(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series focused on Information International Associates in Oak Ridge and its founder, Bonnie Carroll.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.
In the first article in this series, Bonnie Carroll, Founder, Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Information International Associates (IIa), said it was difficult for her to believe that 25 years had elapsed since she founded the company.
Our interview with her suggested several of the reasons why the time has passed as fast for her and her colleagues at the Oak Ridge company as it has. Along the way, she has built a multi-location company focused on developing “innovative applications of technologies (that) unlock the value of information for an organization and deliver solutions that make a difference.”
“My love is effectively managing information,” Carroll said. “You have to learn things.” Clearly, these two traits – information and the love for learning, coupled with her active engagement in so many different activities, have made the years pass so fast. Her IIa biographical sketch (http://www.iiaweb.com/about/leadership/bonnieccarroll) underscores just how active she has been.
Early on, Carroll says she “made a commitment to grow,” moving from building to building as the growth continued.
She said one of her first learning experiences was something every entrepreneur experiences – the difference between profitability and cash flow. “Now that we’ve done an acquisition, I understand,” she laughingly said. “I got an ‘MBA’ in finance in 3 months!”
IIa under Carroll’s leadership has maintained several constants.
“I’ve always been connected to science,” she explains, emphasizing the point by noting her early and continuing involvement with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world.
Carroll also helped start an inter-agency group of federal information managers called CENDI that represented 97 percent of the federal research budget, and she has staffed it for over two decades.
IIa has a history of managing libraries, not surprising given the company’s name and focus. That history has led to many new service specialties and has helped the company stay on the cutting edge.
“People don’t realize how technological and forward thinking in the world of information that libraries always have been,” she says. “If you wanted to be in the information business, you had to be focused on both content and technology.”
Carroll said IIa early on “understood the coming of the Internet and the Worldwide Web.” Today, 100 percent of the company’s work is technology-based, from pure play IT to information analytics.
IIa also “got involved with the national intelligence community doing open source research and grew it into an intelligence business line in the 1990s,” Carroll said. “That work has taken us into highly classified analysis.”
The company and its passionate Founder are not resting on their laurels. Carroll says IIa just won a U.S. Department of Defense Information Analysis Center in a partnership with Northrop Grumman, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Scitek, and TASC.
After a protest by competitors, which was denied, the center started up on October 1. That will bring an information and analysis focus on homeland defense to an Oak Ridge Center.
Carroll also created an advisory board of “very senior people” about three years ago. “They said you are either a lifestyle company or you grow value,” she recalls. IIa has changed its strategy to grow value even as Carroll says, “I was not driven to make money but rather to do interesting work.”
As she reflected on the last 25 years, it was clear that Carroll’s greatest satisfaction comes from the colleagues she has recruited to IIa. Her first big hire was Pat Powell. Other local names she proudly cited were Kelly Callison, Chief Operating Officer, and Heather Castleberry, June Crowe, Franciel Linares, Kathryn Simon, and Martha Wallus who have been with IIa for more than 13 years.
As far as her advice for others, Carroll cited her favorite paradoxical quotes. “When there’s an opportunity, just do it. Sometimes, when it (the opportunity) seems great, don’t do it as much as you want to do it.” What she did not say, but surely was thinking was process all of the information available first!
Carroll also invoked another piece of advice that she offers to individuals who ask her how to advance. “You join professional organizations of people with common interests and become an active member. It allows you to jump hierarchies.”
She has made many friends with top level executives in science, government, and information which were enabled by these professional networks.
One of those organizations is the East Tennessee Economic Council where she is Chair-elect.
Clearly, Carroll and IIa have been an impactful player in Oak Ridge and beyond for a quarter of a century. One can only imagine what the next 25 years offer.