At the Helm: Crystal Morris

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the CEO of Gator Cases, Tampa, Fla.

Generation of family ownership: Second.

Revenue: $50 million to $60 million.

Number of employees: More than 120.

First job at this company: My dad and I started the guitar case business in 2000. Previously, he was in the music business and I was in business school. I did a little bit of everything: marketing and accounting, and entering orders and purchase orders.

At what age? 24. My dad wanted me to get some entrepreneurial experience so I worked for a few other companies first.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: Always be persistent and believe that anything is possible. “No” never meant no, it meant “Ask again” or “Try to get it done a different way.”

Best thing about this job: The group of people I work with. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to provide an environment people like to come to and where they feel rewarded.

Our greatest success: Being adaptable and an early adopter. When we’ve seen markets change, we’ve taken the risk and jumped in. Sometimes we fail as we learn, but because we’re quick to adapt we find the opportunity, whether that’s how we sell our product, who we partner with, or what kinds of products we sell.

Best advice I ever got: Build deep, long-term relationships and take the time to truly care. Again, I give my father credit for that. Whenever he read a magazine and an article reminded him of someone, he’d tear it out and send it to them. It’s those little touches that show you care and are taking the time to build a relationship. People like to be around people they like.

Quote from our company’s mission statement: We have core values instead of a mission statement, which include: to have passion about our products, our customers and the markets that we serve; to have an energetic, positive work environment that is built on trust, friendship and respect for each other; and to be loyal to our customers, offering them the best customer experience.

One of my greatest accomplishments: My father became ill around our 11th year. When I walked into his office one day and saw his face drooping, I knew things were about to change. I made a list of all the things I’d have to do, like travel to Asia and build relationships with our vendors there, and join our industry board. Over a couple of years I checked every box. That list was my lifeline. I thought if I did all those things we’d be fine, and we were. My dad passed away about five years ago, and by then everyone believed in my leadership.

Advice for other family business leaders: I often see where people in family businesses are harder on each other than they would be if they weren’t family. That drives a lot of wedges. My dad let me fail, and he let me learn. He’d say, “Give it a shot,” and if it didn’t work he’d say, “OK, how do you fix it?” which gave me a lot of confidence.

On a day off I like to … have an adventure. I like boating, wakeboarding, snow skiing and traveling.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Our primary business started in the music industry, and we support music education by such actions as advocating on Capitol Hill and putting a music room in the local Boys & Girls Club. We filled it with instruments and our staff provides lessons every week. I cofounded a group called SWIM, which stands for Smart Women in Music, with the goal of seeing more women in leadership in music.

Book I think every family business leader should read: The Hard Thing About the Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s shadow when ... two years after my dad died I realized how far we had come, not only regarding revenue but how far our company’s culture had evolved.

Future succession plans: We’re not sure. My older son has started West Point, where he’ll get great leadership training, and my younger son is still in high school.

Words I live by: Do the right thing.

Copyright 2021 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact    

Article categories: 
January/February 2021

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