by Ryan Mannion
Business Development Specialist
On the morning of June 2nd, Northeastern University invited Chris Coghlin, President and CEO of Coghlin Companies, to share his business experiences and life lessons with a class of MBA students concentrating in finance and entrepreneurship. He began by reminiscing about his past experience at Northeastern and expressed his belief that their Co-Op Program was a major driver in his early success of learning how to manage and lead people, establish expectations and meet deadlines by implementing an accountable leadership style.
Chris proceeded to discuss how he and the businesses he has been involved with for more than 20 years have been constantly reinvented and evolved, and how the Columbia Tech division of Coghlin Companies has grown to two companies that represent more than $200M in annual revenue, employ more than 400 associates and are recognized as a 100% referable, fourth generation, engineering and contract manufacturing industry leader.
While Chris was a student at NEU in the early 90’s he earned the opportunity to become an Operations Manager of Northeastern’ s Residence Mail Services where he managed approximately 25 work study students. His conquest began when he was told his job was to ensure every piece of mail that arrived in the NEU mailroom was delivered to all on-campus residents within 24 hours without exception. Well, imagine managing 25 college students, many about to finish their senior year, and having the tough conversation that although it’s 80 and sunny in the heart of Boston, you have an obligation to meet the expectations of Residence Mail Services and do your job in its entirety before heading to the beach.
At first, working extra hours to make up for his colleagues’ slack was the solution, until he quickly realized it was impossible to succeed in that manner with the volume of mail being received and the challenging goals set forth by NEU Residential Life. He quickly learned that it needed to be a complete team effort to achieve the daily, weekly and monthly goals. It took courage, honesty, strong interpersonal connections, and inspiration to ensure all goals were met and exceeded. Chris also earned a second Co-Op in this same job as a result of the excellent work he did during his first Co-Op experience.
This was the first of many experiences that led Chris to focus on how he interacted with and managed people in a very positive and kind way, while also bringing a tough demeanor and environment of accountability to his fellow peers. He also played in a band and ran a custom t-shirt business as a student at NEU…a true entrepreneur in the making!
Since his days as a Northeastern Husky, Chris has led numerous reinventions of Coghlin Companies. Some important lessons and kernels of wisdom that Chris shared included:
- Treat others the way you would like to be treated
- Say it straight so it won’t come out crooked
- Learn from your mistakes
- Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want
- Never take a “build it and they will come” approach to business…listen carefully and evolve your business model slowly as you re-invent
- Listen twice as much as you speak!
- Every person and every role in a company is important! Treat co-workers with kindness and respect!
- Focus on re-inventing your business every 2 years
- Positive feedback is always great to hear, but as a leader pay the most attention to candid and constructive feedback from those you trust most in order to continuously evolve and enhance your offering
- Do what you love and be passionate about achieving your goals
Having the opportunity to watch, listen and learn from Chris was a very valuable experience for not only the students, but for me as well. As I met up with Chris on campus that morning, we saw multiple Big Belly Solar Trash Compactors—a product Chris and the Columbia Tech team were very instrumentally involved in commercializing—that are now located throughout his old campus as well as many federal, local and state facilities around the country. To see how hard Chris has worked to climb the ladder and go from selling t-shirts, playing in a band and working in NEU’s Residence Mail Operations, to becoming a Buyer, Program Manager, VP of Business Development, and eventually President and CEO of Coghlin Companies, is a story that resonated with many of the Northeastern students.
It is apparent to me that the core values that were established over the Coghlin dinner table by Chris’s mother and father along with his NEU education and diverse experiences have helped him become the person he is today. Along the way he needed to adapt, learn new businesses, visualize new business models and implement them, manage P&L’s, and more, but at the core was, and always will be, the philosophies that Chris has instilled in himself and his business. This genuine approach is essential for being a success not only in your career, but also in life. It is clear that Chris focuses on life balance.
According to Chris, it is not about titles or positions, but rather working transparently, honestly and collaboratively together with others to breed new ideas and strategies, which in one form or another will translate to the evolution and success of your endeavors for years to come. We are proud to have such a passionate and transparent leader at Coghlin Companies, and to have the opportunities to collaborate with so many incredible innovators and young minds in the Boston area!