LMI Vice President of Advanced Analytics Josh Wilson is a Pinnacle Award finalist in the Big Data and/or Artificial Intelligence Executive of the Year category. Here, he shares how he helps shape the next generation of GovCon leaders, what he has learned from failure, what makes him stand out among the competition and more.
What are your key achievements since 2017?
Wilson: From a big-picture perspective, the most important achievement has been helping LMI shift from a research organization to a solutions-oriented organization. We won’t just help you think about the problem but we’ll help you develop and implement the solutions. A major piece of that fell on me to establish our advanced analytics practice.
We asked the organization to invest in us to do something that it hadn’t done before, and we had to make some bold bets. We now have over 100 data engineers, scientists, and visualization and product development experts, and have produced analytic tools like OrgIQ and LMI’s Common Analytics Platform, which have been well received by customers. Thanks to OrgIQ and LCAP and the great work our team, the organization has gained confidence moving forward.
LMI has a long history in research and analysis, and so to make that successful pivot toward becoming a solutions provider was hard. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Wilson: In analytics, you’ll go only as far as your talent allows, and I am so proud of the team we have assembled here. LMI has been very deliberate about talent acquisition and talent development. We have invested a lot of resources into strengthening our academic partnerships and deepening our engagement with the next generation of talent, which is just so impressive.
Investment in training our team also has been key. When people come to LMI, they know we’ll make a substantial annual investment in their data science training. Being able to secure that commitment at a leadership level has been critical to recruiting the talent we need to have success.
What specifically makes you stand out from your industry counterparts?
Wilson: Besides being tall… [Editor’s note: Josh, who played basketball at Army, is 6’6 feet.]
Big data and AI are often viewed as long-term pursuits, driven by R&D and research-grade implementations. I come at it from a different perspective; I don’t have a Ph.D. in AI. My background is strategy — advising C-suite leaders to make strategic choices for the here and now. At LMI, we are laser-focused on identifying the areas where the practical use of AI could generate efficiencies for your organization, today. We are more interested in helping our clients implement what’s feasible and see a near-term return on investment than moonshot R&D. In that sense, we stand out from the traditional big data/AI actors.
How do you help shape the next-generation GovCon leaders?
Wilson: You have to have them in the room. If you and I have a meeting, you can be sure one or two early-career professionals are coming with me. And the same goes for the directors on my team; they’re always asking, “Who are we taking?” You learn by seeing and doing. You have to bring these people into the room and when the meeting is over, let them ask all the questions they’re afraid to ask aloud. That’s what my mentors did for me, to help me develop that context and institutional knowledge. The next generation is so incredibly bright and talented; they just need the opportunity to gain the government perspective.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
Wilson: When I first got out of the Army, I started my own consulting business, which helped U.S.-based engineering and oil and gas firms build and manage their local national workforce. We had immense success early on, but I was advised on several occasions to raise capital and focus on scale. I failed to do that and we later were overcome by institutional players who quickly leveraged their scale. Scale is one of the most important assets of a corporation, and is always a very important part of my evaluation criteria for the bets we make in new technologies or partnerships. How quickly could we scale around this idea or opportunity? Is the solution itself scalable for our clients? It was a painful experience, but one that really has helped shape my mind-set as an executive.