On Jan. 2, Parsons Senior Vice President Bill Bodie was named manager of the national security and defense division within the company’s newly-organized government services business unit.
He previously played a part in leading Parsons’ energy, systems and security business as division manager. He also previously spent time with defense services contractor KBR and as special assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force.
Bodie recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about how Parsons’ government services unit, one of three global business units within Parsons—an international engineering, construction, technical, and management services firm—has adapted with the recent purchase of SPARTA, Inc.; and how securing the nation’s critical infrastructure has evolved.
ExecutiveBiz: How does your new position differ from your previous position within Parsons, and what perspective does that previous experience give you when completing your current duties?
Bill Bodie: Parsons is a very dynamic enterprise. It’s not bound by preordained organizational structure. In fact, we try to make sure that the organizations we have, the investments we make and the individuals we assign to various positions are all consistent with our strategy.
That strategy focuses on the enduring markets we’re in: defense and security, environmental and sustainability, and transportation. When Parsons acquired SPARTA late last year, we restructured PGS into two new market-facing divisions that really reflect the markets we’re in.
The infrastructure and environment division is headed by my friend Vice Adm. Mike Loose. That division focuses on Parsons’ strong civil engineering, program management and operations support work that it’s been doing for many years for our defense and environmental customers. We then have the national security and defense division, which combines the defense, homeland security and intelligence support programs from the legacy SPARTA business with the technical services offerings that had always been part of Parsons.
As the manager of that new division, I’m incorporating the lessons learned from my previous division management post at Parsons. But more importantly, I’m working to draw on a deep pool of talented professionals throughout the company, including our new colleagues at the legacy SPARTA, to make sure that we can deliver the expected returns and value from that recent acquisition.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the greatest strength of the division you lead, and how do you intend to grow your division’s business with the public sector?
Bill Bodie: Our strength and competitive discriminator begins with our intellectual property. We have thousands of amazingly talented, motivated and cleared professionals. We can work for a variety of national security and defense-oriented customers with a talent base that enables us to compete with anyone in our markets regardless of their size, scale or what research and development budgets they have. Our combined government business posts revenues of just over $1 billion per year and we fully expect to double that figure in the next few years.
Even though the overall market isn’t doubling or growing, we’re going to do that by focusing on the particular technical and mission-oriented markets, such as cyber operations, missile defense, special warfare and in high-end training services for a military that is coming home from contingency operations in the Middle East and is reorganizing and reequipping itself.
All those areas are less prone to the budget turbulence and the back and forth that other programs have experienced. With that intellectual property and focusing very selectively on those growth areas, we think we’re going to apply the strengths of the division in order to achieve those growth objectives.
ExecutiveBiz: Are there any company-specific service areas the company is known for?
Bill Bodie: Parsons has been around since just after World War II. There was a time when the company was thought to be a major construction, engineering, architectural design firm for civil engineering pursuits, transportation and energy, with massive projects in the United States and overseas. In recent years, we have tried to grow some of our systems engineering, information technology and technical services offerings that were always there but were smaller pieces of the overall Parsons enterprise.
It’s true that there are a lot of folks who when we talk about cybersecurity, intelligence work or training and program management, they say, “Well, I thought Parsons was in the bridge-building or tunnel-building business.” And all of that’s true. But, we’re also broader than that. The enduring markets that we’re in are areas we’ve always been in and where we’re working to flesh out our services portfolio. People will soon see, with our new SPARTA colleagues and investments that we’ve been doing internally for a number of years, that Parsons is going to be a big player in these new emerging service areas.
ExecutiveBiz: How have your experiences with KBR and with the Air Force prepared you for your career with Parsons?
Bill Bodie: I try to draw from all of my previous experiences. I’ve been in government, academia and business. I’ve learned things in each case. I also understand that the issues that I’m dealing with at Parsons require fresh thinking each day. But, there are certain enduring lessons. My service in the Air Force really left me with a profound appreciation for how values can really drive an organization and drive its performance.
The Air Force has three core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Those are values that I saw applied and internalized every day by all the airmen regardless of whether it was in the Pentagon or in the most remote forward operating base in theater. The core values at Parsons also drive our performance and they’re very, very similar.
From KBR, I came to really appreciate the challenges of managing a vast global enterprise, as KBR was very large, doing critical work for our military and operating in hostile and austere environments all demanding an absolute focus on prioritizing what is important and a corresponding attention to detail on those important jobs. That’s always stayed with me.
I studied Russian history and Shakespeare, and I also think back on that time of my life as I prepare for each new day at Parsons even if the lessons may be different. One lesson that has always stayed with me as well was when my father told me it was much better to be interested rather than to be interesting. It’s better to be listening and being open to learning new things as opposed to showing yourself off. That’s something I work at all the time and hope I’m successful.
ExecutiveBiz: As a communications liaison, how important is communication on all sides of a contractual agreement?
Bill Bodie: Effective communications are crucial for any human endeavor, whether it’s a marriage or a military campaign. At Parsons, our business is about integrating technology with subject matter expertise and applying it into a coherent solution. If you’re going to be successful at Parsons, you have to be able to articulate our strategy, mobilize our talent base and understand the needs of all of our stakeholders.
You have to negotiate fairly and you have to listen to your colleagues, teammates and your customers. All of those things required for success in our business are essentially communications missions. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to work on communications professionally, but I also believe that we’re all communicators at Parsons. We have to be given the nature of the work that we’re doing.
ExecutiveBiz: What are the challenges you see in today’s market, and how will Parsons, other contractors and the government overcome those challenges?
Bill Bodie: What we’re hearing from all of our government customers is how they’re having resource challenges. It’s not just a question of budgets under stress or budgets being reduced, but that the government is still being asked to do more missions and combat more persistent threats that are not as clear or that are more elusive than they once were. That places a real premium and requirement on a contractor who can understand how to wring out every bit of value from each dollar the customer has, whether that’s through more efficient business practices or through innovation.
The current reality favors those contractors who have been here a while, endured in the government space and seen the ups and downs in the cycles of government business as opposed to those who have jumped in lately. People talk about following the money. I don’t believe in following the money. I believe in anticipating the need and then thinking about creative and interesting ways to meet it. Those companies that have that attitude will be able to overcome the major challenges in today’s market.
ExecutiveBiz: How important will it be to ensure the nation’s critical infrastructure is secure, and what steps do you think need to be taken in order to do so?
Bill Bodie: We’re no longer in the age of mass industrial organizations, centralized headquarters, command structures and people supervising huge armored formations in clearly demarcated battle spaces. We’re in an age of new, dispersed threats, information technologies that change rapidly and all of that has huge implications for how our national security agencies, our critical facilities, are designed, built and operated.
We no longer live in a world where you can build a Pentagon as we did during World War II and expect that it’s going to be able to serve all of the data, power and the security needs for years and years. The Pentagon has required lots of renovation over its history and Parsons has been proud to be the program manager for the most recent renovations.
What I think our leaders have realized is that we need to think anew about critical infrastructure and not just build the building and then turn it over to the end user or the operator, whether it’s an intelligence organization or a military organization, and say, “Here it is. Move in.” You have to think about requirements, the demands of the mission, the human resources needed and where technology is going. We no longer necessarily need to have acres and acres of space for databases because we’ve had miniaturization of electronics.
Yet, we have a need for a lot more bandwidth and power use that requires all sorts of creative ways to pack a whole lot of capability into limited space. Of course, there are the budget challenges. We’ve got a lot of new missions, new challenges, but those are just the kinds of things that Parsons likes. We’re interested in tackling complex problems and new challenges and that’s what we’re doing today.