Becoming the CEO: Q&A with Gisele Maxwell
Gisele Maxwell is CEO and founder of Shasta Crystals Inc., which manufactures single crystal fibers and nonlinear optical crystals. I recently met her when she participated in a panel in San Francisco that we hosted with the Women Initiative Foundation, and I was impressed with her entrepreneurial insights.
I asked her to share a few of those insights with readers of the Bank of the West Blog, and our brief Q&A is below. I think her leadership and dedication can inspire many business owners.
Q: Starting a business can be a challenging proposition. As a co-founder, what were the most important steps you took that helped get Shasta Crystals started?
A: I took my previous experience in the industry and identified a niche where the existing technologies were lacking. Once this was identified, I pitched to investors to secure the necessary funds. I then gathered what I thought would be the best team to start the company, including the board of directors and a very strong advisory board. Finally, we started applying for government SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) grants to help get the company off of the ground. Gathering letters of support from the local congressman was very helpful for that. Once that was secured, we hired highly professional and renowned legal and accounting firms.
How did you make the decision to become CEO?
Since Shasta Crystals is a high-tech company with a very unique technology, in a highly technical field of applications, the CEO in the beginning has to have the right technical knowledge and the right background to be able to secure and lead the initial development and secure early adopters of the technology. I had the right profile for the job.
What has surprised you the most about being the CEO of Shasta Crystals?
The breadth of the task, and the extent of the responsibility associated with it. It is a 24/7 job, having to worry constantly about the smooth running of the company and the well-being of employees in order to retain them. The art of filtering information becomes key. It is a difficult balance between transparency and only giving useful information.
Your professional journey may inspire many young women entrepreneurs. What tips would you give to them today to help them toward starting successful ventures?
The main tip would be to get rid of the Impostor Syndrome. Most women who achieve brilliant careers and rise to the top of their trades will face the doubt that is brought by the essence of being a woman: Do I deserve to be here? A helpful thing to do would is to join some women leadership organizations or groups. That helps with validation. For example, I joined the French American Women Executive Circle at the French American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, and sharing my doubts and challenges with them tremendously helped me grow in my role as a CEO.