The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is DOD Industry Executive of the Year (Public Company) finalist Paul Decker, who’s president of Defense and Intelligence at Parsons Corp. Here, he talks key achievements, learning from failures, career advice and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/2021?
This year has been monumental for our company’s accelerated growth. In July, we consolidated our defense and intelligence businesses, breaking down internal stovepipes, unlocking new collaborations, and increasing our focus on the totality and connectedness of our customer’s mission-focus areas. The result has been a more integrated, strategic function that is already delivering results.
We won a record number of large, prime contracts this year, including the U.S. Air Forces – Europe’s new air base air defense ($953 million) effort; the Missile Defense Agency’s TEAMS-Next layered defense focus ($2.24 billion); and the intelligence community’s requirement for professional services that advance global cyber and intelligence technologies for C5ISR, exercise, operations and information services ($618 million).
We also completed the integration of Braxton Sciences & Technologies, accelerating our rapid growth in the space industry, and acquired BlackHorse Solutions, Inc., and Echo Ridge, which provide new, differentiated technology in the all-domain, information dominance and electronic warfare focus areas.
What has made you successful in your current role?
As a Marine, I work to embody the servant leadership mindset, which focuses on the leader serving others. I never forget who I’m working for and prioritize the needs of our customers, employees and stakeholders above those of my own.
A large part of that approach includes creating fun, loose environments that allow for our employees to be creative and collaborative, while also remaining laser focused on the end-mission we’re supporting, or the problem we are solving.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
After leaving active duty, I transitioned into the contracting world. In 2008, I welcomed an opportunity to move from an operations/delivery role to a growth role, which became a turning point in my career because it helped me better understand and appreciate the importance of strong partnership, collaboration and active communication and engagement between them as it impacts the profit and loss market and the business development and functional areas that help drive organic growth.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
Rapid change. Parsons has been on a strong acceleration trajectory as we’ve transitioned from a private construction company to now one of the technology leaders in global security and critical infrastructure. We went public in 2019 and have acquired 16 companies through six acquisitions over the past five years.
The sheer volume of change in most organizations would leave them ineffective and have stymied business growth for years to come, but we’ve been able to quickly organize and integrate the best of breed cultures, technologies, and processes from these acquisitions to rapidly pivot our business to high-growth markets in space, cyber, electronic warfare and integrated solutions.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
From a mission area standpoint, we are completely focused on multidomain operations and information dominance. The future of combat operations is in near-peer operations and nontraditional warfare. Things like cyberattacks, both in the defense industry and now in our nation’s critical infrastructure: water systems, energy grids and transportation networks. We’re also thinking about space operations: How do we keep our satellites safe in orbit?
With multidomain operations, you’re now conducting information warfare in sea, ground, air, space and cyber domains. These various capabilities are coming together not only to provide individual areas of growth, but to promote convergence of multidomain operations that allow us to deliver an information advantage across all the data sets and information sources.
This focus area is also where Parsons shines. We develop diverse solutions on behalf of the government and also provide personnel in a more traditional staffing augmentation to existing missions, helping expand their information warfare advantage.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
Personal and professional development is critical to me, which is why I’m so proud of the technical career tracks and mentoring programs that we’re building at Parsons. We are investing in our people for the long-term, because we care about their growth and success.
My mindset is if they are successful, then we as a company are successful. But we must walk the talk. If you do not take care of your people, they will leave.
It’s incumbent on all leaders to nurture, mentor, and push the next generation of leaders to do more and be better than you have been — steel sharpens steel.
When riding the elevator to success, you can’t forget to send it back down.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
In 2006, I was supporting a large joint program, which changed hands due to a recompete loss. That loss taught me a lot about the importance of staying close to the customer, the mission and most importantly, the people you serve.
We were dedicated to retaining our staff and able to place more than 70% of the impacted employees on other internal programs and opportunities. While the not the ideal situation, I was incredibly proud of how we took care of our people and furthered their careers. It’s lesson I carry with me every day.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
Challenge the norm. Challenging the status quo can create a growth environment where organizations rapidly change and evolve. Change is difficult, but if an organization isn’t constantly evolving to stay relevant and competitive, it is dying.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
I struggle at times with personalizing and questioning myself when people leave the organization. I believe leadership should focus on serving and putting your people above everything else. This is a development area I continue to focus on.
It’s important to understand that sometimes people need to leave an organization before fully appreciating and understanding how much they were valued and cared for. Keeping this in mind, we’ve had tremendous success with our boomerang programs that bring employees who left back to Parsons.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t be afraid of failure. Take on new roles and responsibilities that may seem like an enormous professional stretch. You will be surprised and often underestimate what you are capable of doing and achieving. Believe in yourself as much as others believe and see in you.