For Callie Groth ’14 MBA, being an entrepreneur wasn’t an option. “I didn’t care what it was, I wanted to build something truly innovative,” she says. “It wasn’t about the product or service—it was about the opportunity to build and grow an empire.”
And that is exactly what she did.
At the time Groth was getting her MBA from the Eller College of Management, she was also part of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. “The McGuire Center really catapulted me into being more of an adult and really understanding entrepreneurship,” she says. “It wasn’t a professor-taught program, so I was kind of my own boss at the moment, and it’s just been constant growth since then.”
Although there has been constant growth in Groth’s career since her time at Eller, it hasn’t been a diagonal approach. “It’s been an absolute rollercoaster,” she says. “There’s a lot about entrepreneurship and building a business that can’t be taught in a classroom—you take one step forward and 400 steps back. I have had both major wins and incredible losses.”
That rollercoaster led her to her current role as owner and Chief Executive Officer of BlackBar Engineering—a small firm specializing in autonomous vehicles, tactical tools and other forms of expeditionary equipment. Even though Groth is CEO, she says that as an entrepreneur, one needs to know all the ins and outs of the business—down to cleaning the bathrooms. “True CEOs do everything that needs to be done,” says Groth.
Being part of an aerospace defense engineering company has not been an easy ride for Groth. “I chose to go into one of the hardest, most cut-throat industries,” she says. “But it has definitely hardened me and given me confidence. I love the challenge—it’s frustrating and infuriating, but I am drawn to it.”
One of the greater challenges that Groth has faced in the industry is being a woman, but she’s taken that challenge and turned it into a learning opportunity. “People sometimes think that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’ve had to fight for my place,” she says. “So I’ve done as much as I can to make the playing field equal.” How has Groth leveled the playing field? Not only by knowing enough to be credible in conversations, but she has also learned how to fly an aircraft, make batteries and understand radio frequencies.
The biggest lesson that Groth has taken from her career is to know your level of grit. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart,” she says. “You have to think ‘I may want to quit, but I won’t quit’”.
And her main piece of advice to anyone wanting to go into the field: “Have a sense of confidence. Never arrogance—but always confidence.”