Early on, I knew I liked the ability to take chaos and turn it into order. Information systems are complex. Markets and systems are complex. It’s that complexity that is intriguing and that’s probably the theme of my career.
My first job out of college was with GE Aerospace. I was a young engineer and a member of a small team that was operating a mission-critical system. It was an error-free operational environment. I was able to experience a system go from research to operations to retirement.
When a new technology was being deployed, I was selected as one of the leads, even as a fairly recent graduate.
I think they selected me because they saw I was a good team player who would step aside and let someone else have an opportunity to step into a stretch role so that they could be successful.
As a leader in the deployment, I had to understand how the complex system operated, and know its strengths and weaknesses.
In my first major leadership role, I learned that communication is key. No one individual can formulate the best deployment plan. Some will have perspectives, but it’s only by communicating with the team and understanding the various nuances that together you can figure out the optimal plan. I had to make sure I was drawing on expertise of others.
After a few years, I began working on long-range acquisition planning for new products.
I was very proud of everything I had accomplished at GE Aerospace and Lockheed Martin, but I thought there was a business component missing from the equation.
After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to enter business school full time and found that I loved being able to take market chaos and organize that into a meaningful financial model.
I became a consultant, and eventually one of my roles was to be part of a small team to launch a new business.
I had the opportunity to serve in every role in the organization — doing the research, formulating a business plan, launching the business and growing it.
We grew the business from research to reality, and it now has 250 employees.
My greatest leadership contribution was to provide consistency of vision through the ups and downs in the market.
Fairly early on we had a significant proposal we were working on that involved a sizable investment.
At the end of the day, we lost it. It was unfortunate. A lot of the team was very dejected.
But being able to communicate that we needed to continue the goal of effectively serving our clients and building our business in the process helped us through. That objective never changed, and in the end the loss helped us compete better.
What intrigued me about my newest opportunity, at CSSI, is that the company was looking for a chief financial officer who was not just about the numbers.
The challenge now is taking the complexity of the business model as it exists today and expanding it to serve a broader market.
—Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief financial officer of CSSI, an engineering, information technology, safety management and applied research company based in the District.
Career highlights: Chief financial officer and chief operating officer, Capgemini Government Solutions; president, Reston Children’s Center.
Education: BS, biomedical engineering, Duke University; MS systems engineering, Virginia Tech; MBA Fuqua School of Business.
Personal: Lives in Northern Virginia with wife Sarah and three children.