Rick Jones serves as vice president of national services at AMERICAN SYSTEMS and is a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the DOD Industry Executive of the Year category. Here, he shares notable career achievements, the greatest professional risk he has ever taken, advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow in his footsteps and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2018?
My biggest achievement occurred in the execution of the $65+million U.S. Air Force Emergency Mass Notification System contract awarded to AMERICAN SYSTEMS in December 2017. Under the terms of the contract, we were to implement an enterprisewide cloud-based EMNS to serve up to 1 million users, including service members, their families and dependents. The EMNS needed to reliably and securely deliver emergency threat notifications to all personnel at all Air Force locations worldwide on a 24/7/365 basis.
In addition to the logistical challenges of implementing a system that connected 180+ Air Force locations, the EMNS has to meet the stringent requirements of the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Secure Cloud Computing Architecture. We developed a truly innovative solution — the first Azure-based virtual data center security stack implementation to provide border and web application firewall, intrusion detection, intrusion prevention and full packet capture capabilities.
EMNS is fully compliant with Defense Department cybersecurity requirements for a cloud-based system and fully compliant with the DISA’s Secure Cloud Computing Architecture. EMNS received an Authorization to Operate in June 2018 and was accepted by the Air Force in December 2018.
EMNS has subsequently been deployed to serve as the enterprise mass notification system for the entire Air Force. This major achievement by us not only resulted in a very satisfied customer, but it’s led to opportunities from other customers who have similar requirements.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I basically started as a technician and rose through the ranks of our company, so I have a great deal of insight into every person’s role in my organization, and I think that’s beneficial for all. And because of my career track, I’m able to look at things from the customer’s perspective from all angles. I treat my employees and my customers fairly and keep the lines of communication open at all times. It’s a great recipe for success.
What are you the proudest of having been a part of your current organization?
AMERICAN SYSTEMS has a really unique culture, based on ownership and accountability, and I’m proud to have been a part of that culture for 37 years. The people, the growth, and of course, our Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, thrive because of our culture. Our people are what make AMERICAN SYSTEMS an employer of choice and a contractor of choice. Dedicated, team-oriented, hard-working people.
And the ESOP is a great benefit that lets everyone be part of the success as co-owners of the company. That pride of ownership comes through in the quality of services we provide to our customers. The ESOP succeeds because AMERICAN SYSTEMS succeeds. AMERICAN SYSTEMS succeeds because each one of us holds up our responsibility to be jointly accountable every day. I’m proud to be a part of that culture.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
In 1997, while I was director of our Cabling Services Division, I started thinking of new ways to grow our business. I was convinced there was a way to expand and improve our infrastructure business, so I talked my bosses into letting me take on this challenge. I knew I had a lot on the line: my reputation, my credibility, maybe even my job.
I put a business plan together that involved a network of industry-certified technicians, built a system of checks and balances to ensure the delivery of quality services and began marketing our newly formed National Services Directorate to national clients. We landed our first contract with the U.S. Postal Service in the summer of ‘97.
In 1998, we won a contract with Norwest Financial and Marriott. I am pleased to say that we still have that contract with Marriott, 21 years later, to provide staging, integration and installation services for routers nationwide. In four short years, we grew from a new directorate with zero revenue to $30 million.
As the company embraced the International Organization for Standardization as our quality standard, my organization was the first to achieve an ISO certification. The commercial best practices we developed in those early years have also served us well as we have transitioned to larger government contracts in recent years.
Taking that risk proved to be a turning point for me, and we were able to grow our National Services Directorate very quickly and profitably. I’m happy to say the risk paid off.
Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?
I’d have to say being a part of the company’s growth and feeling like I played a significant role.
What’s your best advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow your footsteps?
This might sound corny, but first and foremost, simply treat people (customers and co-workers) like you want to be treated. When I was a supervisor in the field running infrastructure work, I had a sign in my gang box that said, “A professional is someone who does his job to the best of his abilities whether he wants to or not that day.” So, understand there are bad days but be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and say, “I did my best.”
Lastly, understand you can’t do it by yourself. This is a team sport. I’ve been fortunate to work with some very smart and talented people throughout my career. So never forget to coach, appreciate and recognize your people because you didn’t do it alone.