Meet Tracy Graves-Stevens, the Chairman and CEO of Innoviss. Graves-Stevens has many years of corporate and business leadership experience under her belt. She has a knowledge of the Defense and Intelligence industries that spans over 25 years of work. WashingtonExec recently interviewed her about the success of Innoviss and her competitive edge. She spoke to us about her role as a female CEO and discussed her favorite aspects of the work she does.
WashingtonExec: How does Innoviss stay competitive with all the other solution services based companies around the area?
Tracy Graves Stevens: A lot of companies in the government space try to be all things to all clients. No matter the requirement, they have the answer. The question that should be asked, though, is: can they do it well? In the current environment of rapidly changing technologies and priorities, no one company can be the single solution anymore – you have to focus on your core competencies and be able to forge the right partnerships to get the job done. Not only does Innoviss have the deep domain knowledge within our core technical offerings – we leverage what we sell across our own enterprise – we maintain the necessary relationships to provide a complete package to the government customer.
Our history in serving the government security community with background investigation services is another key differentiator. Investigations are a critical requirement for government, and it’s certainly not something to be taken lightly. It requires activities that are specific to government – like the technology to sift through public records, the security to keep personal data confidential, the controls necessary to provide real mission assurance, the ability to offer a culture of integrity, and the capability to meet federal ethics and privacy mandates.
In doing this, we built our own technology infrastructure, leveraging all of the things that agencies are now looking at – from cloud computing to virtualization to thin-clients. We did not implement these things because they were buzzwords; we used them because they were the smart, efficient way to get the job done. That’s what innovation is – not just technology, but the process and the management to put it to work. Today, we’ve taken that real-world experience a step further and we’ve said to agencies: unlike so many of the companies trying to sell you “solutions,” we’ve used these technologies, and we’ve been successful. They are proven to work and deliver tangible results. This approach eliminates the risk to the government client and helps save money in the process.
WashingtonExec: What do you find as the most exciting part of your job?
Tracy Graves Stevens: Every day I get to come into work to discuss new strategies and solve complex problems with some of the smartest people in the business. And that’s a privilege. Supporting the federal government brings new challenges every fiscal year, and it’s increasingly about doing more with less. As Winston Churchill famously said – “we’ve run out of money and now we must think.” At Innoviss, we have creative thinkers who have never met a problem they couldn’t solve. My job is to contribute to the discussion and then to do whatever I can to provide all of the resources and the environment to make that solution a reality. Nothing beats it for excitement.
WashingtonExec: This month, Washingtonian magazine profiled DC’s 100 Most Powerful Women and pointed out that many women are quickly climbing the corporate ladders in companies all around the area. What can you say about your experience being a female CEO?
Tracy Graves Stevens: I am glad we’re reaching a place in time where good leadership isn’t distinguished by gender, but by good ideas, by character and by good stewardship. Though I’m excited to see so many women in leadership positions, I’m sure that each one has a story to tell that—if you take the gender out—is a story of their own personal tenacity above everything else. My experience as a CEO has been grounded in following my instinct, building relationships and surrounding myself with phenomenal people. I’ve also been blessed to have great mentors, both male and female, because good leadership attributes span gender and class and all of the other boxes we put people in. If you have the tenacity to do it, no matter what stands in your way, no matter who you are, you’ll be able to climb to whatever heights you set your sights on, corporate or otherwise.
WashingtonExec: Innoviss works primarily with the Department of Defense and other government agencies. How do government regulations affect your company and if you could change one regulation, what would you change?
Tracy Graves Stevens: We are honored everyday to contribute to the success of our fighting men and women and we feel privileged to be supporting the critical missions of civilian agencies. For us, the government directives that affect our business the most are twofold: the current budget debate and Request for Proposal (RFP) structure. In terms of budget – for small and medium sized companies like Innoviss, the uncertainty in the federal budget can be daunting. It’s a serious issue for us and we have to be a lot smarter now in terms of strategic planning to prepare for what has unfortunately become a new normal. At the same time, the budget constraints themselves – the fact of less money, not the fact of uncertainty – can actually be a net-positive for companies of our size. We’re more agile and can pivot to serve the needs of government in a far more adaptive way than some of our large competitors, which puts us at an advantage. So it’s a double-edged sword in that respect, but as a company we are experiencing increased traction in this space, even with the budget situation.
In terms of RFPs – one thing that could improve and that I believe the CIO Council is intent on changing is the specificity of RFPs. Specifically, the parts of the documents that spell out what contractors are responsible for delivering and the steps they must take to achieve their outcomes – which tend to get pretty specific. Today they say you must follow a step by step process to arrive at a preconceived solution to the given challenge. But is that the best approach? Will that provide the best results at the best value? So instead of being specific as to the exact steps that need to be taken, agencies are beginning to recognize that if they are instead specific as to the real end-result they want to meet, we can fill in the rest. That gives companies like Innoviss more flexibility to innovate and create new, more efficient and cost-effective solutions to the problems facing government. When industry is truly empowered to lead innovation, you’ll begin to see some really exciting results.
WashingtonExec: What’s your key to success in life?
Tracy Graves Stevens: Two principles that have carried me through life are first – never be afraid to do the job that no one else wants. There’s opportunity in everything for success and you may learn something about yourself along the way. My own best successes have come in situations where people have given up on the outcome. A lot of times the thing that made a difference was my confidence to see where others could not. The second – stay grounded in your values when making decisions. When your back is against the wall it’s your value system that determines which direction you will go. Being honest in your dealings, even with the hard decisions, will never let you down in the long run.
My passion in life, however, is to give back, not just in monetary contributions, but in truly getting involved in the community – volunteering time, participating in fundraising activities, and the like. I have dedicated myself and the company to supporting the cause. Whether that is Birdies for the Brave, Men Against Breast Cancer, American Diabetes Association, Fisher House Foundation, or The Alzheimer’s Association, the result is real and the support is necessary.