Making innovative impacts across industry from the lab to the battle space, Alion Science and Technology supports clients across six core capability areas: ISR Technology; Live, Virtual, Constructive Training; Modernization and Sustainment; Network and Software Engineering; Systems Engineering and Integration; and Weapons Platforms. To comment on what values drive the company forward–and what drives him–ExecutiveBiz reached out to Brian Fisher, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Alion Science and Technology, for an inside look at the true ethic of the industry.
“The best contracts are those that use simple words and concise sentences that are not subject to confusion or creative re-interpretation.”
EM: For more than 20 years, you have served in a variety of senior executive, leadership, and legal positions in both government service and in the private sector. What steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Brian Fisher: I have benefited from a little hard work, a lot of friendly advice, and several lucky breaks. During my 12-year pre-legal career, I worked for Sanders Associates (a large defense contractor purchased by Lockheed and later sold to BAE Systems) and attended undergraduate and law school at night. This approach enabled me to build a solid academic foundation while simultaneously gaining real-world defense-industry experience. After practicing law for a few years, I missed the classroom so I pursued and received an LL.M. in Government Procurement while working at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.
During the past twenty-plus years, I've had the privilege of working with some fantastic lawyers and clients who offered incredibly valuable advice and guidance. I've tried to continue their example by mentoring and guiding others.
You lead a team of more than 70 professionals supporting legal and regulatory affairs–what is the most challenging aspect of leading/working with others in corporate governance?
Alion started in academia, became an employee-owned company in 2002, and now is privately held. The most challenging aspect from a corporate governance perspective is ensuring that our policies and practices remain sufficiently agile to reflect the evolving business and legal environment while retaining the compliance discipline that is necessary for long-term success. The exciting part of this challenge is that each Alion employee is actively engaged““either through our Ethics HelpLine, all-hands and staff meetings, or emails and telephone calls““in understanding our obligations and helping the company make and execute the right decisions. The best analogy that I can draw is that the company lives and breathes the military motto “One Team, One Fight.“
Our Board and owners/investors have played crucial roles in this regard by setting an appropriate tone of credibility, fidelity, and accountability; supporting our efforts to transform the business; and in hiring key executives and experts who are driving the cultural and infrastructural changes that will further strengthen Alion's performance.
When dealing with commercial and government transactions, what is your strategy to handling large contracts?
Our strategy for all contracts, regardless of size or value, is identical: identify the cost, schedule, and performance risks; determine roughly their probability of occurring and the likely financial or legal effect should they occur; and determine whether we should shift or absorb the risks. And, if we elect to absorb a risk, we then evaluate whether to establish a risk reserve in the budget or to insure against it. One of the key issues in our larger projects is ensuring that the contract eliminates nuance. The best contracts are those that use simple words and concise sentences that are not subject to confusion or creative re-interpretation.
With regards to litigation management, what kind of difficulties have you encountered since you started at Alion?
Alion retains counsel who are experts in the relevant topic to eliminate the risk and cost of learning curves. Aside from selecting expertise and managing conflicts, my central issue is cost control. Over the last few years, we have reduced our outside counsel spend considerably through a combination of selective offensive litigation, cooperative purchasing, quantity-based discounts, fixed-price billing for “mechanical“ tasks, performing more work in-house, and working with smaller boutique firms where appropriate.
Where do you see Alion delivering the most value?
For the past 80 years, Alion has maintained a strong record of combining scientific discipline and engineering flexibility to solve difficult problems. For example, the Alion team: (a) designed or played a major role in every US Navy ship built in the last 40 years, (b) designed and built Admiral Bird's Antarctic Snow Cruiser; (c) developed the most widely-used titanium alloy in the world today; and (d) and created thermal coatings that have protected the first lunar landing module, Skylab, and 90 percent of today's satellites.
Regardless of the issue or the technology, Alion finds and pairs the right functional expertise with real-world experience to address the customer's needs.
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