More than 30 years ago, Al Pisani entered the Defense Department headquarters building for the first time. He was awestruck.
“I just remember walking into the Pentagon, having never been in the military, and thinking: ‘Wow. I can’t believe I’m here — a kid from Pittsburgh,’” said Al, who is now president of Mission Essential.
After obtaining his master’s degree in public policy from the University of Pittsburgh, Al was hired through The George Washington University’s engineering school to work on a Navy contract, where he put his analysis skills to work helping with long-range planning. He had planned to work a short time there and return to his hometown.
Life led him elsewhere.
That trip to the Pentagon would be the first of many. Instead of going back to Pittsburgh, he went on to work his way into senior leadership over the course of a 24-year career at TASC, Inc. and another 3-plus years at Serco. For the past 2.5 years, he has served as president of Mission Essential, which provides analysis, intelligence and translation services for defense and intelligence clients.
His two oldest sons, Alex and Nick, have both launched their own government contracting careers and attribute their interest and work ethic to the influence of their father. Youngest son, Jeffrey, is studying political science at the University of South Carolina, where his brothers went before.
At the heart of the Pisanis’ story is a set of shared values and a similar work ethic. As the boys grew up, they were surrounded by Al’s colleagues in the industry, by conversations about history and politics, and by adults who drove home the importance of government missions and the roles one might play.
“I always try to tell the kids to become part of something bigger than themselves and that whatever they do, do it the best you can, keep your head down, and nine times out of 10, you will be recognized for your good work and hopefully be mentored by the right people to help you pull through the system,” Al said.
Oldest son Alex is a management consultant in energy, sustainability and infrastructure at Guidehouse, where he also gained experience supporting the 2020 Census communications campaign. Alex said his father “practically introduced” him to the business.
“I’m definitely on this career path due to his influence, even if we are now working in different sectors,” Alex said.
Consulting allows him to jump into new projects deeply and at a quick pace, he said. He also enjoys teaching others and helping them realize their own solutions.
“(I) can have several engagements ongoing, often requiring different skills or approaches, which keeps things fresh,” Alex said. “I enjoy these challenges and the chance to wear different hats in my day-to-day work.”
Alex continues to look to his father’s example. That’s been especially true as he’s settled into remote work.
“I really appreciate how consistent my dad is in his daily approach,” Alex said. “Whether it’s work, exercise, family time, etc., his consistency has been my biggest takeaway during this time, and there are aspects of this that I try to incorporate into my own life.”
Al said he is proud to see the emphasis his sons place on professionalism — from demonstrating respect for authority, to arriving early to meetings, to consistently turning in their best work. Both Al and his sons express a deep commitment to family, health and work.
“We’re different,” Alex said, “in that I definitely don’t eat as many greens as him.”
Together, they enjoyed following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ recent season and together visited Nick out in San Diego.
Nick is a senior consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he supports DOD clients as a program analyst. As Nick grew up watching his father’s work in the industry, the variety of roles and career opportunities as well as the knowledge, skills and relationships built into the work appealed to him. California appealed to him, too, and he enjoys surfing and hiking there.
“Working as a consultant seemed like a great way to hit the ground running and make an impact from day one,” Nick said.
Nick points to his father’s work ethic as one of the most important lessons he has learned from him.
“He approaches every day with the same high enthusiasm and motivation to accomplish the day,” Nick said. “He also stressed the importance of establishing meaningful relationships both at work and outside of work, which I’ve found extremely valuable in my work and personal life.”
Nick said he enjoys working with his team and being a part of solutions to complex problems. With a master’s degree in public administration, Nick wants to continue being a lifelong learner and hopes to one day go back to college and teach political science or history.
All three boys grew up playing sports, and Nick continues to enjoy many of the same hobbies as his father — from playing sports and throwing discs to the dogs to exercising and hanging out at the beach to cheering on the Steelers and Gamecocks. The two also share a love for American history and reading.
“We’re different,” Nick said, “in that he can run marathons and compete in Ironman, and I’m not close to his athletic level.”
When Al thinks back to his time as a young person working with senior officials in the Pentagon — a place he still enthusiastically describes as a “living museum” — he recalls how he began to understand how the wheels of progress turned.
Even in a room full of seasoned and decorated officers, it was possible for a 19-year-old to simply volunteer for a project and be given an opportunity to learn, grow and make a difference, he said. Sometimes, there was less magic to the process than there was good old-fashioned hard work and a willingness to jump in and learn.
“That’s part of what I tried to impart to my kids — to just grab the reins and go for it,” Al said. “If the ball is up in the air, grab the ball and run with it. I think they understand that.”
Being in this business is a privilege, Al said, as it allows you to be surrounded by smart, dedicated professionals and work together in careers that make a difference.
“You get up every morning, and you actually have an impact on other people’s lives,” he said.
Al and his wife, Renee, live in Centreville, Virginia, and have been married 30 years. After many years of staying home to raise her family, Renee now works at the high school from where her sons graduated. The family has two dogs. Macey is an Australian Shepherd, and Nellie is an English Shepherd.