Leslie Steele is the CEO of InterImage Inc., an 8(a) woman-owned small business that provides custom database and software applications to commercial, federal and municipal clients. Under Steele’s leadership, InterImage has achieved CMMI level 3 accreditation; a training and certification program required by the DOD for government contracts and software development. Steele is a Fed 100 recipient, board member of AFFIRM and is the VP of IT days for AFCEA Bethesda.
She has 20 years of management experience focusing on project management, financial management and mentoring. The executive spoke to WashingtonExec about what prompted her to becoming an entrepreneur, what her company does best, how small businesses survive in these times of federal budget cuts and what her latest passion is.
WashingtonExec: What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
Leslie Steele: I really did not plan on becoming an entrepreneur. I had been doing some consulting work for a midsized IT company and they had offered me a senior role but I did not think that the owner’s vision made sense. Then my husband pitched me on the idea of starting a company. I at first thought it was crazy but we talked through it and ultimately we thought we could build a better company, create a better environment for employees and bring transformative ideas to customers.
WashingtonExec: What is the one thing InterImage really excels at?
Leslie Steele: What we have done really since the beginning and continue to do today is application development. Our sweet spot is agile software development. We developed our own methodology for doing agile development back in the late ‘90s. In addition, InterImage has done work with a number of different business process management tools. If an organization has a complex, challenging process or processes that they want to automate and need some innovative thinking, InterImage is the best out there. We understand the strengths and weaknesses of the BPM tools in the market space. We understand the issues with process based design. There are some real complexities to it. That is our sweet spot.
For example, InterImage is currently automating the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acquisition processes, implementing a BPM tool and building upon that tool as a foundation. We’re working to define and look at where the FAA can streamline and automate processes and we are integrating with other systems including financial systems so that they have an end to end capability set to support acquisition management.
WashingtonExec: Do you think small businesses are better equipped to ride out federal budget cuts, when compared to larger corporations?
Leslie Steele: Sequestration is a concern to all of us in this industry. That said – I believe InterImage will do very well this year and next, as will a number of small businesses. We can adapt quickly and be very agile to the changing environment and the difficult budget situation that the agencies are in. I don’t think that is true of all small businesses. I think small businesses that have focused on being a subcontractor- essentially being a body shop -are going to face real challenges. Small businesses that have primed their work and know how to manage contracts, we are going to face a wealth of opportunities as contracts are broken into smaller pieces and new, smaller solicitations are issued.
WashingtonExec: If you could change one thing about the acquisition processes of the federal government what would it be?
Leslie Steele: While protests are certainly frustrating, one of the significant challenges small businesses face is being on the right vehicle. I think that this will be an increasing challenge because as contracts are broken up into smaller pieces, and more and more they are going on GWACs as task orders. If you are not a prime on that GWAC that means that you are subbing in some capacity in order to be able to compete. Small businesses simply do not have the bandwidth to go after all of the GWACs that are out there. I think it becomes a real challenge figuring out and making sure that you are on the vehicles that you need to get on.
WashingtonExec: What would you say InterImage prides itself in? How would you describe the InterImage corporate culture?
Leslie Steele: We encourage employee growth. One of the things that I’m really proud about is the contributions that we’ve made to helping people in their career paths; giving them opportunities, giving them challenges that have advanced their skills, advanced their confidence, advanced their capabilities and giving them room to grow. Another thing that I’m really proud of is the creativity and the innovations that we’ve brought to our customers that have made a difference in their environment. That’s what drives me – being able to make a difference.
WashingtonExec: Do you have a favorite business book?
Leslie Steele: There’s an excellent book called Execution by Ram Charan. I read this book many years ago and said, ‘Wait a minute, this is exactly what I’ve always believed.’ The book talks about how you have to focus on effective execution in an organization. I don’t care how great your strategy is, if you don’t execute you are not going to get there. You’ve got to know your roadmap or where you want to get to but you have to execute.
WashingtonExec: What is something that most people might not know about you?
Leslie Steele: I’m an explorer. My latest passion is surfing. I picked up surfing later in my life than most, but for me it’s part of exploring.