Guest Lecturer Greg Celestan Tells Honors Biz Class the Importance of Failure on the Path to Success
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (April 24, 2019) -- “How many of you are in advertising or marketing?” asked Greg Celestan, during a recent guest lecture in a Dean’s Speakers Series class. More than half raised their hands.
“Oh, man, you folks are going to fail,” he said. “You are going to fail a lot.”
Celestan, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who started Celestar, a government contracting business in 2004, talked about failure to the class and stressed failure is a natural step on the path to success.
Failure, he said, leads to better solutions by defining limits and resulting in motivation and inspiration. It’s not that you should embrace failure, he said, but you should learn from it. While failure is a feature of most business fields, marketing and advertising is often a hit and miss venture, one in which failing to meet goals can play a big part of later success.
He also touched on other factors that has led to the success of his immense, global contracting business. Raised in Niagara Falls, New York, Celestan’s exit plan was to join the military. He received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was a history guy in high school and found himself among classmates all studying engineering and science.
This was the point:
“Four years there taught me a lot about perseverance, along with pain and suffering. It did teach me that you can do a lot more than you realize.” For example, he said, he learned Russian there.
His military career spanned 20 years and brought him to places all over the world, leading both U.S. forces and foreign military personnel as part of NATO.
After he retired, he founded Celestar using his home as collateral and his daughter’s college fund (he later was able to pay for her college and law school, thanks to Celestar’s success). He said the first several years were worrisome, because if the business failed, he would have lost everything.
But it didn’t, partly because he hired the right people and got everyone involved in building the business. Surrounding himself with the right people, he said, was key. And résumés and pedigrees play a small part.
“I want to know how you work with others. Do you blame others when things go wrong, how do you handle failure,” he said. ”When you come to me, I want to hear what you know and what you don’t know and what you are willing to learn.”
Even that hiring philosophy, he said, was learned, partly, through failure. He had hired someone he had known for years, but even though the manager was successful on the business side, he was not a good mix with some of his employees, resulting in poor morale and some documented complaints. It was a difficult choice because they were friends, Celestan said, but he ended up firing the troubled manager.
Celestar was named to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in America in 2009 and also was listed among the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s “Fast 50” list of the 50 fastest growing companies in the Tampa Bay area.
The company provides a wide range of services to the U. S. government with personnel bringing to the table subject-matter expertise as well as experience in intelligence, operations, planning, training and IT services. Celestar has served customers in more than 40 countries spanning four continents, including some high-threat locations.
Along the way, Celestan was selected as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the state of Florida in 2010 and currently serves as a national judge for the program.
With all that in his background, he no longer worries too much about cash flow or losing everything, although he realizes it all could be gone in a minute.
“In the beginning you think a lot about money, a lot,” he told the class. “But you have to enjoy the journey. It’s the journey that’s important. The journey teaches you about different points of view and how to come up with solutions … and how to build community.”