Position: Chief executive, Force 3, an IT solutions provider in Crofton, Md.
Mike Greaney hadn’t much interest in technology when he graduated from the University of Maryland. But then a friend took a job at a technology distributor, and Greaney figured he’d give it a try,too. Thirty years later, he has spent his career working in technology, with stops at Marshall Industries, Memec, Unique Technologies, All American Semiconductor and Abraxsis Technologies. He came to Force 3 in 2009, first as a director, then vice president, president and now chief executive.
What was your major in college?
I majored in law enforcement. I thought at the time of maybe [becoming an] FBI agent. My dad had worked in the intelligence community so I thought about that. I also had a thought of maybe going to law school. When I graduated, really my mind was I’m going to be lawyer, I figured I could get my law degree and either practice law or that would certainly help get into the intel community. That’s really where my head was at, but it quickly changed once I got into the business world.
What attracted you to the technology industry?
A lot of it was the pace, the very fast pace. I like juggling a lot of things. That is really appealing to me. I like being very busy. It was also, even though the technology itself is very important, it really is dealing with people, looking for problems that exist, business issues that exist, and developing solutions. That was really appealing to me. It certainly didn’t hurt that technology is so important and so central to everything we do. It was pretty easy to see that this is going to be a good, healthy business to be in for a number of years.
You were at Marshall Industries for 16 years. How did it prepare you for the career you have now?
It was a great preparation because at Marshall I really learned basic business fundamentals. It was a very well-run company. It was founded by a guy named Gordon Marshall who I still just have a ton of respect for. We did things the right way. The way we were structured, even though that company had been around on the West Coast for a number of years, it was really like running a franchise. I had to really know exactly the ins and outs of the business. I needed to have a well-rounded approach to business fundamentals as well as people skills, leadership skills, developing a team and leading a team. I would say to this day that was such a solid basis for everything that I’ve done since.
Your next stop was a start-up called Memec. What did you learn there?
A couple of things. First of all, the need to develop a solid team. It was critically important that the business was started the right way. I really had to surround myself with good, talented people and then let them do their job. That was really important.
The other thing that I would point to was the whole idea of trying to be known for something. Try not to be everything to everybody. We were much more specialized of a company than certainly Marshall was previously. The other thing, as a start-up, you really see this: You really have to focus on that customer. Customers, they’re going to make or break you. You really have to consciously say, ‘How can I be of the utmost value to that customer?’ To make sure that I’m not here just for a transactional relationship. I’m here for a much deeper relationship.
What attracted you to Force 3?
What I liked is, first of all, I love the industry. I love the federal IT industry. The vast majority of their business then as it is now is federal. The other thing was it was a company in transition. As I saw it, it was a company that wanted to go from being what I’ll call a traditional box reseller, somebody that just is more on that fulfillment side. The company wanted to transition from more of a fulfillment traditional reseller to more of a solutions and services focused company. To do that, you really had to do things like adopt a methodology that focuses on the customer and providing value to the customer. You had to hire people with the skill sets that had the ability to really understand the customers’ business issues and problems and vet out different solutions. That’s a different skill set typically than somebody who’s just involved in transactional-type business.
What is your vision for Force 3?
My vision is that we will become known as the network security company that designs, deploys, supports and maintains technology for our customers. Those technologies could be communication and collaboration as well as next-generation networking. But first and foremost, we’re known as securely designing, deploying, maintaining, supporting technology securely.
As you look ahead, what are the challenges for the federal IT industry?
There are a few things. First of all, technology is changing so rapidly. One challenge that exists is making sure that the government has the right skill sets to effectively operate and deploy that technology. The way that the government will consume IT is changing as well. It may take a little longer in the government world because of security concerns, but clearly there’s a change afoot from more of a [capital expenditures] model to an [operational expenditures] model, meaning more and more customers will look to lease, pay-as-they-go, for IT support services as opposed to buying everything as a capital expenditure. Now, in the government, that will take a little while, and there’s a lot of security concerns wrapped around that, which again is another reason why I think we can really provide value by being a security-focused company. Then certainly the government is always going to be challenged with making sure they achieve their mission within budget. That is just a reality that we have to acknowledge, and we again can play a critically important role in helping that government customer achieve that mission.
People respect honestly and transparency. It really all starts there. There’s got to be a trust level that exists with employees. To me that’s really the most important aspect of leadership. There’s a lot of other aspects of it. I’ve learned how to hone people skills, hone ability to deal with different types of people, to treat people with respect. On the business side of it, planning, having a vision for the company. As a leader, it’s really important that the employees see a vision out there — that’s what we want to strive for — and they believe in that vision. You need to be able to clearly articulate that vision. If the trust and the honesty exists with the employees, the sky’s the limit. Obviously, you need to surround yourself with good people, and let them do their jobs. Set that vision; have trust and honesty, transparency. If you get that, boy, you can accomplish a lot.
— Interview with Kathy Orton
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