When Carey Smith took over as President and CEO of Parsons Corporation in 2021, she had already spent four years with the company as president of their federal solutions segment, as Chief Operating Officer (COO), and as President and COO, driving Parsons’ expansion into new markets. “At the time, we had a very minor footprint in cybersecurity and no presence in space,” Smith told CEO Magazine North America in an exclusive interview. “We put a focus on those two markets and through our M&A strategy, as well as internal investments, we’ve successfully moved up the value chain from a services company to a solutions integrator who is winning multi-hundred-million-dollar contracts.”
Following her appointment last July, however, Smith was certain that what would really drive Parsons forward was the quality of its talent and technology. “There was an opportunity to take the company to another level in enduring, high-growth and profitable markets,” she said of the potential she saw. “But I felt that at the base of that was incredible technology and fantastic people.”
Parsons Corporation is a global technology-focused defense, intelligence, security, and infrastructure firm headquartered in Centreville, Virginia. The company was founded in 1944 by Ralph M. Parsons and today boasts approximately 15,500 employees across 29 countries. In 2020, the company enjoyed revenue of $3.9 billion.
MOVING UP THE VALUE CHAIN
Parsons Corporation supports the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. intelligence community, industrial and state/local/provincial, among other clients, and reports publicly in two segments: federal solutions, and critical infrastructure; including such crucial areas as cybersecurity, missile defense, space, transportation, water and wastewater, environmental remediation, and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR).
Yet under Smith’s leadership, Parsons has undergone an important transition from a services company to an integrated solutions provider, part of a crucial strategy to carry the organization higher up the value chain and solidify Parsons as a vital part of the future of national security and critical infrastructure missions, ever evolving fields that present both fresh challenges and new opportunities.
“If you look at the recent cyberattacks on Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds, it’s obvious that increasingly more money is going to be spent on cybersecurity. We are one of the very few companies that has both the domain knowledge of how critical infrastructure works and the technology to protect it under the same roof,” Smith explained by way of example. “Moving into space, we’re uniquely positioned in situational awareness, resiliency, launch integration, and enterprise ground services. On the missile defense side, we’re the Number 1 SETA (Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance) contractor for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).”
In part because of the many challenges facing the national defense and intelligence communities, Parsons Corporation recently secured the largest contract in the company’s history with the MDA for Technical, Engineering, Advisory, and Management Support-Next Systems Engineering (TEAMS) in a deal worth $2.24 billion over seven years.
“With increasingly sophisticated global threats, it is critical for Parsons to help advance MDA’s critical mission of developing and deploying layered missile defense systems that protect our national security,” Smith said.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Opportunities seemingly lie across the board for Parsons at this time. With the Biden administration’s historic infrastructure bill on the horizon, Smith sees a broad and exciting range of opportunities for the company to contribute to the future of the United States as a whole. “The last major federal infrastructure bill, The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA), was back in 2005 for $244 billion,” she explained. “We are now looking at a Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework bill worth $1.2 trillion and more importantly, $550 billion of new money.
“Even without the bill, since 2013, 33 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed a gas tax and California alone passed Senate Bill 1 in 2017, which will see investment worth $54 billion over the next 10 years to fix roads, highways and bridges and improve transit and safety,” Smith said. “Canada is making similar investments, particularly in the provinces, and in the Middle East we’re starting to see a resurgence in infrastructure spending as a result of oil prices rebounding. The current and potential efforts to create a future that is more connected and secure across the critical infrastructure market are boundless. I’m incredibly positive about where we’re positioned for growth.”
A WINNING PHILOSOPHY
None of the above would be possible without Parsons having a clear view of the importance of people and leadership in such a thriving organization, and Smith was adamant on her principles regarding how to optimize both talent and efficiencies. “My philosophy on leadership comes down to two things: one is a ‘people first’ culture. How you develop, engage, and retain employees and do that through the agile, innovative, disruptive culture that we have here at Parsons,” she explained. “The second is what I call a ‘get-to-yes’ philosophy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements and keeping our organization focused on delivering our customer’s mission. That’s how we all work together at Parsons, and I think we have a unique culture in that regard.”
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve centralized all of our back-office functions,” Smith elaborated. “We used to have a separate group for, say, critical infrastructure. We’ve consolidated all of those working groups for greater efficiency and to streamline our processes. With regards to collaboration, we have a lot of mechanisms in place. For example, we have a Technical Fellows group that runs across the whole company and brings together really talented individuals from both of our segments to collaborate on our customers’ most challenging missions.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are playing an increasing role in building an even stronger team at Parsons. Smith herself has paved the way for women in several areas within the industry, including as an electrical engineering graduate, working in a steel mill and flying on Special Operations aircraft as an engineer. Today, Parsons has ambassadors across its locations along with a thriving DEI Council that leads engagement ranging from recruiting events at HBCUs and sponsorship of The 11th Annual Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) Conference to a military and veteran organization and Employee Business Resource Groups.
As an organization that is so dependent on its technical capabilities and the ever-changing tech landscape, Parsons also continually holds technical seminars to ensure its workforce are at the very cutting edge of where technology and their business are heading. “Given our rapid growth, we’re focusing on continual employee-training and learning so our teams are always aware of what’s happening across the enterprise,” Smith explained. “The biggest thing for us is differentiation and agility.
“Differentiation because the organizations that we partner with operate in elite mission spaces and we’re so closely tied to the success and results of our customers’ mission. We’ve got the breadth and depth of a large company, but we have the agility, innovation and entrepreneurship of a small business.”
PARTNERING WITH THE BEST
Parsons Corporation self-procures most of its products and services, but technology is one key area where occasionally specific capabilities are needed from outside. Here as well, the company utilizes innovative strategies to get the best out of the smaller firms it works with and enable minority-owned businesses to reach their full potential.
“When we do partner, it’s strategically, to add technical capabilities that even a large company like ours doesn’t have,” Smith emphasized. “We like to work with small businesses to help them get elevated in their area of expertise. We like to work with minority-owned firms. We have a big thrust right now on diversity in our supplier base and have made real headway there.”
“The big thing for Parsons is that we’re positioned in two enduring, growing and profitable segments at a time that there’s big demand for both of those,” Smith concluded. “It’s about how we can help our customers create the future.”