PART 1: Cathy Toth says she “learned early on how to run with the boys”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series spotlighting the entrepreneurial journey of Cathy Toth, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Acato Information Management LLC and the current Chair of the Board of Directors of the East Tennessee Economic Council and the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Acato Information Management LLC is one of a handful of very successful Oak Ridge-based female business executives who have thrived in the government subcontracting world.

In the case of Cathy Toth, she says very simply, “I learned early on how to run with the boys. I was the only girl in a generation that included two brothers and eight male cousins.” Each of those peer relatives is an engineer by training and so, too, is Toth who graduated from a different UT – the University of Texas at Arlington – in 1987. Just for good measure, her father and mother are both electrical engineers.

The career path for the current Chair of the Board of Directors of the East Tennessee Economic Council involves working mostly as an independent consultant for a number of well-known corporations for the next 20 plus years – names like General Dynamics, Martin Marietta Energy Systems, and Lockheed Martin Energy Systems.

“I never had a desire to start a company,” Toth told us in a recent interview. In fact, during those two decades after graduation, she says that “my career choices were all involved with family decisions. It was important for me to be a mommy.”

At times, Toth worked part-time, anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week, so she could focus on her top priority. When her husband’s career took him to Washington, DC, the family relocated to the Nation’s Capital, and she worked remotely as a quality assurance contractor for a California-based software start-up.

“It was a mind-blowing experience,” Toth says of the transition from government contracting to a firm that placed a much higher value on work-life balance. “I was in an appreciative, collaborative, nurturing environment for the first time.”

It was also a significant learning opportunity that laid the foundation for the eventual launch of Acato.

“I learned that I liked software better than hardware, and that you can’t add quality to software at the end of the process,” Toth says. “I also learned that you really need to sell the last thing you developed, not the next thing.”

When the family returned to the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region, she continued to work for the California-based company for a few years before branching out as an independent consultant focused on providing software quality assurance services. One of the federal agencies that sought her expertise was the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for its state-of-the-art program management information system known as G2, which has won multiple industry awards and is used to manage more than $2.6B in federal funds annually.

Most recently, NNSA received the 2015 Association for Enterprise Information’s (AFEI) “Excellence in Enterprise Information Award” for the system that is designed to optimize investments of taxpayer-funded infrastructure recapitalization, maintenance, and safety and support nuclear nonproliferation activities in the most cost-effective manner. The announcement of that recognition included the explanation that NNSA uses Agile IT development practices to deploy G2 enhancements every seven weeks.

NEXT: The journey that took Toth from being a sole independent contractor to the Founder of a company.

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