In Washington, many networking conversations begin with the awkwardly personal question, “So, what do you do?” The most prolific answer to this happy hour question tends to be: “I provide solutions for a federal agency.” This was my stock answer during five years of providing physical security for a federal agency. The dryness of my tone translated the answer to, “I work to pay my bills and, like most professionals with green on their government badges, I desire to be with a company that genuinely values their employees as a team and as a family.” Nearly six months ago, I discovered that company when ATSG Corporation recruited me to be a part of their team.
The “I provide solutions for a federal agency” answer to the ubiquitous Washingtonian question did not change, but my tone has transformed. I noticed that I reply with deeper intonation and stronger confidence in the smile that accompanies obligatory eye contact. My brow lifts above the rim of my glasses; my posture rises as though a physician is measuring my height. In joining ATSG, I discovered a business that is a family and a team first and a business second. The ATSG leadership did not decide to empower employees because they read an article on LinkedIn about maximizing profits through collaborative models or consulting a third party on mandating team building exercises. Instead, ATSG’s leadership manage the Service Disabled Veteran- Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) with the values that President and CEO Pat McCollum developed in the 3rd Special Forces Group as a communications specialist and as a Combat Diver in Afghanistan and Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President, Stan Wood earned in twenty-five years of Emergency Management, National Disaster Preparedness, and as a service-disabled veteran of the United States Air Force. Trust, respect, honesty, integrity, accountability, and professionalism are core values that ATSG’s leadership brings to federal clients. These values, and a genuine, intrinsic sense of teamwork and family, located in the fabric of the company’s service –oriented foundation, applies to ATSG’s employees as well as their federal clients.
I was entry-level in IT and mobility when ATSG recruited me. My understanding of “ports” was limited to ship harbors and dessert wines. ATSG’s head of mobility alleviated my trepidation in lack of regimented IT experience: “I’m not interested in what you know; I am interested in how you learn.” He expressed the same sentiment to two of my former classmates from a graduate program in international conflict resolution. My two former classmates were also colleagues in providing physical security for a federal agency when our voices fell in answering Washington’s “What do you do?” question. Their on-boarding at ATSG preceded mine and I witnessed their transformations from entry-level novice to subject matter experts.
I viewed from the sidelines as ATSG invested, developed, and nurtured the career-path of my two former classmates and colleagues and I watched their ascent to a new professional plateau: happiness at the workplace. Their Monday through Friday happiness was contagious in weekend gatherings. I wanted in. I wanted the Kool-Aid. I wanted to learn from best Subject Matter Experts. I wanted to work with a federal agency that reported back to the company how pleased they were in our service. I wanted check-in calls from a project manager that emulated conversations with my friends and family. I wanted to be part of a team and family that would grow. I wanted transform my career like my former classmates and colleagues had transformed theirs. I wanted to answer the ever-present Beltway “What do you do?” question in a voice that tells the inquisitor, “You should join me. You’d love it there.” I wanted to be so invested in a team and family oriented company that I would no longer need to start a sentence with “I wanted.” When Pat and Stan said, “Welcome to ATSG”, I got what I wanted.