Managing programs and developing solutions to safeguard sensitive data everywhere
Bob Olsen is the CEO and founder of North Star Group and COMPASS Cyber Security. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., North Star Group is a project management and risk management firm offering technical services to clients in across government, nonprofit, and commercial sectors. COMPASS, short for Comprehensive Applied Security Solutions, focuses on cybersecurity issues such as training, testing, policy development, threat intelligence, remote security monitoring, and vulnerability scanning. A U.S. Army veteran, Bob brings years of leadership experience that have helped North Star earn rankings in the Inc. 500/5000 along with recognition as a SmartCEO Smart100 Best Run company in the Mid-Atlantic region (2012). Additionally, the magazine named Bob a Smart100 CEO for 2011. He is also Executive in Residence and Adjunct Professor of Cybersecurity at The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, as well as a board member of school’s Dean’s Advisory Council.
Why did you decide to spin COMPASS off into a separate company?
BOB OLSEN: The decision process we went through when we first decided to stand up and really spin out COMPASS was to continue to stick with our original North Star values: providing trusted, objective advice to our clients. Really, we’re doing the same thing, at its essence, with COMPASS that we’ve been doing and continue to be doing with North Star. North Star is really the flagship component of our company. We do a tremendous amount of work with federal government clients, but what we thought made a lot of sense was taking that project management discipline and that methodology that has contributed to this success of North Star Group, and bring that to the commercial market. And recognizing what was going on in the commercial space with all of the very prominent data breaches like Target and Sony, and some of the other breaches that have made front page news, it seemed like a really good opportunity for us as a business and also again, to stick to our real mission of providing cost-effective, highly valued advice to our clients. It doesn’t matter if it’s a federal government client or commercial client—really, the advice that we’re giving, if it’s truly objective, should be virtually the same, notwithstanding the rules and regulations that come with the federal government world versus the commercial world. At its essence, the cybersecurity project management discipline is true on both sides—North Star Group as well as COMPASS—but it’s really that specialized cybersecurity expertise, and we just felt that it made a lot of sense to spin that out so it was a standalone organization. It was very clear to our commercial clients what services we were providing, but then we fully expected and actually realized some of this today, where we’ve got COMPASS clients who have a need and a desire for us to provide some of our North Star Group service offerings to them. It’s sort of a one-stop shop, if you will. And then, we have the inverse: we’re doing cyber security work for some federal government clients, where our first real interaction with them—and we’re doing the work today as well—was more on that classic program management component. So, we’re doing cyber security work and consulting work, as well as related project management, for federal government clients, which again is really a nice compliment, and it allows us to compete for business really on both sides that we probably would have to pass up on if we didn’t have one entity or the other.
What have you learned from balancing your roles at both companies?
As we’ve entered 2016, as we do every year, the leadership team sits and revisits and looks at “What have we accomplished in the previous year?” Not just from a client perspective, but also from an internal team members’ perspective—from attracting talent, retaining top talent—as well as a community perspective. And one of the things that I found myself sort of guilty of, as we were going through some of those conversations, was that we’ve got a tremendous leadership team—highly capable, highly skilled, super passionate—and my personality, sometimes in meetings, wouldn’t necessarily give them an opportunity to share the full knowledge, depth and breadth of knowledge, and experience that they have. So kind of a reset for me was sort of realizing that and then adjusting my behavior so that they have a louder voice—not that they didn’t have a voice, they absolutely did and I truly value their being part of the team—but really knowing when to kind of stop talking, and listen, and then incorporate their ideas and their suggestions and their recommendations into 2016 and beyond. That’s been really important to me, and really I think key to our kind of continued growth as an organization. That’s true on the North Star side as well as on the COMPASS side.
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