Spotlight on Robin Follman-Otta of RA Industries
Member company RA Industries is a family-run aeronautics outfit based in Orange County, California. What shook up the company, however, wasn’t the cutting-edge technology that sends parts to the International Space Station. It was the fact that the reins were taken up by the daughter of pioneer founder Robert Follman.
“Everybody was in an uproar,” Robin Follman-Otta said. “Nobody wanted to make a change. They were devoted to doing things the old-school cowboy style. They didn’t understand the world around them was changing.”
When he decided, in his early 70s, to retire, someone had to be anointed. He himself had worked for his dad’s small business providing parts and machinery to the oil and gas industry. But daughter Robin was trained as a professional opera singer and had spent three decades on the big stage – not a boardroom.
Touring with singer, songwriter, and record producer Andrea Bocelli taught her many skills, but she figured if she was going to make a go of the family business she needed to go back to school. So, about five years ago, she stepped away from music and worked full-time at the company, earning her MBA at Chapman University.
Follman-Otta started changing the way the company did business. Now about half of the employees are women.
She started hiring outside leadership and diversifying the company. She acknowledges making a culture shift wasn’t easy, and many had to get used to her in this new role instead of her brother. Jack Follman is currently the executive VP of manufacturing.
“It was baptism by fire, Follman-Otta said. “They treated me more as a dilettante than an experienced and educated woman.” But the company remains profitable and in business.”
Robin exemplifies GRIT – growth, resilience, innovation and talent. For the original profile of her story, go here.
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