In honor of Scaling Up Philadelphia, our new program for growing profitable and sustainable black, brown and woman-owned companies, by providing them with the tools, resources and operating system they need to be successful, we’re highlighting each of the incredible members of our inaugural cohort of seven dedicated, hardworking and inspiring entrepreneurs.
Next up is Karla Trotman, President and CEO of Electro Soft Inc., an American electronics contract manufacturer specializing in PCB, cable, wiring harness and enclosure assemblies for clients in aviation, rail, transit, OEM and defense for over 35 years. Electro Soft Inc., which self-identifies as the nation’s largest Black-owned electronics manufacturing and engineering firm, was founded in 1986 by Karla’s parents, Jim and Sheila Wallace.
Graduating with a degree in logistics from Penn State, Karla initially worked with several big name brands such as Gap and Ikea, gaining experience in supply chain management, scheduling and leadership. Although she found much success in those early years, her goals changed when she started a family.
After having her two boys, she recognized that legacy was a significant Core Value driver for her. Initially that realization drove her to starting and running an online business, Bellybuttonboutique.com which specialized in providing one stop shopping for women transitioning through pregnancy. She learned a great deal through that experience, but ultimately, she decided to take advantage of the unique opportunity to carry on her parent’s legacy, electing to have the option to pass the business onto her own children if she was successful.
So in 2015 she took on the role of Executive Vice President of Electro Soft, Inc., the business her father started 30 years before at their kitchen table. After five years of working side by side with Jim to improve the operations and grow the business, organically and through strategic acquisition, she bought the company from her father and became President and CEO in 2020.
Jim and Sheila had intentionally kept the company small.
“The company really was a lifestyle business for my parents,” Karla shares. “And they created a very loyal and reliable client base.”
Her focus however has shifted over the past few years to a growth mindset. “I want to scale the business. And the plan for that includes systematizing Electro Soft’s manufacturing and assembly processes, growing the leadership team and possibly expanding in the near future to a second location in North Carolina or Michigan.”
Karla credits her time as an entrepreneur, prior to taking over the family business, with giving her the experience she initially needed to excel in her current role. “I truly saw the value and power of putting forth my own dedicated effort and being disciplined and thoughtful in my approach and my plans,” she shared. “Taking a business from 1st to 2nd generation is not something you can teach. The failure rate is 50%. The skills and experience I had gained previously allowed me to navigate the transition.”
“You could certainly implement an operating system alone but it is so much easier when you have a program like Scaling Up Philadelphia that combines a peer to peer experience with the opportunity to learn together, create a plan and then implement.”
Karla shared that her experience thus far with Scaling up Philadelphia has allowed her and her team to accelerate their efforts. “The program is really having a major impact, helping not just me but also my Operations Manager to focus on creating a more robust and profitable business together.” With, of course, a lot of support from her fellow entrepreneurs.
“Everyone participating is going in different directions but through the same process.” Seeing all of the different experiences and being surrounded by other business owners has been excellent exposure for her as well as her Operations Director who is participating with her, a unique requirement of the program.
“Identifying and being able to raise up a #2 has been extremely helpful. It allows me to bring in someone who can be instrumental in moving the ball forward and gives me my time back to focus on our strategy for growth.”
Ultimately, Karla hopes to grow the company to the point where there is something sustainable and profitable to leave to future generations, just as her parents did. What form that will take only time will tell, but leaving a legacy will always be of central importance to Karla.
Karla’s best piece of advice for other entrepreneurs?
“The same people you started with may not be the same people you continue with. This program helps show if you have the right people to take you in the right direction, which is critical to the long-term value of your business. Surround yourself with people who want to succeed in the way you do for the business.“