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Prior to looking into business ownership, Kirsten O’Driscoll served 22 ½ years in the Air National Guard as part of the 121st, based in Columbus, Ohio.  After retiring from the military, she and her husband started the search for a business to purchase.  They put together a list of criteria, such as location, growth opportunities, and they knew they wanted to be able to fund the acquisition without outside investors.  Kirsten stated that they spent about 2 years on the hunt because, “we didn’t know The Firm back then,” before stumbling onto C&J Maintenance, a business specializing in auto shop equipment installation and service.  She and her husband went through the due diligence process in 2007 and fell in love with the company.  The market crashed right before they pulled the trigger on purchasing the company.  After going back and forth about moving forward, it came down to one question: “Do we move forward?”  The answer to that was a resounding, “Yes!”

With this purchase, the business name was changed to CJM Solutions.  They started with three employees: Kirsten, who did finance and general administrative work; her husband, Colm, who did sales and tech work; and one technician doing the labor.  From the time of purchase, they grew to 10 full-time employees, with the leading couple largely handling oversight and employee management in their final years of ownership. 

In looking at growth opportunities and at which direction to take their company, Kirsten chose to gain certifications as a Small & Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Economic Dividend for Gender Equality (EDGE) and Veteran-Friendly Business Enterprise (VBE).   These designations allowed CJM to take on a wider range of clients and jobs.  Kirsten mentioned that they never went for the Women Business Enterprise (WBE) designation because it was not going to help them gain as much traction in the industry as the other certifications would. 

After the business picked up speed, and they created a reputation for themselves, the certifications didn’t hold as much weight in the company’s success.  CJM started fielding referrals and repeat clients who just wanted to work with them on a regular basis.  Even with this newly found growth, Kirsten still believed that the certifications were valuable to have, because she did not want “all of our eggs in one basket."

The O’Driscoll’s took pride in promoting an ethically driven enterprise, and they strove to be an honest company in all that they endeavored.  “I tend to go back to the golden rule of ‘treat others as you would want to be treated’.”  Kirsten felt that part of this was due to the responsibility she felt because of having a DBE.  Not anyone can just apply and be approved for the certification, so there was a duty to uphold a moral standard and show the world that Kirsten deserved to have that for her company.  The ultimate goal was to be responsible as a company and have a drug free workplace, good pay and benefits, a nice place to work, and top-notch customer service.

Kirsten also focused a lot of attention on continuing her education once gaining ownership of the business.  She chose to go to free trainings in the area, such as business coaching, CPA workshops, etc.  She was “never too arrogant to think [she] couldn’t get help.”  Another big piece of this journey was joining a group called National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).  This allowed Kirsten to connect with local women entrepreneurs who were also growing their businesses and experiencing similar hurdles.

After the sale of CJM Solutions in early 2020, Kirsten and husband Colm chose to move to Orlando, Florida to be closer to their children, who attend college in the Sunshine State.  When joking that they would now be spending all their money at Disney World, Kirsten disclosed that Floridians get a special rate into the park, which is of course an added bonus to the move.  The family as a whole is very happy with their relocation. 

The transition out of the business ended up being easier than expected.  The buyer was qualified for the business, and the O’Driscoll’s had been through the purchasing and transitioning period with the previous owners. Kirsten said she, “would consider a business again…just not in central Ohio!”  After a respectable career of spending 22 years in the military, followed by 13 years as a business owner, she is enjoying well-deserved time in the sun.

When asked about advice she would give to women looking into business ownership, Kirsten heavily emphasized the fact that there is support everywhere.  “You don’t have to be an island and do this on your own.”  Look into entrepreneurial groups, as they tend to have local branches.  It is worth it to go to the meetings and have the connections and support.  Be sure to use your resources, especially at the beginning.  Kirsten also stated that, “there are a lot of organizations out there who want women business owners to succeed.”  It is just a matter of reaching out and getting involved.

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