New at the top: A bit of serendipity helped Tor Opshal rise in business


Tor Opsahl is the new chief operating officer for Creative Computing Solutions. (Anfon Ha/Creative Computing Solutions)
March 21

I grew up in Norway and spent eight years in England going to school. After I got my doctorate, I became a software developer for NASA in the supercomputing area. I eventually moved into business development and began working with smaller companies to help them grow.

But when I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

I was interested in science and technology, which helped me focus on engineering in college.

I studied nuclear engineering at a time when the world was looking for new energy sources. It was a field on the cutting edge of computers, and you could work with the latest technology.

My thesis was on the application of certain types of computing technology to the nuclear engineering field.

Then something very serendipitous happened.

A contractor was looking for the exact computing program experience I had. I sent a résuméand got hired as a programmer in massively parallel computing. It’s a concept where instead of using one processing unit in a computer you use thousands of them working in parallel to speed up the calculations. There were only a few places in the world doing that, and NASA was one of them.

I enjoyed the three years I was at NASA. You could think and dream big and be entrepreneurial. It was a great environment.

I realized I was good at creating proposals, articulating ideas and coming up with solutions.

After sitting behind a desk writing software for three years, I needed a change.

I worked for a few other companies doing more technical work. But I enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with the customers and understand their specific problems and how we as a company could help them. That grew my interest in helping small businesses prosper.

I joined a small company as vice president of business development. It was the first time I was totally dedicated to the business side.

That success led to working for two other companies that I helped grow.

I’m most proud that they’ve all prospered and ultimately they were sold. All of them more than doubled in size.

The last company, QSS Group, started out with nine people and grew close to $300 million in revenue.

That’s what drew me here to Creative Computing Solutions — the challenge to help it grow. It was a company that had a business base but wanted to do more work with more government agencies.

I am excited to help them do that.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Tor Opsahl

Position: Chief operating officer and executive vice president of Creative Computing Solutions, a Rockville, Md., company that provides systems engineering, cybersecurity and program management services to the federal government.

Career highlights: Executive vice president, Perot Government Systems; senior vice president, QSS Group.

Age: 56

Education: BS, engineering, University of London; PhD, nuclear engineering, University of London.

Personal: Lives in Silver Spring. He is married with three children, Anja, 19, Erik, 21, and Martin, 24.

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