Focus on people first

By As told to Patricia Olsen

Leadership is more than a seat at the head of the table. It's about inspiring greatness, according to Heather Falcone, CEO, Thermal-Vac Technology in Orange, Calif.

Generation of family ownership: Second.

Annual revenues: $11.7 million.

Number of employees: 61.

First job at this company: In the front office. I answered phones, filled out timecards and filed.

At what age? 12. I also helped with admin work while I was in college. I had dreams of becoming a doctor, so I took a break from Thermal-Vac to work for Kaiser Permanente for a spell. But in 2003 my father convinced me to return to Thermal-Vac to take over human resources. When he retired in 2009, I became CEO.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: He lives by the principle that we build good parts here: at a profit if we can, a loss if we must, but always good parts. 

Most memorable thing I learned from my mother: Care about people, even if they don’t care about you. The more you care, the more of your real self is out in the world and every bit of love you put into the universe comes back to you. She’s a mother earth, take care of everybody, golden rule kind of gal. I just love that about her.

Best thing about this job: The people. Most of my work has been on the human resources side. H.R. is all about mastering the art of working well with people who might not be having their best day. I love learning about our people’s challenges and getting to know their families and their hobbies. Helping them see a path to success at our company is the best part of this job.

Our greatest success: Being a partner on the Space Shuttle program starting in the mid-1980s until its retirement in 2011. We’re excited to be working on components for the next generation of space launch vehicles.

Best advice I ever got: Remember that you are your own worst critic. Whatever everyone else thinks of you cannot match how hard you are on yourself.

On my desk: We all have these foam blocks from a company called Discover Yourself. Each set has four colors corresponding to traits of our personalities, with the most dominant trait on top. For me, red, which says, “Do it now,” is on top. They help us ground our communication in better understanding of one another.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Transitioning my dad into his retirement. It can be a tough change for someone who has had their whole life wrapped up in the business. Providing him with an opportunity to sunset the way he wanted to while maintaining his legacy, honoring his life work and keeping it going has been my greatest accomplishment.

Best thing about working in a family business: Seeing my family every day. With COVID, so many families aren’t getting together. I come to work and get to see my three brothers, mother, father, son, husband, sister-in-law and stepsister. I think that is an absolute treasure.

Advice for other family business leaders: Promote the idea that being in a family business is a positive and not a liability, so even when you’re at each other’s throats you’re blessed. Family is always there for each other.

On a day off I like to… hike. I’m on a mission to climb the highest seven summits of the world. In 2019 I summitted Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and I’ll be doing Mount Everest in October.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Second Chance Employment and Chrysalis, a social justice organization. Chrysalis helps people impacted by homelessness, extreme poverty or experience in the criminal justice system return to the workplace. I sit on the board and we’re a hiring partner. Over 10% of our team members are Chrysalis clients.

Book I think every family business leader should read: Keep the Family Baggage Out of the Family Business by Quentin J. Fleming.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s shadow when… my dad trusted me enough to say, “You are CEO. I know you don’t want it and you didn’t plan for it.” Then he bought a house in Arizona and left.

Future succession plans: My father is teaching upcoming generations. My three younger brothers and I are in senior leadership roles, and our third generation (including my 14-year-old son) is getting their education from the entry level, washing windows and sweeping floors.

Words I live by: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” - Simon Sinek




Article categories: 
July/August 2021

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