Where Are They Now: Deb Alderson in 2021

Deb Alderson

Deb Alderson, GTL

Deb Alderson is on a mission to improve her own industry as she leads GTL from the CEO suite.

Alderson, who spent decades in government contracting, has been at the helm of the communications technology firm for nearly 2 years, working to drive down costs, double down on efforts to connect incarcerated individuals with family and friends on the outside, and create a safer environment for law enforcement by leveraging the company’s proprietary technology solutions. 

While one of Alderson’s focuses is slashing costs for the company, there are some areas where she has chosen to have GTL absorb costs when it serves a greater purpose.

“Our mission is to drive change to make this a better industry,” Alderson said. “To be able to lead a company where we can offer out free content, free phone calls, free messaging, free video visitation and really demonstrate that we can be a good corporate citizen is wonderful. Nothing gets me more excited.”

As the world navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, GTL made strides in offering more of its services free of charge, ensuring permanent access to at least weekly connections between individuals on the outside with loved ones on the inside. The company provided more than 50 million free calls, millions of messages and 6 million minutes of video visitation in 2020. 

“When the pandemic first started, we offered free communications to all of our customers,” Alderson said. “Over the summer, we made the larger decision to make free weekly communication options available permanently to all customers. It is incredibly important to me that GTL contributes and gives back not only during times of crisis, but as a part of day-to-day operations.”

Making a Difference

Alderson’s career experience focusing on operations, driving growth and value, working with private equity firms and working for public firms requiring her to interface with lenders all put her in the unique position to lead GTL.

Alderson was president and CEO of Sotera Defense Solutions from July 2013 through the sale of the company to KeyW Corp. in April 2017. Before Sotera, she was executive vice president and chief operating officer of SRA International, where she led 6,000 employees. 

Before SRA, Alderson was president of the Defense Solutions Group at Science Applications International Corp., where she had responsibilities involving 14,000 employees. After the sale of Sotera, Alderson took time to reflect on her next move. Her husband was already involved with supporting affordable housing, helping the homeless and aiding organizations that support individuals affected by the opioid epidemic. When Alderson received a call in early 2018 about leading GTL as CEO, she was thrilled to be able to use her professional skills in a way that aligned with her personal passions for helping others.

“It was different coming out of the federal space, working with more of the federal government and the intel communities, but it was still very mission focused,” she said. “I’ve always been mission focused and always had a passion around the mission. I’m known as more of a roll-up-your-sleeves CEO.”

Getting Down to Business

GTL was founded in the late 1980s. Today, it is the largest provider of communications services for the incarcerated, leveraging its technology to develop applications, products and communication and engagement tools. Those include phone calls, messaging and educational resources and training to ease the transition back into society and reduce recidivism. The tools can enhance safety for officers in prisons and jails by helping keep boredom at bay, while giving incarcerated individuals the means to stay in touch with outside support — a plus for friends and family.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to affect positive change in local communities around the country, which is a big part of what led me to work at GTL,” Alderson said.

Now, through her CEO blog, Alderson reaches out to stakeholders on the outside and gets emails from both them and those who are incarcerated, she said.

One of Alderson’s first tasks was to more fully integrate GTL’s multiple acquisitions to appear as one face to the market. Through a series of leadership changes and moves within the company, Alderson worked to capitalize on each person’s strengths, she said.

Alderson also led the company through a process to create a mission statement emphasizing GTL’s commitment to serving officers, the incarcerated and family and friends, while honing in on customer satisfaction.

“In my first 100 days, I was on the road 70% of the time meeting with our people and customers,” Alderson said.

As seen in the millions of free calls provided this year, a long-held policy at GTL has been to offer free communications during times of natural disaster so families can reach one another. The pandemic has broadened that policy, as GTL is absorbing the costs of basic calls during this time, she said. And there is some cost because of the amount of technology, solutions and resources at play.

“It’s not just me picking up the phone and calling you or calling into this meeting,” Alderson said. “Those calls need to be recorded. The data needs to be stored. It can be subpoenaed. There are safety issues. You want to make sure that things aren’t being inappropriately said on these calls. So there’s monitoring. There’s data analytics. It’s not just a phone call.”

Connecting Inside with Outside

As the nation has grappled this year with the roles of law enforcement and the need to combat systemic racism, Alderson has worked to ensure those issues are addressed within GTL as well.

“That took a real balance because it was important for our people at GTL to understand that GTL is an open company, that we do not tolerate discrimination, we treat everyone fairly, we have and contribute to a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging,” she said.

As Alderson’s leadership took form, many HR efforts that had been pushed back for some time began to grow legs, she said. Alderson said she has worked to maintain an appropriate balance of supporting both law enforcement and the incarcerated. When face-to-face visits within jails and prisons were shut down during the pandemic, GTL’s video visitation via ruggedized tablets became more important.

Providing a means for incarcerated individuals to connect with loved ones on the outside — with appropriate safety and security measures in place — as well as to have access to skills development and even entertainment creates a better environment for law enforcement officers, which helps keep everyone safer, Alderson said.

Free phone calls will continue even after the pandemic is over, Alderson said. It’s a step toward shifting the sometimes negative public perception the industry has earned over charging for calls in situations that may negatively impact individuals in situations in which affording communication services is difficult.

“Part of our mission,” Alderson said, “is that we provide a way for the incarcerated to talk to their family and friends at no cost so they can have that meaningful engagement.”

The free component can include once-a-week, 5-minute calls, free video calls or free messages. GTL offers ruggedized tablets incarcerated individuals can use to take free educational classes. There are also free ebooks and religious services and movies and games that can be purchased.

“My goal and long-term strategy is to continue finding ways to offer out more and more free content,” Alderson said. “The benefits of these comm-tech platforms have been proven, and we are committed to providing the resources for better lives outside of prison and lowering recidivism rates.”

Looking Ahead

In the coming year, Alderson will be leading efforts to develop more technology.

“As a technology firm, there are many ways we can get more involved in the broader re-entry process, particularly when it comes to helping the incarcerated once they’re released,” Alderson said. “We want to get more into job training, job placement, offering them tools once they’re released to help them manage their schedules and what they’re doing.”

That will involve taking the technology to other industries. And that may mean there is space for GTL to bring in its wireless technology so old prisons can get better signals and access the technologies available.

The hope is to grow in the current client base, which includes an international footprint and partnering with more facilities to ultimately provide the resources for a long-term positive community impact.

“I am just so excited to be a part of GTL,” Alderson said. “I think we can drive so much positive change and use our technology to help the incarcerated and help family and friends and create that safe environment for the officers.”

In her spare time, Alderson enjoys spending time with family, hiking, running and serving others. She 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. She is also involved in the Association of Women Executives in Corrections.

Alderson has two grown sons, one who is a vice president of business development and another who works in hospitality. She also has two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law.

“I’m very blessed,” she said. “Very, very blessed.”

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