The 25-year industry veteran joins the firm from her role as EVP and COO at SRA International, a position she elevated to shortly after leading more than 14,000 C4 employees as president of SAIC‘s defense solutions.
In a recent conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Alderson laid out some goals for her first months in office, including her emphasis on hitting the road to engage with her new colleagues and driving organic growth.
She also talked about Sotera’s position in the GovCon and intell markets and driving long-term company growth.
ExecutiveBiz: What made this opportunity attractive to you?
Deb Alderson: What really got me excited was the team and the fact that their focus is totally aligned with my focus, which is on the mission and the people. I was impressed with Ares, the private equity firm that’s invested in Sotera. I think they are in markets that are very attractive and have a lot of upside. I have worked throughout my career to have an opportunity to lead a group like this and it was clear it was the right move. I was very comfortable during the whole process, which was a strong sign to me.
I’ve been in the business for more than 25 years and there are gut checks that are very important when you make decisions such as this and I was impressed with the team, I was impressed with the mission and the array of national security technology solutions Sotera offers. I think my focus on organic growth and people engagement will fare very well here at Sotera. I’m really excited about this opportunity and am very proud to be in this position.
ExecutiveBiz: How will you work across Sotera’s enterprise to learn the ins and outs of the company and integrate yourself as its leader?
Alderson: I’m pretty much known as a ‘hands-on’ type of a person and I think that’s one reason that Sotera was attractive to me. I’m a nut about organic growth and creating opportunities for the people – my banner is ‘People First,’ always. In order to do that you really need to get in there and be actively engaged with the people and with the customer base, so I’m already working on how I can get out there and meet Sotera’s employees and customers. We have quite a few people at client sites and I plan on getting out there and talking to them and their customers as soon as possible, demonstrating the value-add that I can provide to them. I will be out in the field quite often.
To me, my value is going to be doing whatever I can to help our people grow and create opportunities for them. In addition to our offices in Northern Virginia, we also have offices in Virginia Beach, Charleston, SC, Austin, TX, among others. We’re also working with several Special Operations programs in Tampa. I’ll be visiting all these offices in the near future. I’ll go where the work is to learn the ropes from the people on the ground, doing the job. I think that a real emphasis on our people engagement is to get our people excited about serving the mission and about serving Sotera. The only way you can do that is to get out there and meet with the people. I’m not a ‘behind-your-desk’ CEO. I’ve been called a ‘Road Warrior’ and I was very flattered by that term.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of your goals in the immediate term?
Alderson: You want to show value as quick as you can, especially when you bring a new leader in. I would measure that by the amount of excitement that you create within the first 30 days about having the leadership team out there engaged, driving growth, serving the mission, and getting people excited about being part of a team. You can see that in a lot of different ways. I’ll measure that by the number of people throughout the organization that reach out to me.
I’m a very ‘open-door’ kind of a person; I’m not a chain of command type of person. The more people that want to reach out and talk to me is a very positive sign. There’s also the number of customer engagements I have over the next thirty days and, of course, ‘where are we bidding?’ and how are we executing against some of the great contract vehicles that we have here at Sotera. There will be lots of signs in the first 30 days that indicate whether I am making a difference.
ExecutiveBiz: How has the build up of Sotera’s platform distinguished it in the GovCon space? How will you work to continue to position Sotera as an industry leader?
Alderson: There are some technologies, specifically in data fusion, that are very much needed by our government customers right now and I think Sotera has a great reputation in those areas. Their focus on the intell community in general and in cybersecurity is very valuable. These are markets that will continue to grow even though the overall market is declining. They have an excellent reputation for performance and execution that I plan on leveraging. It’s a real advantage to come into a company that is strong, with people who are focused, with a good reputation and good branding all based on outstanding execution. I don’t think it gets any better than that and I plan on leveraging that to continue to grow the company and create opportunities for our people. It comes down to basic blocking and tackling, or the core elements of business development. We’re going to take a look at the current space, with the mission focus that we’re going after, then we’re going to build a qualified pipeline and then we’re going to bid and we’re going to win.
ExecutiveBiz: Where would you like to see Sotera over a longer period of time, say 5 to 10 years?
Alderson: I would hope it would continue to grow significantly, with the focus primarily on organic growth initially and then there could be acquisitions down the road. No matter what size, my number 1 priority is the customers’ trust and how much they rely on Sotera to be a partner serving the mission. I’m looking forward to a company that has a 100 percent win rate when it comes to our recompetes and that is outpacing the market when it comes to year-over-year growth. That’s how we create opportunities for the people and that is my number on priority.
ExecutiveBiz: How do the president and CEO roles represent a continuation of your personal and professional growth to this point in your career?
Alderson: During my career, I’ve been a part of small companies, I’ve been acquired, I have worked with two companies – Anteon and SAIC – where they were private and then went public. I’ve always had a focus on organic growth as the number one priority, followed by niche acquisitions to help drive future growth. I’ve run profit and loss centers most of my career.
If I go back to the beginning, my experience as a program manager – being out in the field, understanding the importance of serving the mission, understanding the importance of taking care of your people, focusing on growth and the associated finances – were some of my core building blocks to get prepared for a position like this. I think sometimes people forget that you really need to be out in the field to understand the real challenges. I have progressively taken on more responsibilities throughout my career and it’s made me very comfortable with my ability to make the right decisions, to lead an organization and to create and opportunities and growth.