As chief operating officer for Alion Science, Stacy Mendler keeps her pulse on technology solutions coming down the pike. So, in the midst of Obama’s call for a federal contracting overhaul, ExecutiveBiz stopped by Mendler’s office for her take on what those possible cuts may mean for the government technology solutions arena. Here, Mendler debriefs on the possible outcome of those cuts. She also offers her take on how technology may be implemented under the Obama administration and how she stays up to speed on cyber security initiatives in the works — a must-read for anyone in technology solutions.
Where do you see the government making cuts, and how might those cuts affect the government technology solutions arena?
Stacy Mendler: Based on campaign promises and discussions I think the government is going to come down on contractors by creating or applying more regulation. In addition, there will be budgetary impacts to programs that either determined to be non-essential or are easy targets due to the large fiscal obligation required to start or maintain them. Unfortunately, due to the necessity to cut large amounts of spending, the target for savings appears to be large platform programs where products/systems are being manufactured.
How might contractors who are manufacturing products be affected?
Stacy Mendler: The government is becoming more strict in its interpretation of whether a perceived or potential conflict can be addressed through a mitigation plan. Alion doesn’t deliver or manufacture products, which helps us stay unbiased and conflict-free for our customers. I think that manufacturers that have moved into the services area may have to be more cautious to avoid perceived or real conflicts. The government is watching more closely and does not need to be as tolerant as in the past because there are so many sources they can obtain services from.
How do you foresee the Obama administration implementing technology throughout government?
Stacy Mendler: I think the focus will not necessarily be on products but on technology infusion to provide more sophisticated solutions and services. We need to catch up with other countries that have passed us. We need to help protect our homeland through smarter technology. Therefore, companies that have the ability to develop and maximize technologies in the services that they provide, or in some cases the products, will be at an advantage because the administration is going to become much more wise and aware of performance-improving technology. Alion is a high-end engineering and scientific company. We develop products all the time, but we don’t develop them as packaged products to sell to the government; what we do is develop technologies to improve the services and solutions that we provide our customers.
How is Alion tracking new cyber security initiatives?
Stacy Mendler: Most of Alion’s cyber capabilities are in data security or intelligence, or they are being driven by the fact that we have a wide range of wireless and spectrum management capabilities. The combination of cyber and intelligence is where we have the most to offer and we have been tracking and expanding our cyber security efforts through our existing clients and programs. We’ve developed risk profiling tools, decision support tools and other security-related programs that can help our customers identify vulnerabilities and determine the most critical places to focus their efforts.
Alion has made many acquisitions over the last few years. What’s next in that arena?
Stacy Mendler: We’ve been successful in integrating the acquisitions we’ve made to date — over 13 acquisitions in the past 10 years. As for the future, we will look at each opportunity as it arises. The current state of the economy will certainly affect our decisions in that area, but we’ll approach each one on a case-by-case basis.
Speaking of market conditions, what’s your biggest challenge this year?
Stacy Mendler: Trying to keep up with the recruiting of engineers and scientists for the open positions that we have as a result of contract wins is our biggest challenge right now. Without being too specific, we’re trying to be more innovative in the ways that we recruit engineers and scientists.
How closely are you tracking the defense budget?
Stacy Mendler: We have been tracking where we think the Defense budgets are heading and we are making sure that the company either adapts or maximizes the capabilities that we’ve got to position properly not just for where the money is but where our capabilities can take us. For example, our wireless communication capabilities can facilitate our cyber security capabilities, which is a focus of our nation’s future budgets.
What is the greatest leadership lesson that you have learned since you stepped into the role of COO?
Stacy Mendler: Listening and communicating what’s important to shareholders is critical. We have the added element of being an employee-owned company, so we have to manage employee’s expectations especially in this kind of a market. For an ESOP company, communication is easier when the market conditions and performance of the company are good; employee shareholders are generally happy because the stock price is going up. When market conditions get challenging, whether a company is performing or not, communicating to our employee-owners is more critical and more challenging. Honesty is what the shareholders deserve and it is amazing how patient they are, especially in times when much of the parameters are out of one’s control.
What’s your favorite part of the day?
Stacy Mendler: Professionally … when I get to be involved in strategic development on large programs and opportunities for the future, helping shape opportunities and how we approach them. That is by far my favorite thing. However, my family trumps it all.
Interview conducted by JD Kathuria
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