Probably the best career decision I made was to figure out that computers were around to stay and I ought to go learn something about them. That set me on a 30-year path in the federal space.

Prior to that I wasn’t sure what I’d become professionally.

As a child, I was set to be a newspaper editor. I was the sports reporter for our local paper in North Carolina when I was in high school. I really had the bug for journalism. But somewhere along the way in college, I got interested in psychology and headed down that road.

At that time, the country was in a very good economy. There were dozens of companies on campus recruiting, and I wound up with quite a number of job offers.

IBM offered a really robust training program that included formal classroom experience and on-the-job training. That had great appeal to me. I was wise enough to assume that computers would touch every kind of business and I should take the time to understand the technology.

I started with IBM in their computer business and spent a number of years in their sales and marketing activity.

I discovered that my failed attempt to become a journalist sharpened my communication skills, which I’ve found to be an asset in almost every aspect of business.

The last nine years there I was in IBM’s federal systems unit.

I eventually moved on to Computer Sciences Corp., where I led their federal sales and marketing activity as president of that division. After a while, I started to develop a desire to run a company.

I moved into a small business called Tri-Cor Industries as chief operating officer, which was a key step in moving from sales and marketing to operations and general management.

Over time, I began to get involved with companies that were struggling, where I would lead the effort to right the ship.

When I led Hadron, later known as Analex, the company was near bankruptcy. It had been delisted from the American Stock Exchange and was losing money.

I came in and reset the palette of the company. Over a six-year period, it went from being one or two payroll cycles from going out of business to a point where we were able to revive it, grow it, relist its stock and increase the value to the shareholders by a factor of 20. With the help of some very smart advisers, we came up with a very creative private placement plan to finance the first acquisition.

One of the things I’ve learned is that in a turnaround situation, it’s not always obvious what needs to be done, but you have to deliver creativity to your business plan.

When I joined GTSI at the end of 2010 as chief executive, the company had been struggling. We got the business stabilized, started growing and sold it in June 2012 to Unicom Systems.

That’s how I got here.

USIS is a very important mission. They are the largest provider of background investigations for people seeking security clearances.

I bring a very senior perspective with more than 30 years of experience running companies in the federal business. In this position, we will be creative and aggressive in making sure we reach out to maximize engagement, commitment and morale of this workforce.

Interview with Vanessa Small

Sterling Phillips

Position: Chief executive and president of US Investigations Services, a Falls Church company that provides research and investigative services

Career highlights: President and chief executive, GTSI; venture partner, FirstMark Capital; chairman, president and chief executive, Analex; senior vice president, Federal Data; executive vice president and chief operating officer, Tri-Cor Industries; president of business development, CSC; sales, marketing and general management positions, IBM.

Age: 66

Education: BA, psychology, University of North Carolina.

Personal: Lives in McLean with wife. They have five grown children.