From SAIC to SRA International to Sotera Defense Solutions, Deb Alderson has held high-level positions at some of the most influential companies in government contracting. Now, the Virginia native is enjoying her first few months at GTL where she is CEO of the provider of inmate communications services in jails and prisons throughout the U.S.
“I was approached about the GTL opportunity earlier this year and immediately got excited about the mission, even though it was different from what I had worked in the past,” Alderson said. “I have always been fortunate to work in companies that were making a real difference in people’s lives. GTL just serves a different community.”
A Norfolk, Virginia, native, Alderson currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and also has a home in Maryland. She attended Virginia Tech where she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Her first job out of graduate school was as an entry-level contractor supporting vocational education programs and the magnet school concept for the federal Department of Education. A mentor later recommended her to her brother, who worked at the Defense Department, and her career was underway.
“That is when my passion for supporting the government mission started,” she said. “I gained a great appreciation for military and civilian leadership and the importance of national defense.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she worked with the late Adm. Wayne E. Meyer. She said she feels very fortunate to have had Meyer as a mentor and still uses his sound advice daily.
Working with Meyer left her with a deepened and decidedly positive perspective on the individuals she would go on to supervise.
“He really believed that everybody wants to do a good job and that it is your responsibility as a leader to help put them in the position where they can provide the most value,” she said.
It’s hard to overstate the importance Alderson places on the mentors and leaders she’s known over the years. There is a deep-seated respect for not only those in senior positions but also those in entry-level jobs who are leading at their own level.
“I get a lot of value from and have been more influenced by the people I have met over my career than from any books I have read or movies I have seen,” she said.
Alderson is surrounded by a close-knit family. Her mother Pat Petrovic, one of her most trusted mentors, is deeply involved in her life, and her mother-in-law lives only a mile away. One of her sons lives in Washington, D.C., and her grandchildren, Olivia, 4, and Max, 2, live less than five miles away.
Among the more important lessons she still values from her mother are to always take time to listen and learn from others and “most important, always treat people well and value their trust,” she said.
In later jobs, she went on to work toward a “people first” approach in which employee engagement was prioritized. That centered on how to adroitly handle reviews, career path development and solid communication between managers and staff.
“I would work with the human resources groups to make sure we were really working to focus on our people,” she added. “I would put retention ahead of recruiting. Typically, people talk of ‘recruiting and retention’ when in fact you want to put the people you already have first.”
Then there are the basics. Respond to people in timely manner. Treat people as you would like to be treated. Lead with the assumption that people want to do a good job.
Her career highlights include working with the Navy in the early days of Missile Defense as well as establishing “people first” programs in every company she has worked at. She’s also developed a robust op tempo for organic growth.
Alderson was president and CEO of Sotera Defense Solutions from July 2013 through the sale of the company to KeyW Corporation in April 2017. Before Sotera, she was executive vice president and chief operating officer of SRA International where she led 6,000 employees. And before SRA, Alderson was president of the Defense Solutions Group at SAIC where she had responsibilities involving 14,000 employees.
“I recognize the risk associated with leading people and have experienced downturns in my career as a result of others’ bad behavior,” she said. “My commitment to doing what is ‘right’ and passion for people helped me manage and become even stronger in adverse situations.”
At GTL, Alderson is able to lead GTL in efforts that results show have a positive impact in several ways.
“The company’s mission is to keep lifelines between those incarcerated and their friends and family open, and improve the safety of those working in the corrections industry,” she said. “Our efforts have been determined to have a direct impact on lowering recidivism rates. Additionally, GTL’s education services give inmates a chance to improve themselves during their period of incarceration and can also continue upon their release, once again driving down rates of recidivism.”
In her spare time, Alderson enjoys hiking with her family. Her boots have touched the ground in Utah, Arizona and myriad trails in the DMV.
“We like to visit a lot of different parks,” she said.
When she isn’t hiking, she enjoys running and off roading with the family but her favorite relaxation is vegging with her catahoula mix rescue Champ.
Her husband, Dick Alderson, also works in the federal space and contributes much of his spare time to supporting nonprofits focused on affordable housing. He has served on the boards of New Hope Housing and Good Shepherd Housing.
“My sons, Billy and Jon, are both highly driven and most importantly understand the importance of giving back,” she added. “Bill is working as a federal contractor focused on business development, and he has a great wife, Dana. Jon is in hospitality management and continues to progress in his career. I am very proud of my family.”
Outside her work obligations, Alderson has served on the Professional Services Council executive committee, been a board member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and Boulder Crest Retreat, and is active in the Association of the U.S. Army, the Air Force Association, and the National Defense Industrial Association. She was recognized in 2011 with a Federal 100 Award and has also been named a Top 25 Female Executive by The Washington Post.
As Alderson continues with this phase of her career, she carries with her a philosophy that she said continues to influence all her decisions.
“You are nothing without people,” she said. “Always remember that if you take care of people, everything else will fall into place.”