The retired Colonel spent 28 years in the U.S. Army and served as first commander of the Military Information Support Operations Command before joining the private sector.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Sorenson served as ground force commander for the first raid against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and was also an operations officer for Army Special Operations Command.
Sorenson discussed the international nature of Triple Canopy’s business model, the transition from the military to the private sector and the importance of compliance in GovCon.
Chris Sorenson: As COO, I’m responsible for overseeing global operations and the daily activities of the company. My emphasis is on the profit and loss of our programs, and the successful integration of our technology and logistics services.
Triple Canopy is unique in that we are a provider of mission support, security, training and advisory services to a host of government agencies, as well as multinational corporations. We do this on a global basis.
I also support our strategic planning efforts across a range of market sectors. Over the past several years the company has been adapting to the realities of the environment. While our headquarters is in the Washington, D.C. region close to our U.S. government clients, the majority of our operations are overseas, most notably in high-risk and austere locations.
ExecutiveBiz: What are your business activities in those international locations?
Chris Sorenson: This year we celebrated Triple Canopy's 10th anniversary. We started out as a security company and have since expanded our service offerings and geographic reach. We now deliver mission support services, which includes training solutions, logistics, as well as life support.
Really, when you get down to it, we have transformed our business model and are adapting to the marketplace. Today our customers basically outsource their risk to Triple Canopy.
This allows multinational government and commercial customers to conduct business as usual while we take care of security and logistics, enabling mission success.
We saw the environment changing several years ago, especially with the drawdown in Iraq. So we began to leverage our financial means and adapted our strategy to begin addressing other market areas. We have been very successful in aligning our strategy to the business environment.
The company has been able to put together innovative, low“‘cost solutions for a host of customers to keep us in a winning position under current market conditions.
ExecutiveBiz: What drew you to Triple Canopy after your almost three decade career in the Army?
Chris Sorenson: I viewed this opportunity as a continuation of service. Triple Canopy is comprised of 80 percent veterans, and the corporate culture is one that matches what I experienced in the military. Similar to the nature of my particular work in the military, we are applying solutions in a relatively new field that does not have the benefit of a playbook for every scenario.
Our culture is rooted in the belief that novel approaches, that are consistent with the highest legal, moral, and ethical standards, will yield the best solution for the customer's mission and operational environment.
With our company, you have an organization that adheres to a canon of legal, moral, and ethical principles to get the job done with accountability and selfless commitment. We are enriched by a highly competent home office staff that knows government contracting and makes it their mission to support our nation. That’s really what drew me to Triple Canopy.
Now, since joining the company, I have seen our employees in action and adherence to our canon working to deliver critical services to both government and commercial sectors. At the end of the day, it's all about doing our jobs and doing it well, a role that is very familiar to me.
ExecutiveBiz: What advice would you give on making that transition, and what was your transition like?
Looking back on it with a bit of reflection, I tell those who have asked me as they’re getting ready to get off the conveyor belt: “Have confidence in your abilities and stick to your core values. Stick to those principles that made you successful in the military and adapt where necessary in order to match your style with the uniqueness of the business environment.“
As veterans, we are being hired by organizations because we bring leadership that is capable of ushering in change. Leadership means identifying when things are a little bit different and do not match the operational environment for which they were designed, and then influencing folks through the process; making sure that you hold individuals and yourself accountable for the outcomes.
Look at it as taking on a new mission with new demands and operating norms, and have faith in yourself just as others have before you.
ExecutiveBiz: How aware were you of how the military works in conjunction with the government contracting industry while you were in the military?
Chris Sorenson: You find out more towards the end of your career. I would say it’s been the last decade when I saw it from the senior operations officer role in a major command where you are defining the requirements and evaluating solutions, and as a commander of a very large garrison community on foreign soil where we had to rely on U.S. government contract vehicles and host nation labor, for the delivery of goods and services under the governance of sovereign law.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you describe that government contracting environment and what have you learned being on the other side?
Chris Sorenson: As a government contractor, you see it from the lens of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), labor law and a host of other legal frameworks and governing regulations. You quickly gain a working appreciation of what is appropriately termed “˜big government' and develop a rich mastery of compliance and quality.
So, from the corporate side, your metric is compliance with the requirements of the contract, the FAR, International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), etc. You cannot lose sight of the corporate obligation to adhere to legal and regulatory requirements of the Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, etc. You have to look at what you are doing from the eyes of the auditor, and while we are motivated by solving problems for our nation, we have to make a concerted effort to educate our customers on domestic and overseas governance requirements.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about at Triple Canopy moving forward having been with company now more than a year?
Chris Sorenson: I’m actually very excited about our expansion into new markets to diversify our offerings. It's great to celebrate a 10“‘year milestone and to see how this company was rapidly put together to how it’s grown into a global, professional organization. What I also take pride in is how this company led the way in professionalizing the industry and its founding role in the development of the International Code of Conduct (ICOC).
The nice thing is that we have a strategy in place and we are already moving into the market sectors we need to be in. We’re seeing the fruition of many of our objective metrics, and I am confident that over the next couple years we will continue to see very positive growth in an environment that demands high-quality, affordable solutions.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you describe the culture at Triple Canopy?
Chris Sorenson: Triple Canopy is phenomenal to work for and it’s a company with compassion. We have an effective corporate social responsibility strategy with the objective of giving back to the community in the locations where we serve. We have many great philanthropy efforts that address the wide sector of our community and showcase the sincerity and volunteerism of our employees.
You know, there is a comfort zone when you get into the military, you go into a basic branch and you have to make some choices. I made some choices that entailed career risk in order to pursue higher goals that supported other DOD requirements. You had to flag yourself to your superiors without knowing if you’re actually going to be accepted and succeed in the new endeavor.
Triple Canopy has a very accommodating, purpose-driven culture. New ideas are very warmly welcomed and we test them against the legal, moral and ethical litmus. And, if an optimum solution is consistent with our values then we’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it fast.
Another great thing about Triple Canopy is our executive management team which is easily accessible by our program managers and our functional staff, allowing us to make decisions happen very, very quickly. We discuss risk and we’re not afraid to alter course if the environment or risk levels change.
ExecutiveBiz: What personal and leadership lessons have you taken with you into the private sector?
Chris Sorenson: Even for large organizations, it’s how you set the conditions to allow for bottom“‘up solutions. The larger an organization gets, the more bureaucratic it has to become in some areas, but at the end of the day leaders decide how to empower. Leaders decide on how to allocate and accept risk, and create the culture to actually allow solutions to be developed from the bottom up.
What the military applies very well is a framework of core standards. The finesse is ensuring that you’re not living or dying by a standard, but rather using standards as a guide with an eye on the conditions ““ this allows for finding solutions that can be readily adapted to the problem at hand.
I’ve seen this over time and I do caution folks that in the military the answers are mostly given to you. We have volumes of regulations that offer black and white solutions, and easy ways to say no. The challenge is being able to interpret the gray zone and find ways to say yes that are legally, ethically and morally right.
As an observation of excellent athletes, they seldom look back, they always look forward. While there’s importance in reflection and understanding how operations unfold, if you’re constantly looking back and trying to see if your competitor’s on your heels, you're not going to be putting your full effort into getting across the finish line, so you’ve got to keep looking ahead.
You’ve got to accept there may be some obstacles along the way, and find ways to stay on mission. That is where you bring your leadership to bear – keeping your organization focused on winning.