Writers at Women in the Boardroom had the opportunity to sit down (virtually that is) with WIB members involved in the fight against the Coronavirus. We wanted to learn more about what is inspiring them, how the outbreak of the virus has impacted their professional lives, and how they were able to pivot their businesses to manage through the current pandemic. Their stories provide key advice for senior-level executives in the wake of COVID-19.
This week we spoke with Jaci Warren, creator and President of Cilajet, a developer of superior aviation-grade paint sealant protection. Prior to starting Cilajet, Jaci spent 20 years in the automotive industry as Finance Director, General Sales Manager, General Manager, and Variable Operations Director. She is a graduate of the prestigious NADA Dealer Academy (1999), and Mercedes-Benz Quality by Design in Stuttgart, Germany. Jaci sat on Dealer Advisory Boards for Mercedes-Benz Finance, BMW Financial and AutoNation Financial Services, and was a member of the Volvo National Ad Committee.
As President and business owner of Cilajet can you tell us a little about your company’s products and then, when, how and why you pivoted your company and your work to refocus it to the fight against COVID-19?
Cilajet is an anti-corrosive paint sealant which was originally designed for the aerospace industry, and it carries current Boeing and Airbus approvals. I started the company in 2006 for the purposes of introducing it into the automotive market because I had been in the automotive industry since 1988.
With the pandemic hitting us in March, most dealerships closed down their showrooms and sales departments, bringing new car sales to a halt. We already had an anti-microbial product developed that we were considering introducing last year, but did not feel there was enough of a demand for it. With the onset of COVID, we recognized that now this was a much needed product for the automotive industry. Now, we sell Cilajet Anti-Microbial product through our dealer networks. It is an EPA registered product proven to kill 99% of germs, bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 (human coronavirus), as well as HIV, Hepatitis, Swine Flu, etc. It’s an amazing product!
What key information and considerations were most important in making the decisions to pivot the business?
Since March, This has been a very intensive learning curve for us, and we had a lot to learn. As owner, the decision to pivot the business was mine. I ended up hiring a top-notch EPA Consultant in D.C. who is guiding us through this process. If we are going to offer these programs to dealers and their customers, it was imperative that we do it the right way and the safest way for families.
What do you think are the most essential leadership skills, attitudes and behaviors that have been useful to you during the covid-19 crisis, especially with pivoting your business to address the crisis.
We have a very honest company with equal communication lines. I have an open-door policy at all times, and issues are addressed the minute they arise. As soon as it was announced that businesses were mandated to shut down in CA, I put an email out to all of the employees to stay home on Friday until further notice. Slowly but surely, the employees started showing up despite my email. The incredible loyalty and kindness in everyone that works for my company warmed my heart. Since we manufacture and distribute an anti-microbial disinfectant, we are an essential business. But, as things progressed, I had to make adjustments and modifications for the staff working from home and to make sure those coming in were safe.
How has your work with your Board or Leadership team changed during this crisis and what advice would you give to Board members during this time?
It has just been to work hard and stay strong. I believe, if everyone listens to the recommendations, they are smart enough to take the necessary precautions and stay safe. Fortunately for us, we have had zero cases of COVID at Cilajet.
What inspiration have you drawn from your peers during the current pandemic?
Well, I follow the auto industry extensively through news and media, and I see some of the inspirational stories of dealers keeping their doors open, taking good care of their staff, offering special things like our anti-microbial to every customer in their service drive, or FREE treatment for all front-line workers, etc. Giving back to their communities.
What are you doing to stay positive?
Honestly, sometimes that is a challenge. I literally started Cilajet in my garage as a single-mother 13 years ago and my heart goes out to those small business owners who are completely devastated by the economic fallout from the pandemic. But I stay positive by tackling the challenges each day that come along.
What professional advice can you offer to other senior-level executive women during this time?
Stay strong. Stay persistent. Look for ways to get around the challenges, and be compassionate. Hugs aren’t available, so you need to be kind to each other and smile.
How do you think the pandemic has changed the world as we know it and how has that impacted our future?
Hopefully, we have learned from this. Preparations for a future potential pandemic have to be in place so this doesn’t happen again, and I think providing factual data from reliable sources is important. Hopefully, we learn from the data and not make the same mistakes a second time around.
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