As a medical evacuation pilot in the Army, I was constantly scanning the environment.
When you’re flying in close quarters 50 feet above the ground at 100 miles an hour, you’re constantly looking for things that can either help you or hurt you. That power of scanning was one of the things I’ve tried to apply to my career.
For example, you’re doing business strategy, and all of a sudden, you see this thing called the Internet. You have to determine: What does that mean for business?
So I tend to be adaptable.
Even in the Army during the Cold War, we had to be more agile and synchronized in the unstructured environment of combat against such a massive threat.
We had to think about the way we were deployed differently. It wasn’t the commander saying, “Go attack that hill.” It was, “Hey guys, we have to attack that hill, but we have a couple options.”
You listen to it all, synthesize it. You make a decision and execute flawlessly. Then you have to change as the world changes because once you go up the hill and find out it’s a bit harder than you thought, you don’t just keep marching. You continually evaluate. That’s where the scanning comes in.
I spent a total of 29 years in the Army.
The Army sent me to Syracuse University to get my MBA. It changed the whole way I looked at the world as a result. In the Army, I learned how to lead. At Syracuse, I learned how to manage.
Leadership is about how you help people achieve things they would have otherwise not achieved, creating a path to that vision and relentlessly helping them make it happen. Management is about the tools that help them get there. I found, in the Army, that I started becoming a leader when people started asking for my opinion.
I also learned that leadership is about trusting the people you work with and having open communication. As a helicopter pilot, you never flew alone. You had a co-pilot, crew chief and a medic. That team of four is responsible for everyone’s life. If someone’s in the back of the aircraft and they see a wire but don’t say anything and we hit the wire, we’re all dead.
I found in business that if you’re talking to junior employees and they’re quiet, they probably sense something wrong. You have to constantly scan for the verbal and visual cues that there’s a problem and ask what people are thinking.
Eventually, the Army took me down to its largest training center to lead a $125 million operation with 1,200 people, figuring out how to improve the way we delivered training to the Army medical department. It was a blast.
I eventually realized that I wanted to work in the commercial world because I had been on the government side for so long.
I found myself at Electronic Data Systems, where I did marketing, IT strategy and global alliances — things I had never done before. We brought in some of the smartest people I’ve worked with, who really taught me about how businesses use technology. For the first time, outside of the consulting world, I really understood how enterprise uses technology to drive its business. That was a big awakening. You couldn’t divorce technology from strategy anymore.
That’s what brought me here to Three Pillar Global. Doing my scan, I saw that these guys get where technology is going in terms of this notion of rapid product cycles around software. The technology is fading into the background, and the experience is what matters to a consumer. This company is all over that. This is the right place and the right time for me.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief operating officer, Three Pillar Global, a software product development company headquartered in Fairfax.
Career highlights: Partner, Ernst & Young; founder, QGC Group; vice president, EDS; vice president, A.T. Kearney (an EDS company); Booz Allen Hamilton; U.S. Army.
Education: BS, biological sciences, Florida State University; MBA, organization and strategy, Syracuse University.
Personal: Lives in Fairfax with wife Valerie Quaglio and two grown children.