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September 20, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Goss drove Pro2Serve growth on “economic denominator”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series about local business executive Barry Goss. We recently posted an article about Pro2Serve forming a new subsidiary and licensing technology from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The article can be found at the following link:

Pro2Serve Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Barry Goss remembers the impact that Jim Collins’ Good to Great management book had on him and his executive team.

Goss and four other company executives were at an off-site strategy meeting where they discussed Collins’ book and its emphasis on identifying and focusing on what drives the company’s economic engine.

“We had to decide what our economic denominator was and build the organization around it,” Goss recalled. At the time, Pro2Serve was in its sixth location in nine years and about to move to its seventh.

He laughingly said, “That doesn’t look good for an engineering firm.”

Two significant results of that management retreat are clearly evident today in the Oak Ridge community.

First, Goss said that Pro2Serve realized its core strength and long-term focus was contracts and projects. In fact, the company’s full name is Professional Project Services, Inc. Pro2Serve’s web page describes the company as supporting “the defense, energy, and science markets through responsive, cost-effective execution of critical security, facilities and infrastructure, nuclear defense and nonproliferation, and environmental projects.”

Second, Goss and the others on the management team considered Pro2Serve’s customer base and realized how strongly it was tied to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The result was asking the question, “Why not be close to our biggest customer?” At the time, the company was located on Oak Ridge Turnpike.

Goss remembers calling Bill Madia, the first ORNL Director under the UT-Battelle, LLC management contract, and telling him about a unique vision that he had. Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque is known for its robust science and technology park just outside the main entrance to the facility. Goss wanted to replicate something similar but on a smaller scale at ORNL with one major difference – it would be inside the security perimeter of the lab, not outside, and the first building would be developed by Pro2Serve.

During his four years as ORNL Director, Madia was known as a bold thinker, but Goss recalls the former’s response when he heard the vision.

“There was silence,” Goss said, after which Madia responded, “This one is really outside the box. The odds are you’ll never make it happen, but I like it.”

Today, Pro2Serve’s world headquarters – the National Security Energy Center – is in that very building that Goss envisioned. To realize his dream, Goss had to push hard as a true pioneer He gives a great deal of credit for helping make his vision happen to retired DOE Oak Ridge Office executives Gerald Boyd and Robert Brown.

“We could not have done it at all without them,” he says.

The Pro2Serve building also happens to be the only new construction in the park thus far, a fact that Goss attributes mostly to the economic downturn.

“I expected it would be another five years (after Pro2Serve started construction) before the next building would be built, but I might have missed it (the timeline),” he says of his prediction.

Nevertheless, he adds that the location behind the ORNL portals has provided “a level of physical security not available on the (Oak Ridge) Turnpike.” It has also opened-up opportunities for more collaboration with ORNL.

As one of the region’s more successful entrepreneurs, we asked Goss about his advice to those considering the start-up path.

He emphatically stated that entrepreneurs must embrace the idea that “failure is not an option” and added “begin with the end in mind,” acknowledging that “refining will happen.” His third point was to put a sound corporate governance system in place, along the lines that Otto Wheeley advised.

The final point – “recognize that you have a responsibility to your community . . . give back” – is something that Goss personifies. Finding a compilation of all the boards on which he has served is impossible, but it is lengthy.

For someone who was evicted from his initial “office” after a month, Goss has built Pro2Serve into a thriving business with more than 350 employees. He’s truly one of the region’s successful entrepreneurs.

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