many layers of a CEO and what lead to his success. As an employee, his answers shed light on recognizing the many skills and thought processes that produce such a CEO.  Furthermore, Mr. Freedman shares his background as well as his plans for the future growth of the company.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you came into your role as CEO of ControlCam?

Going back to kindergarten? For the last 20 or so years, I was CFO for several very large companies, one of whom did Directory Assistance on a global scale, and another was an affiliate of T-Mobile who built out their network in the Midwest. The last job directly before this was with an Indian company that did software for mobile phones and had 11,000 employees. That company was located partially in New Jersey and partially in India. I actually thought I was coming to Jacksonville to retire. However, when I got here, a friend of mine said he knew a company that needed some assistance. So, I joined the company to just oversee their financials and after being here a few months, the board asked me to become the CEO.

Q: What lesson/s have you learned throughout your career that you keep with you today?

The most important thing I learned was probably before my career started. When I was growing up my father worked as a book binder in a factory. Every night he’d come home and complain about the people that ran the company; about how they didn’t really understand what was happening and how the business could have been much better but no one ever listened. It became engrained in me that the people actually doing the work, know about the work more than the people who are supervising them. And so I’ve tried throughout my career to make an extra effort to listen to the people who are actually working first hand and to truly understand what their issues are. That’s also one of the reasons we have a weekly staff meeting, because I’m a big believer in everyone hearing what everybody is thinking. I believe that it allows them to think more like an owner rather than just an expert in their specialized area.

Q: Who inspires you in your personal or professional life?

I don’t really have anybody like that. Throughout my career there were people that I admired for specific things but not somebody that I can actually say was my role model…. I’m not into role models. I just try to do the best I can and the thing I try to do the most is help people. I enjoy developing people to see their full potential. When my kids were younger, the thing that I enjoyed most was to coach, so I coached all of their soccer teams. It’s a very good feeling when you take somebody who is missing a skill or who has a lot of potential but hasn’t quite learned everything yet and help them discover their true talents. That to me is the fun part of the job.

Q: What keeps you enthused about your career?

I like to build things. The jobs that I’ve liked best in my career were companies that were growing. Earlier in my career I worked for CSX for 14 years. It was a great company to work for; they had 11 billion dollars in revenue and 75,000 employees when I started there. It’s still a great company to this day, although I haven’t worked for them in a long time. But every year they shrunk. They went from 75,000 to 35,000 employees when I left. And while it was a great job and I made good money combined with the prestige that comes from working for a big railroad company, every year they got smaller and smaller and every year I would have to go to my department and buy people out or offer them early retirement. Over time that got really depressing. On the other hand, some of the other companies I worked for, such as the Directory Assistance Company, when I started they had 1,000 employees and when I left they had 17,000 employees. So starting with something small and turning it into something substantial to me is very interesting and exciting. And I think ControlCam, while it is on a much smaller scale, has the potential to grow to that level and to me that’s fun and interesting.

The nice thing about working for a small company as opposed to a large company is that, in a large company, even if you are a very high level employee it’s very hard for you to actually change anything. But here, anybody with a good idea and who’s willing to work hard can actually change stuff. You can look at people like Megan Goeckel and Lauren Kane who have both been here a while and you can see things in the company that they did. You can see that they made a difference and to me that’s really more fun than just going someplace that’s really secure where you know you will be doing the same thing every day.

Q: What is the best advice you never took?

Okay, so when I worked for CSX after I had been there a while, I started to look for a different job. I wanted to do other things. I got a job offer to go work for a company called Drexel Brunham and Lambert. They were a very large New York stock exchange company. They offered me a lot more money and it was a very good job but my family was younger at the time. I also didn’t really feel like moving. So they kept making the offer better and after much hesitation, I said ‘No’. Finally the guy said: “you really don’t want this job, do you?” Then a few years later, I met the guy who actually got the job that I turned down and found out he was making a ton of money. At that point, I thought to myself: “Well you really missed that opportunity” and I regretted not taking one of their many offers. I did end up learning years down the road that the government shut them down. It was one of the biggest fraud cases at that time in Wall Street history and I was glad I didn’t take the job. I turned it down for probably all of the wrong reasons but it actually ended up okay.

Q: What is the number one skill or practice that has contributed to your success?

I think one of the things I do well is I keep a list of what needs to be done and I don’t wait around to do them. There is a sense of urgency. I believe that not making a decision is actually a decision in itself. One of the people that was a mentor to me when I was younger gave me a stone in a plaque that said “Don’t put off doing today what you need to do because there will be a tax on it tomorrow.” I can see that other people have a hard time making a decision and moving ahead and I think you always end up losing when you do that. Even if you end up making mistake, you can’t make progress without mistakes. When you think about tennis, you can sometimes go for a winning shot and it may be a bad choice when you’re better off rallying but if you never go for a winning shot, you always end up losing. I think you have to not be afraid to make mistakes.

Q: Where will the most significant growth occur in the next two to five years?

It’s definitely the imaging business that will see the most growth, the rest of the company will grow but it’s relatively stable and there aren’t many opportunities for growth. But I do believe that the imaging side of the business really has unlimited potential to grow. Some of it will grow organically through new customers that we will bring on our own. But I also think we have an opportunity to acquire other companies that do what we do and develop a much bigger presence. I think we have a good strategy; we have the beginnings of a good team of people however our biggest challenge is going to be not just adding more people but adding the right people.