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Susan Colvin: “Hire people smarter than you”

Plans change, and you need to be ready to change with them — It may seem logical to think that the hardest trek of your journey is the beginning, but then you’re thrown for a loop. Suddenly, that plan you’ve worked so hard to create no longer applies to your current situation. Times change, consumers change, and […]


Plans change, and you need to be ready to change with them — It may seem logical to think that the hardest trek of your journey is the beginning, but then you’re thrown for a loop. Suddenly, that plan you’ve worked so hard to create no longer applies to your current situation. Times change, consumers change, and technology changes. You must learn and adapt.


As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Colvin. Susan is the Founder and CEO of CalExotics, the world’s largest and most respected pleasure product manufacturer, and of JOPEN, the premiere luxury toy company. She has three college degrees: Bachelor of Arts with a major in Speech Communication and a minor in Political Science, Master of Public Administration with an emphasis in Energy Administration, both from the University of New Mexico and a Master of Business Administration from Central Michigan University. During Susan’s early career she taught GED courses on military bases and served as an Associate Professor and Director of Student Affairs at Hawaii Pacific College. She was also an associate professor at Honolulu Community College, Golden Gate University and Rhode Island College. Upon entering the private sector, Susan was the Director of Operations for one of the original one-hour photo franchises. When the company was sold, she started a business management company that specializes in computerizing small businesses and establishing operating procedures. In her next adventure, she assumed the role of General Manager for CPLC and Video Team. With a strong work ethic and a passion for empowering women and couples, Susan revolutionized the pleasure product industry and founded the female-centric CalExotics over 20 years ago in an industry dominated by men with products targeted towards men. She made her feminine mark on the industry by being the first to develop toys in pink and purple colors and packaging that appealed to women and couples. Over time, Susan became known as an industry leader for introducing many innovative product features such as waterproofing and USB rechargeability, which have transformed pleasure products into what they are today. As an innovator and pioneer, Susan and her companies have been honored with many awards, including Business Woman of the Year from EAN for six consecutive years, Chief Executive of the Year — 2017 from XBIZ, Design Award — 2017 from Creativity International, and many others.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Susan! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I think a lot of people were surprised that I wanted to start my own adult novelty company, but I wanted to bring products to market that were more inclusive of all customers. I’m proud to say we’ve been doing that for the past 25 years.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Women are multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, and great at multitasking. Take advantage of this! Build your company and job descriptions with these things in mind. If you do, you will thrive. It’s also equally as important to give your team the opportunity to explore other areas of the business so they’re not locked into one position. You need to appreciate the fact that you have talented women around you who have a plethora of skills. Give your team the opportunity to grow in the company and grow in their careers. Women can accomplish amazing feats! Many times, it’s just whether they have the opportunity.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

When you’re dealing with a large team, you want to make sure each person knows their role and their importance on the team. It’s a group effort that makes the team great. It isn’t the work of one person that makes a company successful, and it isn’t one person that leads a company to its downfall. Remind your team of that and encourage them to work together to achieve the goal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful because he or she helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Jackie White is Executive Vice President of CalExotics, and she has been with me since I started the company. She is extremely hardworking, people-oriented, and has a “do what it takes” attitude. She’s always been there to brainstorm with me regardless of the subject.

When I met Jackie, she was working for me as my assistant at CPLC where I was the general manager. She had a career full of retail experience, and ironically, when I interviewed her, she told me she would do anything but sales. Of course, with time and a variety of responsibilities, she eventually became Executive Vice President of CalExotics. Today she is involved in all aspects of the company, and she’s also an amazing mentor to our sales team. I’m so grateful that I’ve had her alongside me during these past 25 years. It’s comforting to have someone like Jackie on the team because I know she and I share the same vision.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Charitable contributions are incredibly important to me because at CalExotics we believe in giving back to our community. We want to make an impact and help enrich the lives of our customers and the community we live in. One example is our unique and inclusive Inspire line. We’ve partnered with Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) to create the stunning Inspire collection to help make an impact in the lives of people affected by breast cancer. A portion of the proceeds benefits LBBC.

In addition to supporting LBBC, we also support many local and national charities. These include the American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Free Speech Coalition, Living with Change, Priceless Pets, and more.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Being #1 is incredible and terrifying, so just do your best — People’s expectations are significantly higher when your company is #1. People are constantly asking you, what will you do next? How will you be better? If something doesn’t live up to their expectations, they will let you know immediately. When you’re in the spotlight, everything is noticed. It can be stressful. So, take your time and do what is best for you and your company.
  2. Plans change, and you need to be ready to change with them — It may seem logical to think that the hardest trek of your journey is the beginning, but then you’re thrown for a loop. Suddenly, that plan you’ve worked so hard to create no longer applies to your current situation. Times change, consumers change, and technology changes. You must learn and adapt.
  3. You will need to make self-care a priority — I take less time off now than when I started the company. Time for yourself must be on the schedule, or it won’t happen. Social obligations will continue to come up, but you need to make your personal life a priority as well. There needs to be a balance, or you will wear yourself down, and you’ll lose the passion you once had for your business. It’s important to take the time, and remember, do not feel guilty about it. You need it!
  4. Hire people smarter than you — Having a competent team around you is key to your company’s success. Hire team members who have skills in areas you may not and trust them to do their job. In the end, you will learn something from them, and your company will be better for it.
  5. Try, try, and try again — don’t let the fear of failing hold you back. Some ideas will help put your company on the map, while others won’t. Taking chances can be scary when you’re responsible for an entire company, but it’s important to take risks and try new things. You never know what idea will stick until you give it yourself the opportunity to try it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Everything is possible.” This quote has comforted me through all the ups and downs in my life. It also inspired me to go for my dreams, work hard, and to keep pushing forward. I honestly believe anything can be accomplished both professionally and personally. It’s just a matter of perseverance — and that has always been my number one quality. I always try to keep this quote at the forefront of everything I do because it’s important to push yourself to do your very best in all things.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to sit down with Hilary Clinton because we share similar views on life. She broke the glass ceiling for women, and that is an incredible accomplishment that I am proud to have witnessed. Regardless of the challenges in her life, she preserved. It’s hard not to be impressed by her accomplishments. Her story is inspiring, and I think every female leader could learn something from her, regardless of political affiliation.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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