The world around us changes every day. To succeed, businesses must be able to quickly adapt to new challenges and pivot accordingly; in unexpected times, having strong leaders in place to navigate through the challenges can make all the difference. In the context of the global pandemic, skilled leaders are a critical factor for success; acting as a steady hand while continuing to drive growth. One such reliable leader is Scott Graeff.
Scott serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Luna Innovations Incorporated. Luna (NASDAQ: LUNA) is a leader in optical technology, providing unique capabilities in high-performance, fiber optic-based, test products for the telecommunications industry and distributed fiber optic-based sensing for the aerospace and automotive industries. Scott brings unique perspective and business acumen to Luna and under his guidance, the company has grown and is thriving.
Tycoon Success admires such exemplary leaders and appreciates their contribution in the growing and evolving business world. It takes pride in featuring Scott Graeff in its special issue entitled, “The 10 Most Inspiring CEO’s to Watch in 2021.”
Becoming a CEO
Scott originally joined a division of Luna Innovations in 2003 and held a variety of positions until being named President & Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors in 2017. However, it is his background and past experiences that both inform the way he thinks and how he runs the company.
Scott grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA and attended the University of Virginia, earning a BS in Commerce. Before attending university, Scott served in the United States Army’s 3rd Infantry, “The Old Guard,” where he was Commander of the Relief at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and a guard to the President of the United States during the Reagan Administration. Importantly, it was his time in the military that shaped such an significant part of his leadership style and work ethic. “This experience formed the foundation of my character. I would say my military background contributes to the disciplined, intentional and thoughtful planning and execution of my ideas to this day, “adds Scott.
Prior to joining Luna, Scott worked in a variety of organizations, driving value as partner at a Virginia-based venture capital fund, and as a co-founder of a software technology company that was later sold to a Fortune 500 Company. He also held senior roles in a variety of financial institutions, completed several public offerings and was involved with mergers and acquisitions with a notional value of more than $8 billion.
Focusing on Strategy
When appointed CEO in 2017, one of the biggest challenges Scott faced was assessing all of the assets that made up Luna, confirming the company’s strategy, and then aiming the business toward where its core capabilities gave the company the best competitive advantage. To do so, he focused Luna and its operations on what it does best –fiber. “We believe we have a technology, using fiber, which is proprietary, cutting-edge and unrivalled. We divested some of our non-core businesses and acquired some that expanded our capability within our sweet spot. Now, with a clearly defined vision, “to enable the future with fiber” we are poised for growth, both organically and through acquisition.”
With Scott’s guidance, the Luna team has spent a good portion of the last three years, focusing their portfolio on its capabilities around fiber, where they have strength and differentiated value. With a superior product portfolio in sensing, testing, measurement and control solutions, the company believes it is extremely well positioned to take advantage of mega-trends such as light-weighting, electric vehicles and increased demands on data centers and broadband capacity, such as 5G.
The shift to using lighter weight materials, like composites, in aerospace, automotive and within structures such as bridges, dams and tunnels, is continuously growing, as is the drive to build smart infrastructure. “What we are doing with fiber within our sensing vertical, how we are using it as the sensor itself, can be likened to the central nervous system in your body, describes Scott. “Fiber optic sensors are the ‘nerves’ of smart materials, and our products are the ‘brain’ that collects and aggregates data from these fiber sensor ‘nerves. Essentially our products can detect any strain, temperature, or structural changes in structures within which they are embedded. “
For Luna’s communications test vertical, increased data and video consumption is pushing the need for more accurate measurements to accommodate higher speeds. Its products provide unprecedented visibility at the component level and within short-haul networks, such as data centers, to ensure speed and accuracy.
A Glimpse into Luna’s Future
Scott believes that what Luna does with fiber, both in terms of classic test and measurement and on the sensing side where the fiber is used as the sensor itself, is unique. “Our potential is significant, and we believe that we are in the midst of a market shift that continues to accelerate the adoption of the capabilities that Luna provides. Increasingly, we are seeing true market pull; very significant players realize the impact of incorporating optical fiber sensors into their products and are contacting us as potential customers and partners. In 2021, we look to continue new product developments and to strengthen our strategic partnerships.”
Key Aspects of Leadership
When asked about the key aspects of leadership, Scott concluded that some of the most powerful tools a leader can have in their toolkit include transparency, a lean forward attitude and an ability to empower others.
Transparency – Scott believes transparency is KEY with fellow employees, Board of Directors and shareholders. He does that by keeping everyone in the loop, sharing both good and the bad news, and by welcoming honest feedback from members of his team. The honest feedback gives him the opportunity to fix problems remove barriers in the way of his team members. Transparency also fosters a culture of accountability within the workplace.
Lean Forward – Scott describes himself as a forward-leaning leader, someone who is always looking for opportunities, anticipating their broad effects and assessing the overall risk. “Risk is necessary to host an innovative culture within Luna, but it is a balancing act. Risk can’t be tolerated at the expense of the bottom line in the long-term. A measured degree of risk tolerance is also a characteristic I look for when we are hiring,” Scott noted.
Empower Others – By consistently communicating with employees and sharing the company’s strategy, Scott wants everyone to understand and feel like they are contributing to achieving the company’s vision. Doing so increases both their sense of individual worth and their commitment to the company. He added, “It’s important to me that everyone at Luna understands what a critical role they play in Luna’s success.”
In the past, Scott admits that he too often missed the small things while in pursuit of the big picture in his mind. However, he’s learned that, to be a successful leader, he must be able to see all the trees that make up the forest. Connecting with individuals and recognizing the behind-the-scenes efforts of everyone within the organization is crucial to the success of the team he’s leading.
At the end of the day, it’s important for Scott to know that he has helped to make something better – whether that is a process or product at the company, a person’s day, his community’s vibrancy – he wants to know that he’s had a positive impact somewhere. “Success is also connecting with my two daughters, sharing the good things and bad things about our life experiences. Success is ensuring that my wife of 26 years knows I will be there for her and vice versa. Success is making Luna a better company today than it was five years ago – for our employees, our customers and our shareholders.”
For Scott, success lies in focusing on some reasonable balance of the critical components of his life. He recognizes that balance is different for everyone, and we each must define it for ourselves. He always wants to be fully present – fully engaged and listening. Success is being a good father, husband, and leader, simultaneously.