New at the top: An aspiring engineer learns how to build companies

During my basic training in the Air Force, I thought I was going to become a computer scientist. But when I took an aptitude test, my superiors said that was the wrong career field. They told me I was going to be an intelligence specialist because I scored high in analytical ability and linguistics aptitude.

It’s true that I am very analytical. As a child I always imagined I would be an engineer because I loved to build things. My dad built houses, and my uncles were in construction.

I argued my case for an hour and had the option of walking away. But the orders were put in my hand and, before I knew it, I was off to an Army base to learn a language.

The move ended up doing amazing things for me.

I spent the next eight years in that career field, moving to eight locations, including three years in Athens. I remember that my team became very key to an important operation. As a 22-year-old, you don’t find yourself in places very often where for a few minutes you feel that you’re the most important person.

I became a master instructor and began to notice that I produced effective students. I figured out how to get the best out of people by truly listening.

You can never learn anything if you’re always talking.

I left the Air Force in 1987 and joined a small company called Betac, working with people across the Department of Defense.

Betac was building a system to help train linguists for the Air Force, and the company needed my linguistic and training abilities. That’s where I got my experience in the government contracting environment.

Eventually they charged me with opening an office in Omaha.

I put my little 5-by-12 laptop in the back of my pickup truck, drove it from Washington, D.C., to Omaha and worked in a small office trying to get business for the company. I had to make sure that I worked harder than anybody else and resolved that I would over-prepare myself for every single situation.

In about six years time we grew the office from zero to 40 people.

What attracted me to STG was its basic business philosophy, which was much different from some public companies where the shareholder was at the pinnacle of every chart you ever saw.

At STG, the employees are most important because without their talents and skills, we’re not going to have any customers.

I helped grow the company from $170 million to $265 million.

It was a great team accomplishment. I put the right pieces together to allow people to be successful. It goes back to my love for building things. Maybe that’s all I’ll get out of that engineering dream — building great companies.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Paul Fernandes

Position: President of STG, a technology solutions provider to the government, based in Reston.

Career highlights: Chief operating officer, STG; senior vice president of the defense sector, STG; senior vice president of civilian agencies, ACS Government Services; vice president of applied systems and technologies, Betac; president and chief operating officer, Virtual Broadcasting; director of multimedia training and digital technologies, Betac; master instructor, Air Force.

Age: 52

Education: BA, Management, Bellevue University, AA, Interpreting and Translating, Community College of the Air Force; Certificate, Instructional System Design, Air Force; undergraduate courses in engineering at the University of Massachusetts.

Personal: Lives in Fairfax with wife Lynne. They have three children, Christopher, 30; Daniel, 20; and Rachel, 18.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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