Michele Ahlman: An Eternal Optimist Leader Focussed on Growth

One may or may not believe in the law of attraction. The choice certainly is in our hands. And our choices generally determine the course of our life. Happiness and challenges are a part of everyone’s life and our focus determines what grows in our life. For any given adverse situation, we may choose to complain, whine and do absolutely nothing about it. Or we may choose to take it as it is and work our way out of it. As a child, Michele Ahlman watched her parents struggle financially. But she also saw them decide to be successful and take action to make it happen.  Michele was too young to realize this, but the events shaped her mindset towards positivity. As a teen, she struggled with anorexia, perfectionism, and control. But as she raced towards her 20s, she learned to love herself, despite perceived imperfections.  She firmly believes, “We’re all perfectly imperfect. It’s not perfection that makes us awesome. It’s overcoming and being REAL that shines like a light in the dark.”

Eldest of her three siblings, as a kid, Michele found herself learning work ethic, endurance, persistence, healthy risk tolerance, fearlessness, and curiosity through her entrepreneur parents. She attended a school for the gifted as a child and loved learning.  Her college experience set her up well for the scrappy, fear-nothing, risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit. She became a fantastic storyteller and persuader in college learning how to figure things out, deal with the consequences of bad decisions, and land on her feet. After close to 32 years of managing and leading a portfolio of small businesses that her family ran today, Michele is the Founder and CEO of Citadel Holdings, LLC & ClearDigital Media, a start-up in a new industry and an evolving market.

Focussing on Solutions

It all started in 1982 when Michele’s mother, Madelaine Uzuanis, started HITEC Group, International, Inc, which grossed impressive revenues during its first year and a half. In 1986 HITEC, expanded into a larger facility. In 1990, Michele joined the business, learning every aspect of the business, ultimately becoming VP of Operations.  The mother-daughter duo soon realized the need to produce and control their own product line, to manufacture new, top-quality assistive listening products at reasonable prices that would meet the needs of their growing base of loyal customers. In 2003 ClearSounds® Communications was incorporated as a WBE (women-owned business) to leverage its ability to bring new product solutions to the market.

In 2014, Michele launched Clear Digital Media in partnership with her dad, Richard. “We had been working closely with hearing care providers over the years as a point of distribution for our assistive communication products.  As we interacted with providers and observed patient flow in the practices, we saw the need to improve the patient experience in hearing care,” reminisces Michele. As digital signage and streaming video on a screen in physician’s practices was expanding, they saw the opportunity to provide high-quality, educational content to their core client base – hearing healthcare providers.  2019 was another year of challenges and opportunities with entire operations being migrated to Austin, Texas from Chicago.  In 2020, COVID brought a stressful period both emotionally and financially.  This was also when they made a strategic move and accelerated the development of Citadel, the software platform they had started working on in 2019.  In the 4th quarter of 2020, Michele launched Citadel, the DOOH & Roku video content management platform.

Making a Splash in the Industry with Citadel

The digital signage software industry is full of goliaths – large, well-funded companies. To enter an established industry, one has to find one’s way through the market to uncover profitable relationships and activities, only by experimenting and bumping into things that one learns. This takes time, money, and creativity. It also requires a smart and flexible approach. With Citadel, a SaaS company and Roku developer, Michele entered the industry, however, already having a built-in client, ClearDigital Media.

Clear Digital Media is a DOOH (digital out of home) network of screens located in audiology, ENT, and other specialty medical practices throughout the US. It provides CDM TV which is a streaming educational, customized video content channel designed to precondition patients for their appointments and provide advertisers with a platform that offers affordable digital inventory and a highly targeted audience. The Citadel platform was built with 5 years of practical, real-world use-case experience. Because they had used a couple of industry-leading platforms to manage the CDM DOOH network, they knew how to simplify the interface, reduce operational costs and ensure scalability. “Citadel was born out of our belief we could develop our own platform that more effectively served our needs, reduced our costs, and gave us more control,” says Michele.

Seeking Growth

The digital signage software market is expected to witness market growth at a rate of 15.64% in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028.

Michele is optimistic about its team’s ability to participate in this growing trend. Finding pockets of blue oceans within hyper-competitive markets is a big part of her strategy. Her team will be focussing on UI and maintaining the simplicity of use while providing powerful features that offer flexibility and affordability will be the key to their success. Michele adds, “We are focusing on the development of our Elevate platform which serves the needs of both large and small companies and institutions with trackable video training programs & learning curriculums. Also, developing this platform as an effective tool for the homeschooling market is part of our roadmap.”

Michele intends to continue to build Citadel by focusing on its development roadmap and becoming a solution provider for a significant DOOH network. Long term, she sees Citadel being acquired by a larger organization. She says, “We are very entrepreneurial. I love seeing a problem and developing a solution and growing the company without the need for massive capital investment.  So the end goal is to grow Citadel for sale or acquisition, then take all of this compounding experience and explore another new market.”

Being an Inspiration

Michele advises young women to understand their strengths and focus on developing them to succeed.

“Use challenges you face as fuel for motivation and growth. Be curious, be caring, and as a leader, serve those you lead. Challenges come in different forms, but at some point, everyone faces something that deeply impacts them.  It’s the choices we make in how to confront a challenge that creates an overcomer vs someone who feels trapped and hopeless.  When we have a strong, healthy mindset, we handle challenges in a way that moves us forward. Healthy mindsets create stronger families, stronger communities, and a future full of hope. Focus on surrounding yourself with people that feed a healthy mindset. Don’t be scared of failure because it teaches valuable lessons. Break free of stereotypes of any kind, be it gender or race. Shut down the stereotype’s ability to hinder your progress. Prejudice and sexism- yes, it exists, however it should never hold you back. When people are in a growth mindset, the stereotype doesn’t affect their performance.  The growth mindset takes the teeth out of the stereotype and makes people better able to fight back…They don’t believe in permanent inferiority. Seek out and soak in everything you can that helps in the development of a growth mindset. This includes the development of mentor relationships with other successful women with growth mindsets. There is nothing stopping you from achieving success.”

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