Being a female officer in an all-male unit of the U.S. Army was a tough position for Lori Larsen, vice president of business operations for Tampa-based Celestar Corp.
And keeping up with the boys came with its knocks. She took eight stitches once during a training exercise but went right back to it after some time in the medical tent. The scrutiny that comes from being a female in the military forced her to perform at her best at all times, a lesson in discipline she still credits for her success today.
Larsen, 35, enjoyed the simplicity of life in the Army. “You only have to worry about eating, sleeping and working,” she says.
But the methodical days stirred feelings that she was missing out on life. “You miss being able to walk down to Starbucks and get a cup of coffee,” Larsen says.
Serving in the armed forces was something that she wanted to do for years, Larsen says. Although she trained for two summers to become an Olympic decathlete, she decided to pursue a military career instead. “I was always a patriotic person,” says Larsen, “and I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Larsen spent eight years in the Army as a U.S. Intelligence Officer, one of which she was deployed in Afghanistan. Two of those years she worked for the U.S. Central Command at MacDill in Tampa. This helped smooth her transition from soldier to civilian.
Greg Celestan, CEO of Celestar and a veteran himself, hired Larsen in 2005 to manage contracts for Celestar Corp., which gathers intelligence for law enforcement and the U.S. government. It also consults with governments in the Middle East to improve their intel procedures.
It's no surprise that Larsen enjoys not coming to work in uniform. Not because it's uncomfortable or inconvenient. It's about expectations.
“When you're wearing your uniform, you wear your rank,” Larsen says, “and people judge you on the expectations of that rank.” She explains that going into work without that stigma allows her to prove herself through her actions, not her experience.
This was key, as she had little background in the current position she was promoted to in 2007. “Guess how much experience I had in business development before this job?” she asks before holding up the universal hand symbol for zero. Without a rank weighing Larsen down, Celestan saw her work on contracts and wanted to tap her talents for business development.
Larsen's duties now include coordinating marketing, contract management and proposals. She gives Celestar a pretty face as the key conduit between the firm and industry partners, as well.
Larsen is no longer tracking Al Qaeda's movements in the Middle East, but she will soon be tracking a new foe.
Much like her time monitoring insurgent activity, she will now be mindful of Celestar's competition, which is starting to heat up. She says that issues with the federal budget are making the military contracts that Celestar thrives on more elusive. She plans to conquer this by diversifying the firm.
The relationship that Celestar has with the armed forces keeps Larsen passionate about her job, something she encourages young women with corporate aspirations to seek. “I loved my time in the military,” Larsen says, “and now I get to do something I love but at a different capacity.”