CEO to Potential Leaders: ‘Work Hard, Make It Happen, Follow Your Dreams’

Growing up around Houston and Galveston in Texas, Denise Navarro used to go past the Johnson Space Center and think to herself, “I could work there one day.”

Now that’s exactly what Navarro does as the founder, president and CEO of Logical Innovations, Inc., a Houston-based, value-added partner and provider of business, technical and creative services to the federal government.

Her primary customer? NASA, an agency she says she has been “so fortunate to support across the country.

“It’s one big dream … As a kid I’d drive by the Johnson Space Center and it was one of those, ‘you know I could work there one day’ things,” said Navarro, who got her first contracting job at Johnson in November 1984. “So I set that on my to-do list, just get in those gates. Time has flown, and I’m excited every time I see something come out. It’s really exciting, and that’s why I wake up every day excited to see what challenges and cool things I’m going to see.”

Now Navarro, who reached for and grabbed her dream, is in a position to help other women realize their dreams. She talked about those efforts, and a lot more, in the most recent episode of “CEO Thought Leadership Series on LinkedIn Live,” the discussion series hosted by the National Association of Business Resources.

Produced in conjunction with the Best and Brightest Companies to Work for and Corp! Magazine, the series is hosted by NABR CEO Jennifer Kluge and features business leaders from around the country.

Kluge asked Navarro what she would recommend for another “young lady who’s really good in science, math, maybe even physics. But she doesn’t live in Houston and doesn’t see NASA right there.”

“Maybe her family is in business and they don’t have access to science degrees,” Kluge asked hypothetically. “How would you encourage that young lady?”

Navarro’s answer was simple: She was that young lady.

“My sisters went into the medical field … I was the only one who really had that passion for technology and space and all these cool things,” Navarro said. “I would tell her what I would tell myself to pump myself up back in the day: Just do it, follow your dreams. You’ve got to work hard and study hard, but you can make it happen.

“Gender or your family’s background aren’t road blocks at all, because you’re the one in charge of your destiny,” she added. “If you plug into the right formula, surround yourself with the right people, find mentors, go out and pursue your dreams and make it happen for yourself.”

Navarro, recently recognized as one of Houston’s 30 most influential women, also sits on the Small Business Council at the Johnson Space Center. Been working as a govt contractor (NASA specifically) Johnson Space Center Small Business Council.

The company is also doing outreach work in some of the area’s underserved communities.

During the live session, Navarro discussed a variety of issues:

Jennifer Kluge: You are one of our Best & Brightest Companies to Work For. Take a moment to … describe your culture and any “brag” points.

I think there’s a taboo about saying “work family,” but as a small business you spend quite a bit of time with your colleagues. They become an extension of your family.

Denise Navarro: We have some amazing folks. They’re part of my family. The culture is that we maintain this connection and they understand I’m there rooting for them day in and day out, whether they can see me or not. And with the pandemic, some of them haven’t seen me in a couple of years.

They know they’re appreciated and valued. And that’s our culture – we are a family, and we do what it takes to get the job done. Whether we’re together or not, we’re together in spirit. It’s really making sure they know they’re at the top. This company … is all about that.

Kluge: Let’s talk about the pandemic. We’ve all had to stretch ourselves, we’ve taken on challenges. Leadership has become defined differently post-pandemic. What would you say you’ve learned about yourself and your leadership, and what worked really well for you during the pandemic.

Navarro: The pandemic has created a lot of opportunities for us. It’s also really shown our folks are resilient and they’re going to get the job done no matter what. One thing about being across the country as a small business and not always being together, the remote capability and moving to that environment didn’t take a lot of effort. We were pretty much in remote situations to begin with. We don’t have to be together to get the job done. We know we can count on each other and how to cal on each other.

The biggest challenge for me has been not being able get out there and see them in person. I tell them, ‘I’m really craving seeing people in 3D.’ Travel stopped, everything shut down, people worked from home.

Kluge: You’re a women-owned business, just recognized by NASA as Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year, plus a plethora of other honors. What do you think is the secret to your growth and strategy. If you had other entrepreneurs sitting in front of you, what would you tell them is the secret to success?

Navarro: It’s not really a secret. Sometimes it’s just knowing how to treat people right, knowing … I’m committed. Everyone around me knows I’m dedicated, I’m here for them.

Whether it’s your employees, your partners, your customers or even your community, we’re all in it together. I may be the owner, but I’m part of their team. It goes back to our culture. We work with NASA, but it ain’t rocket science to do things right (laughs).

Kluge: What are some of the proudest moments working in your job? What are some of the coolest things you guys did over there?

Navarro: Some of the stories, some of the places I’ve been, some of the access I’ve had. To walk the halls of some of these NASA facilities, getting to drive up to a launch pad, witnessing a launch. Being part of that excitement of reaching for the stars. How cool is it … suddenly it’s not this exclusive club, you have commercial spaces, all these different launches.

Kluge: I believe you’re mentoring others, too?

Navarro: Because of Logical Innovations, I have the opportunity to pursue some of my long-term goals. The first thing we did was start setting up scholarship programs for students with a passion for learning, but maybe not the means to achieve their educational goals.

We initially set up with a local community college a full, two-year scholarship so they could obtain their associates degrees or a certification of some sort, whether it be a skill that would take them straight to the work force or the foundation that would take them on to a four-year university.

That has grown to two scholarships at that same community college, three others at another local minority-serving institution and one at an HBCU.

As those have evolved, I’ve also become very active on foundation boards … and working in the business curriculums in the local schools where I talk on entrepreneurship and what it takes to own a business.

I really enjoy being out there and seeing people I recognize myself in from back in the day.

Kluge: Many times people in your industry know things that are going to happen before the rest of. Based on your industry knowledge, what trends are happening right now that you think are going to stick and will be important to the rest of us moving forward?

Navarro: I mentioned commercial space. There are just so many things going on, you’ve got folks taking rides to experience space, just lay people who get a seat on board. I really like that because I think it fuels the passion for exploration. It really expands opportunities for other businesses.

When people think about the space industry, they think, ‘if I’m not a rocket scientist or an engineer, I have nothing to offer.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just keep an eye on what’s going on in technology. Don’t be afraid of it. If you think technology can’t benefit you, guess again. It’s amazing when you think about how we’ve evolved over the years. Sometimes we take it for granted, and we really need to sit back and be in awe.

Kluge: Let’s dream a little. We are talking about dreaming … going to Mars and all this technology we have to keep our eyes on and leverage. If your company had 10 times the budget it has now, what would the future look like?

Navarro: The first thing I’d do is surround myself with my really smart people that I have the opportunity of knowing and calling my friends and my Logical family. We’d have brainstorming sessions to say, ‘where do we see the future? Where do we see opportunities?

Also, because in our culture we want to make sure we take care of our own, I would specifically ask our folks where we need to improve to make life better for you?

Kluge: Sometimes (leaders) are seen by the title and not as a human. Who inspires you, or what inspires you?

Navarro: So many people. My family … at the end of the day, that’s what I always tell people, you don’t work for me, you work with me. For me I work for my family. Now because of Logical, my family has grown so my Logical family are such an inspiration to me. They’re so hard-working, they’re so dedicated. I’m humbled that they started up with me and helped me build our reputation.

Community leaders I get to work with to help others to make a brighter future for generations coming up. I have some wonderful customers. I’ve established a partnership with them, and their confidence in me has inspired me to keep it going and to always look to improve, to do better by them.

I have some great business partners to work with. I talk about being a mentor, but I’m a protégé. We’re always here to learn. Every day is an opportunity to learn, to find some nugget of wisdom that you can carry forward and make yourself a better person.

I’m always inspired … I’m a people person. My energy levels go up when I’m around … especially people who are positive and help me to be a better and more positive person.

Kluge: What keeps you up at night? What are some of the things that bother you that you’d like to see gone one day?

Navarro: Negative energy. You’ve got to get up and enjoy what you’re doing. You have to get up and grasp those opportunities and what life puts in front of you. Make something happen.

I try to end my day on a positive note, and I look and say, ‘I’m proud of what I’ve gotten done today.’”

Kluge: Do things get daunting for you at times? Do you over-extend yourself?

Navarro: Always. But that’s a good thing. I like to feel I’m accomplishing things, that I’m using every minute of the day to its fullest extent. Sometimes I’m tiring to the people around me. People say, ‘stop saying yes, stop raising your hand.’ It’s just not in me to not want to help out or accommodate someone. If there’s a need for something and I can fill that need, I feel compelled to do it.

Kluge: I’d imagine someone more methodical (than you) would have some issues with your style. How do you navigate that?

Navarro: I believe in numbers, I believe in looking at the data. I will slow down to make sure I have the right picture. I don’t want to wear rose-colored glasses all the time. I’m also brutally honest with myself, I tell people around me, ‘give me the truth.’ But then I also look at it and say, ‘how are we going to turn that into a positive.’ That becomes my quest, turning it around and making it a success story.