Connie Nyholm is owner and CEO of VIRginia International Raceway, known as America's Motorsport Resort. A born entrepreneur, Nyholm invested in the track in 1998 with a partner and has been dedicated to growing VIR using the values of hard work and communication she learned from her dad ever since. Now the majority owner, she has taken VIR from near abandonment 16 years ago to one of the top six road courses in North America, as recognized by Car & Driver. Nyholm has transformed VIR into not only one of the most challenging tracks anywhere, but a one-of-a-kind racing facility and resort that includes onsite lodging, dining, shooting, karting, a spa and more. Leveraging her love of Virginia and business expertise, Nyholm currently serves on the board of the Launch Place, Virginia FIRST Foundation, the SoVa Motion Advisory and the Roadracing Industry Council.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I live by a number of "Daddy-isms" which I learned from my father. My favorite is, "If you want to be a landlord, think like a tenant." At the end of a meeting, he would always ask, "What did I forget to ask?" Like my dad, I am not afraid to surround myself with people who know far more than I do and empower them to make our company all it can be.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at VIRginia International Raceway?
Before owning VIR, I was a freestanding retail real estate site selection specialist. That taught me a lot about dealing with people, both on an individual and team-oriented basis. I enjoyed my work involving zoning and permitting, contracts and leases, finance and construction. Today I work in all those areas, with the additional challenge of ongoing management and operations. In real estate development, I did one deal at a time as a sole proprietor. Today, I'm building and operating VIRginia International Raceway, often referred to as America's Motorsport Resort, as an ongoing concern with a staff of hundreds.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at VIRginia International Raceway?
Two of the highlights have been:
gaining recognition for VIRginia International Raceway as one of America's premier motorsport facilities and resort
The economic impact and job creation in southern Virginia that has come of a result of the work we've done to revitalize VIR.
Challenges have also come from both of these highlights. It is frustrating to try to build relationships with people who don't always see the benefits of working together - that working together we can make 2 + 2 = 5, that a rising tide floats all boats, and so many other positive "Daddy-isms."
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Know that effective communication is the hardest thing you will ever do. Try to manage people in a way each can relate to versus the way you might want to or think you should. Hire people with good attitudes and help them learn the skills they need. If the worst possible outcome you can imagine is workable, then take the risk.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm really lucky in that working at VIR is a lot of fun and the best job in the world. I don't really like moderation so I look at balance in the long-term more than day-to-day. If I see a window where I can get away from work, I do it. If there is something I really want to do away from work, I plan for it. As a single working mom, a priority has been to take an extended adventure travel vacation with my son each year. I've never been a helicopter parent. When we are both home, we try to remain flexible to accommodate each other's interests and demands to genuinely enjoy the time we schedule together. As he would say, "we wing it a lot."
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women need to be confident in their abilities and work to fill what gaps they have, with new skills or other people.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My dad was my mentor in many ways since I followed his footsteps into real estate. I enjoy motivating people to build upon their strengths and overcome their challenges.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Two women leaders I admire are very close to me. Sandie Currie, VIR's Director of Resort Development, has the best "people insights" of anyone I know. She instills trust and loyalty in her staff, resulting in extraordinary individual and team accomplishments. Gill Campbell, CEO of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, is one of the most charismatic, energetic, and caring people I know. Her joy comes from making everyone around her successful, and she does!
What do you want VIRginia International Raceway to accomplish in the next year?
We've grown so much in the past several years and have worked hard to get in the position where we are hosting some great races. In the next year, I would like to see VIR host more professional races, build on its growing corporate business and partner with more sponsors.