CEO Connect with Greg Celestan (PHOTOS)
The CEO of Celestar Corp. shares his secrets, or at least a few
Greg Celestan is CEO of Celestar Corp., in Tampa, which is a global government contracting agency that provides intelligence services, operational support, training and advisory services. It serves customers in more than 12 countries, including areas that are designated as “high-threat.”
The company had $18 million in revenue, in 2020, and Celestan projects it could be $30 million in 2021.
Celestan has been involved in the Tampa General Hospital Foundation for nearly 11 years. He’s currently the chair of the foundation. He’s also a member of the CEO Council of Tampa Bay. He is a proud New Yorker and the Buffalo Bills’ biggest fan. He’s a graduate of West Point and a retired Army veteran leading U.S. and foreign military personnel.
Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, interviewed Celestan in front of a live audience at Casa Santo Stefano, in Ybor City. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity. (Photos from the event are below)
What has been the best part of gracing the cover of TBBW?
I’ve been able to reconnect with so many people. People have reached out to me. Classmates from school, old army buddies, because some one of my classmates put it on our West Point network. It’s just been great. It’s just been fun. I didn’t realize how many people I hadn’t talked to in 10, or 15, years. So that has probably been the best part, being able to reconnect with friends.
Your story included a very strong connection between business groups, like the CEO council of Tampa Bay, which we talked about, and your military background, but you also talked about that it was because you were here, in Tampa. How much did being here make a difference in your success?
When you come out of the military, it’s very scary, because we spend 20 years, and we don’t deal with profit and loss. We deal with mission accomplishment. I was fortunate that someone had recommended to me to join the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. But for someone coming also out of the military, being in Tampa, is special because, and I think we talked about this, if I had ended up in Atlanta, or Washington D.C, no one would have paid attention to me. But the beauty of coming to Tampa was that people embraced and welcomed me.
I was a guy who bootstrapped my company with credit cards. I literally went to The Bank of Tampa, and I stayed with them all these years, because they treated me as if I was someone who had an established business. I think it made all the difference for me because everyone welcomed me here and gave me an opportunity. And then they wanted to help me, you know, literally every person in this room. I learned from every person here. And that’s what was so special to me. I think it only could happen in Tampa.
You told me “no” last time, but you may have had more drinks tonight. Can you share any interesting stories, or state secrets?
I would have to kill everyone in the room. I’m just kidding. We do a lot of intelligence work for a lot of the agencies. And here’s the thing that would probably shock most of you. It’s pretty boring. I always ask people, “Have you seen that show 24?” They say, yes. And I tell them, it’s nothing like that. It’s a lot of analytical work.
I’ll give you an example. One of our contacts was tracking a high-threat terrorist group in a foreign country. And, literally, my folks had been doing work on this project for six months. At the end of it, we basically walked to one of the government representatives and said, “There’s probably an 80% chance that what they’re doing in this location is something you probably need to go check it out.” And that was probably the most exciting thing.
You have a lot of employees overseas. You did something really cool during the pandemic that we would have loved to have shared in your story, but we only have so many pages. It involved a helicopter. I don’t remember all the details. But can you talk about that, because it was pretty amazing?
We had to bring all of our employees back overseas when the pandemic hit. I have folks in about 12 different countries.
When we have folks in high threat areas, the government requires us to have a plan to get them out of the country. When the pandemic started, one of my employees had a health issue. They weren’t going to pay to evacuate them. So we scheduled a medivac out of Miami. It was pretty expensive.
A lot of other employees on the contract called us back and told us that they saw that we cared. From doing what we did, they realized they were with the right company.
I had a boss who used to tell me, no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. It was just the right thing to do. If I was in some place and I needed to get out, I would hope that my boss, or someone, would do that for me.
You are passionate about your involvement with the Tampa General Hospital Foundation. You talked about how quickly they adapted.
The hospital had great plans. The foundation obviously raises money for the hospital. In years past we had golf tournaments and we raised small amounts of money, but we didn’t really do a big capital campaign. So that was our plan.
And then the pandemic hit. We have 20, or so, employees in the foundation. First, we had to figure out how to keep them on board. And we did some things to make sure they were still going to be paid.
Then we had to pivot, very quickly, in things that we hadn’t done before.
John Couris came to me and said, “We need to set up a facility for people who are diagnosed with COVID. It’s got to be separate from the hospital, it’s got to have pressure rooms. It’s spreading, so we need to segregate people.”
They were going to tear down the rehabilitation center, most of you probably don’t know that. It was going to be a parking garage. We pivoted and said, let’s do this, we’ll make this the place where we treat folks with COVID. It was set up in just a couple of months.
You have been in the hard places in the military. You have started a business and run a business. I have never seen you not smiling, except for the picture we put on the cover of the magazine. [The audience laughs]
That was the photographer. He told me not to smile.
How do you keep smiling? How do you keep being so jovial? What’s your advice?
I have great friends. I went through a divorce and it was tough. That was probably the hardest transition I had to make. My friends got me through it and it made me realize that I have more blessings, than not.
One of the things I didn’t talk about in the article is that I have a 20-year-old daughter from my marriage.
She finished law school and she’s in Atlanta now, working for a company. That’s why Dad is happy. I’m smiling about that.
You just look at all the things that you must be grateful for. I have a great company. I have great folks who work with me. It’s great. I’m happy here tonight.
I’m seeing folks for the first time in a year.
You just must remind yourself of that on a regular basis. There were some dark times, I must admit, but now I look back and I go it really wasn’t that bad because of the friends that I have around me.
That’s really the reason that you see me smile, and most of the time, it’s because I’m just surrounded by great people. ♦
ABOUT ‘CEO CONNECT’
TBBW’s series is an exclusive, invitation-only, event that brings together Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Axiom Bank was presenting sponsor, Casa Santo Stefano was host sponsor. Diamond View is TBBW’s production partner.
The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 100 guests, followed by an interview of that month’s cover CEO.
Partnering with TBBW provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.
For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected]
Photos by Ryan Gautier