Karen Finley, President and CEO at Redflex Traffic Systems, shares what it is like to be the CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems and gives advise to women who aspire to have a C-Level managment job.
Are there misconceptions about Redflex?
One of the myths about the photo-enforcement industry is that we are always filming everybody. If you don’t break the law, you don’t get your picture taken. It’s as simple as that. The other thing is that we don’t decide who gets a ticket. It’s up to the police to accept or reject the violation. We just provide a tool for law enforcement.
Video by Cory Bergquist
Redflex’s revenues have increased 20-fold during your tenure. How did you do that?
It’s kind of a halo effect. As you implement a safety program into a community, the community next door is watching. They start talking to colleagues in neighboring communities and it starts to roll. I come out of a service background. We are providing a service to our clients and our focus on customer service has come across to clients. As a company, we have been very successful in winning programs from competitors based on customer service.
What qualities does an effective CEO have?
A lot of CEOs lose track of the fact that it’s the people around them who have helped grow the company. I am somebody who didn’t just land in a top job. I worked my way up. So I understand what it’s like to be the everyday employee. I think that understanding has made me a better leader. It’s important is to have compassion for your staff.
How is working at Redflex Traffic Systems different from other industries you worked in?
I worked in operations in the insurance industry and never had to work with anything political. I didn’t even fully understand how the Legislature worked. In the photo-enforcement industry, there is a lot of politics involved. It’s fun because you get to learn how bills become law and you don’t really get an appreciation of that until you work it every day.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Managing the magnitude of growth — especially in the early days — and making sure we had the right people in the right seats and retaining those people was the biggest challenge. It was a stressful time — the fun kind of stress — but it was a new technology and we were the first to use digital technology, so there was a lot of hand-holding and educating clients on the efficacy of the images. It was a very exciting, but challenging time.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
When I came to Redflex Traffic Systems in 1998, we had three contracts and about 20 employees. Today, we have 262 contracts and have 395 employees. I attribute that growth to the strength of the Redflex family. I am very proud of that.
What advice would you give to women who aspire to have a c-level management job?
Don’t give up. Be open to new new ideas. When I was working at an insurance company 14 years ago, if someone told me I would be where I am today, I wouldn’t have believed them. Finding a good mentor is still the best way to learn. There are a lot of things that come up every day that business school just doesn’t teach you. There is nothing in a textbook that can teach you how to manage through a crisis. But a good mentor can.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
If money wasn’t an object, I would do more with my dog rescue, which is something that is very near and dear to me. I would foster more dogs and find more homes for dogs.