In the nine and a half years he's been at SRA, Tim Atkin has been involved in every segment of the company: health, civil, and national security. Now Atkin is settling into his new role as executive vice president and chief operating officer “” a role industry insiders are calling a “natural fit.“ Here Atkin debriefs on his key goals for the year ahead and how he aims to stick to a key business goal: Use the mission as a driver, the idea as an enabler.
ExecutiveBiz: It's been a few months since you were named EVP and COO. How's it going?
Tim Atkin: It's going great. I've worked with the whole senior team so it's just a shift in emphasis.
ExecutiveBiz: What milestones do you hope to achieve?
Tim Atkin: One is cost control and securing the best return on investments. Second “” co-equal, really “” is nurturing employee development. We made Fortune's “Top 100 Companies“ for the 10th year in January. We're now asking, “How can we ensure we don't lose ground?“ A third priority is retaining the core values of a smaller company.
“People typically think of accountability as holding somebody accountable if something goes wrong. I think of it in the broadest sense: When somebody achieves something, they ought to be recognized.”-Tim Atkin
ExecutiveBiz: When I started with SRA, we were about 1,600 people, we're now approaching 7,000.“¨“¨ So, how do you retain those core values?
Tim Atkin: Recognizing employee accomplishments is key. Again it's a scale issue, making sure that an employee who's marked their one-year anniversary on a three-person project down on the NIH campus gets that recognition, for example.
ExecutiveBiz: With growth, is it hard to maintain the same culture?
Tim Atkin: I'll put it this way: The values have remained the same, the culture has evolved. When we went from private to public, then secured significant acquisitions “” such as our first Marasco Newton Group, and our largest Constella “” we held tight to the belief that the culture could evolve so long as our values stayed the same.
ExecutiveBiz: Any other objectives?
Tim Atkin: From an external perspective, achieving our guidance to the street as a public company is important. We have a strong responsibility to our employees and to our shareholders to achieve that goal.
ExecutiveBiz: What growth opportunities do you see ahead?
Tim Atkin: Health IT is one area. After the acquisition of Constella Group [in August 2007] we have a much stronger footprint in the health area, in terms of programs like BioSense and Adverse Event reporting. Whether health or any other market, we aim to lead with an understanding of the mission, then use IT to help solve problems. With the Constella acquisition we are well positioned to do so.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you describe your leadership style?
Tim Atkin: There are a couple principles I believe in. One, run an organization that's inclusive in terms of decision-making. Two, be transparent. Even when I make a decision that somebody may not agree with, I ought to be able to explain my reasoning. Third, accountability. People typically think of accountability as holding somebody accountable if something goes wrong. I think of it in the broadest sense: When somebody achieves something, they ought to be recognized.
ExecutiveBiz: Speaking of recognition, I heard you managed SRA's first talent show.
Tim Atkin: Yes, I took that on right before becoming COO. The Talent Show was something employees auditioned for “¦ they did everything from martial arts to classical quintets, stand up comedy to dancing and singing. It was like our version of American Idol “” SRA Idol. It was held at a school in Arlington Center and all the money raised went to charity.
ExecutiveBiz: What's the key to employee morale, particularly in times like these?
Tim Atkin: I often say, “We spend too much time at work not to enjoy it.“ When I talk to people who are thinking of coming to SRA I encourage them: Make sure you've interviewed around. I want to make sure they've come here because they know it was the right fit. I'll take the fun part “” I like that “” but yes, we spend too much time at work not to enjoy it.
ExecutiveBiz: What's something most people don't know about you personally?
Tim Atkin: I'm a pretty open book. But let's see “¦ when I was in the Coast Guard, my first command was a patrol boat in southern California. When I was in the command of that I was in the filming of The Hunt for Red October. We were supposed to be the escort for a submarine as it came up a river in New England at night. It's actually in the movie “” superimposed on a river, at night, up in New England. In fact the submarine we escorted was actually two barges made to look like a sub being towed by a tug during the day in waters off the California coast. It was interesting to be involved in something like that.
Interview conducted by JD Kathuria
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