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C-Suite Awards: Alison Rosen


C-Suite Awards: Alison Rosen

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Whether it’s scaling a steep mountain in some far-off land, rallying support around a charity sporting event or helping her Reston health IT company make the leap from small to emerging mid-sized business, Alison Rosen likes a challenge.

Armed with a background in social work, she made the transition into IT three decades ago at the suggestion of a friend at Science Applications International Corp. She hadn’t been looking for change, but SAIC had just won a big contract with the Department of Defense to help digitize health records.

The New York native started out as a computer operator trainee at SAIC and worked her way up to COO and, in 2010, chief performance officer at SeKON Enterprise Inc.

For the past decade, working directly under President and CEO Angela Wilson, she has helped position SeKON to win major federal contracts, grow annual profits from $500,000 to more than $2 million, boost the company’s Glassdoor employee satisfaction rating; and improve its performance under the federal government’s Contractor Performance Assessment Report for its work at the CDC.

She has also helped SeKON’s efforts to increase its diversity, implement sustainability practices and encourage employee service in charity events. That included organizing a racquetball tournament fundraiser in Tennessee in support of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation of America.

Why change from chief operating officer to chief performance officer? I thought, “How can we just put a little different edge on it?” The way I describe it when I’m talking to people is: A chief operating officer must keep the lights on. I see a chief performance officer as turning them up. So coming to SeKON, there were a lot of processes and procedures and bars that we needed to raise.

What was your role in SeKON’s contract awards in the past year? I trusted, relied and promoted my leadership team, because one COO can’t be all places at all times. So that’s something I spent a lot of time and energy in: choosing the right people for the right jobs. I often say that, usually, when someone isn’t performing the way you need them to, you may revisit where you place them.

What is your sport of choice? I am an avid hiker, so every year, myself and two of my childhood friends go on trips. We’ve been to Machu Picchu. We’ve done the Pyrenees. We’ve done Spain. This coming year, we’re going to do the Dolomite mountains in Italy. We just spend, the three of us, about a week, sometimes a little longer, hiking these phenomenal places.

Most memorable trip: I have to say Machu Picchu. I laugh, because in some places, I was practically on all fours to get there. It was not an easy climb, but when you hit the Sun Gate and you see this panoramic view, it is breathtaking. It’s hard to describe.

Your best advice: That perseverance is very important in our business. You need to be mentally tough, and you need to do the right thing.

Why split your time between Knoxville and Ashburn? I spend about three weeks a month in Ashburn and about a week working remotely from my beautiful lake view. I had been transferred to Tennessee with SAIC many years ago. I told them, “I’ll give them two years, and then I’m heading back to San Diego.” Well, two years is now 17 years, and I’ll never give up my home.