In the past, because of the way intelligence operated, people were only allowed to see one piece of the puzzle. These days, through the help of industry leaders like Robbins-Gioia, technology has enabled us to see the whole picture. In her new leadership role at R-G, Marie O’Brien is helping R-G stay a front runner in the field of program management data. Fresh on the heels of her new position, O’Brien shares R-G’s latest endeavors, how her team stays current to such long-standing clients as DoD, and what people might be surprised to learn about her (hint: It has something to do with Bono of U2).
How is your new role as a Robbins-Gioia president?
Marie O’Brien: Well, my new role is as the president of the combined intelligence and defense division. And it is really exciting because we have people from all over the United States. Some of our employees have been with R-G since day one, and many of our customers and employees have been with us for 20 plus years. It is exciting to see how we’ve grown with those customers as well as how we can bring these experiences back into the core of what R-G does and apply the trends that we see for the future.
What would you say are the hot trends that you are tracking now that will have an impact for your government customers over the next 12 months?
Marie O’Brien: I think the hottest trend is in the area of information sharing, especially when you need to bring all the data together and make it actionable in real time in an environment where lives are at stake. Each department or agency continues to struggle with information sharing in its own way. In the past, because of the way intelligence operated, people were only allowed to see one piece of the puzzle. But now technology has enabled us to put the whole thing together. We’re working with a lot of different companies that have this type of technology, and aligning it with our program management core capabilities to help our customers resolve the information challenge. Without program management, data is simply data.
Are you following the Web 2.0 space in the federal government?
Marie O’Brien: We are involved in Web 2.0 within the community. Bill Crowell, advisor to numerous government and commercial organizations on information technology, security, and intelligence systems, also advises our team on this issue. Previously Bill was the director and chairman of Broadware Technologies, acquired by Cisco, and the deputy director of the National Security Agency. We are bringing some of R-G’s core disciplines into the new world of Web 2.0 and making it meaningful to the customer.
What is your biggest challenge in growing your business?
Marie O’Brien: The biggest challenge we face as a business unit is making sure we remain current in identifying trends and customer focus — and aligning R-G solutions with these drivers. Our customers are concerned with today’s issues. For example, they know that ERP is coming down from the Pentagon. My job is to make sure that our team is trained in the right ERP tools — in this particular case with SAP and Oracle. Remaining current allows us to continue to add value from our years of experience in making customers happy — which means they are less likely to look for another company. Robbins-Gioia has a great brand that has been around for more than a quarter century and is very, very strong. That’s really the main thing as far as R-G goes. Customer happiness and employee consistency on long-term DOD accounts is a huge part of our success.
You mentioned to me before about diversity — what does diversity mean to you and why is it important?
Marie O’Brien: Diversity means being agile enough to listen and learn from people—including those under the radar — realizing the contributions that they can make to help the organization grow and thrive, and encouraging them to take a chance. This often means getting people out of their comfort zone by supporting them in making a change. Identifying that each of us possesses learning agility and putting it to work in our customer environment enriches an organization’s landscape. After the disciplines of program management, diversity and learning agility are our corporation’s most important assets. It’s all about helping people get to a place where they really can play their best game, regardless of their age, race, religion, or other attributes. This allows us to open up more doors because it’s even more than what we do day-to-day as individuals. It’s what we do collectively and as a team that make the big difference in being superior in successful program management.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Marie O’Brien: I lead by serving a very strong team. I try to get input from people who are very diverse. When everyone is thinking the same thing and finishing each other’s sentences, trouble is on the horizon. No one can let you know what is going on because no one can see it. So I have a pretty active leadership team. My team has a voice in the process. I welcome the opportunity for them to take a risk; if there is a failure, I assist in making sure we get the necessary learning out of it. Listening and observing in this way fosters growth. Growth is healthy as opposed to having a train wreck because all of us are finishing each other’s sentences and not seeing that the light is at the end of the tunnel is another train coming at us. By the way, we at R-G are often called in after programs have derailed—and have been very successful in getting them off of the government’s watch list.
What is something most people are surprised to learn about R-G?
Marie O’Brien: Most people are surprised to learn that Robbins-Gioia’s leadership influenced the development of program management curricula at the best government institutions of higher learning.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Marie O’Brien: Most people don’t know that on December 30, 1999, Bono and Edge from U2 sang “Happy Birthday” to my friend who had turned 80. Bono and Edge were sitting across from us at a restaurant and so, of course, I told my friend and my daughter who they were. When I got up to go to the ladies room they got up to go talk to them. Bono was just delighted that this woman was out celebrating her 80th birthday, and they stood up and sang happy birthday to her. Most people wouldn’t know that about me. Some other things, too, but that’s the best one.