Tina Dolph is president of the global security & development business unit at PAE. In this role she leads a team of over 3,000 people who conduct training, capacity building, stability operations and expeditionary construction missions on every continent.
This team serves clients including the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense, the United Nations and a variety of global companies and governments.
Dolph began her career at General Electric Aerospace as a member of their Financial Development Program. Over the following 20 years, she took on roles of increasing responsibility in areas of program finance, pricing, business strategy, M&A transitions and operations management, rising to the position of chief operating officer at PAE prior to her current position.
Dolph recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss the challenges in managing a large and geographically dispersed workforce; how she conducts her hands-on leadership; and why finance can be an important leadership building block.
ExecutiveBiz: When did you make the transition from Lockheed Martin to PAE, and what are the major differences and similarities in your roles at each company?
Tina Dolph: I have been involved with PAE since the Lockheed Martin acquisition in 2006 and joined the team full time in June of 2009. In my previous roles with Lockheed Martin, I held a variety of positions in the finance organization including everything from program finance, to pricing, to business strategy and program management. During that time I also was part of the integrations of several companies that Lockheed Martin had purchased. I had a solid background in taking a company that was new to the LM organization and working on its back office systems. As a result, the first role I held with PAE was the Vice President of Global Support Operations, and my responsibility was to assess the existing processes, tools and support systems and optimize their performance for global environment in which PAE operates. This role allowed me to bring to PAE many of the lessons learned from other integrations and apply them here.
In 2010, when Lockheed Martin announced its plan to divest PAE, I led the effort of preparing the company for operating as a standalone company and during that period of time was named Chief Operating Officer. My priority during that period was to keep the focus on our programs; continue service to our clients; and deliver the first class mission value which our customers expect from us while we were being divested. This role allowed me to utilize the program management skills that I brought with me from Lockheed and match them with the strategic direction of the new opportunity afforded PAE at this time.
In April of 2011, PAE was purchased by Lindsay Goldberg. Later that same year we acquired and integrated a new company called Defense Support Services (DS2) into the PAE portfolio. The new PAE is now organized into three business units, and I am very proud to lead the one focused on providing expeditionary support services called Global Stability & Development. This business unit includes all capabilities necessary in the stabilization and post conflict market including training, capacity building, stability operations and expeditionary construction executed by have a team of about 3,000 people spread out on all seven continents.
My current role in PAE allows me to utilize all of the experience and training that I received during my time in Lockheed Martin. Lockheed has first-in-class business practices, training programs, program operations and strategic growth frameworks which taught me key skills that I use every day in this position. The new challenge I have here is to take those skills and effectively deploy them in a global market with a truly international workforce.
ExecutiveBiz: You completed the Lockheed Martin Executive Assessment and Development Program in 2010. What were some of the most important things you took away from that experience?
Dolph: As I mentioned above, Lockheed has world class training programs, and this class is one example. This is a program that LM puts approximately 50 high potential executives through each year. The class is broken into teams, each of which is given a project that is selected by the CEO. I personally gained insight and contacts across a cross functional corporate team. Most of my experience in Lockheed Martin up to that point was in the services business, which was helpful since I’ve always been in the part of the business where we delivered people to our clients, and served next to them. I had spent very little time in the product part of the company, but my EAD project required that I become very knowledgeable about the Aeronautics group and some of their challenges. So, I gained a lot of experience from a corporate perspective, and understood Lockheed much better at the end of that class than I did at the beginning. This is very important as you look to take on larger and larger roles in the organization.
Secondly, the program gives you a network of people around the corporation. This was the most beneficial part of it; meeting your colleagues from around the corporation. The class is intense and allows you to form strong relationships with the other attendees. Once you have completed the program, you’ve survived something difficult together, and that builds teamwork and camaraderie. As I went back to my regular day job, I was able to leverage those relationships. One example I remember was that I had an issue with training and development for my staff, and it just so happened that one of the students who was in class with me was in the training and development organization at corporate headquarters. I was able to reach out to her easily and get the help I needed.
The program is good from an individual perspective because of the skills taught in the classes, and it strengthens the corporation overall by bringing together high level executives early in their career. When you get up to the senior levels of the organization, you’ve already got a team of people with whom you are familiar.
ExecutiveBiz: PAE operates in many different parts of the world in a multitude of functions ranging from expeditionary logistics and construction to training. As President of Global Stability & Development, how are you able to successfully oversee the international daily operations of the company?
Dolph: There’s no real magic bullet here; it really gets down to teamwork. I have to be able to trust the people that I’ve got in the field to do their jobs and do them well, and I need them to trust in what we are doing back here in D.C. I think the first thing is, I personally try to get involved in interviewing and selecting all of our key people as we deploy them because that helps me understand who we are putting out in the field. I have good people who know how to do this type of work, and they’re very experienced. So, I’ve got a level of trust there.
Once you’ve got good people, the second key is establishing an environment of open communication where they see you and feel that they can reach out to you when they need help. I establish this environment by getting out to visit the programs in the field as regularly as I can. I also ask the members of my DC based team to do the same. In this business, everything we do needs to support the programs. It’s hard to do that well unless you see, in person, what issues the programs are dealing in their specific environments. In the last year, I’ve been to Uganda, South Sudan, New Zealand and Haiti, and I’m currently getting ready to go over to Liberia. I firmly believe to be successful in a global expeditionary environment this is one of the keys to success.
The last thing that is really important is making sure your team understands that everybody has a role and what that role is. Because of the distances involved, it is easy for program personnel and corporate personnel to misunderstand each other’s roles or under-communicate what their needs and expectations are. One way we try to break that down is to rotate people between corporate and field assignments when possible. We want to be at a point where each group understands the other’s role and responsibilities and how it fits into our overall company objectives. If we all see our role and how we fit together we are much more likely to work together successfully.
One of the best examples of the effectiveness of this approach can be seen when a concern arises in the organization. We have very strong ethics program here at PAE. We have an ethics officer and a hotline that people can use for anonymous concerns. There’s good activity there, but what often happens if a concern comes up is I will get the phone call or email. My team will pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I think I saw this, and this isn’t good.” They don’t feel like they need to be anonymous. They feel that they can bring the issue up and that it’ll be handled and dealt with in their leadership chain. I think that’s a good sign that things are working.
My approach boils down to making sure you have the right team, getting communication lines open and active and then using them to establish a high level of trust among your team. That is, in my opinion, the best chance at success you have when you’re managing this kind of global workforce.
ExecutiveBiz: I noticed that you and a number of other high-ranking PAE executives have significant backgrounds in finance. How does this background shape and influence PAE’s leadership model?
Dolph: I do get asked this question frequently because there are a number of us here with financial backgrounds. What is also common in our backgrounds that people often miss is that most of us grew up in the government services market. I think from a leadership model perspective, the fact that we have strong financial background in the services market helps us in a couple of ways. When I look at the services market, there’s really two core pieces of it that you need to understand if you’re going be successful. First, you’ve got to understand what the customer needs and what their missions are, and then you’ve got to be willing to go where they are. I’ve learned that from my days of training in Lockheed Martin and by being a financial analyst on some of these programs. Secondly, the service market tends to be very, very price competitive. It’s always that way just by its nature, and it’s obviously more so today with the budget pressures that the government is facing. I think our financial background gives us strength; we know how to price good value for the customer, and our services background has taught us how important it is that you understand your customer.
Someone once told me that the best leaders are those who are smart enough to know what they don’t know and surround themselves with people who can fill that void. So as I stood up this business unit over the last six months I have tried to do exactly that. Given the strong financial background of our leadership team, I have augmented the team with some of the strongest leaders available from our customer set who can help me improve the operational piece. As an example, I recently hired Mark Kroeker to lead our Rule of Law/Justice Group. Mark is a 35 year police veteran. His experience ranges from being a decorated member of the Los Angeles Police Department to running the Portland Oregon Police Department to leading a variety of UN police missions in places like Bosnia and Liberia and leading the United Nations Police Division, Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York. Another example can be found in Ed Frothingham, who recently joined our team. Prior to joining PAE, Ed was the principal director of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats. Since Counter Narcotics is a market area we are interested in, Ed was a natural fit for our team.
Given my financial background, I know that I am not the expert in the industry customer set, but I am pulling people in who do have that expertise. If you take that one step further and look at some of my deputy program managers, a good number of them have come out of the customer set as well, or they’ve come out of organizations that have a lot of experience working in our areas of operation. When it comes to new business, these experts can explain the mission, then with my background in financial management and pricing, I can help the team price out solutions so we can deliver good value to the client at a price that will win. The secret sauce in this business is being able to give the customer good value and pricing it right, so that they get what they need and have their missions accomplished effectively. There’s always a temptation to price things so low that you could end up putting the mission at risk. If you do that, there’s no benefit to you or your client, so you really have to balance carefully. I think the blend of our leadership team’s financial and operational background helps us get this balance right.
ExecutiveBiz: Is there anything you would like to add?
Dolph: It’s a very exciting time for PAE. In the last 12 months, we’ve doubled in size. We’ve won some significant contracts. Those of us leading the company feel like we’ve been given an excellent opportunity to create something unique here. We have the rich heritage of PAE and all that it brings to the market, now paired with an equity partner excited about our growth potential. This combination provides us a powerful presence in the markets we serve.
In addition to all of that, we have the honor of supporting some of our nation’s most important missions. We get to wake up every day and know that we are working to leave this world better than we found it. Not too many people are given that gift; it is truly a special place to work, and I am grateful to have this opportunity.