(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a three-part series describing a recent transition in ownership of one of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s most successful female-launched and owned businesses.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
It had been five years since we last interviewed Bonnie Carroll, Founder of Information International Associates Inc. (IIa), but her explanation of how she launched the Oak Ridge-headquartered company with an international reach was much the same.
“My goal was not to be an entrepreneur,” the energetic resident of the Solway community explains. “The company I was working for left town, I started consulting, and my clients needed more people, so I had to hire staff.”
Those needs and contracts led Carroll to found IIa in 1988 even though, as she looks back, she readily admits, “I never had an exit strategy.” Carroll just pushed ahead, winning more work from government, academic and private entities. Click on these links to read Part 1 and Part 2 of that 2013 series.
Today, IIa has 300 information technology systems designers, developers, mission specialists, and security professionals in Oak Ridge as well as those serving clients in Alexandria and McLean, VA; Rockville, MD, Dayton, OH; and the United Kingdom.
Earlier this year, Jeannette Lee and a group of investors bought the company, and Carroll has shifted roles to one that allows her to pursue her passions while also leaving the daily responsibilities of running a business. She’s Chief Data Officer, while Lee serves as Chief Executive Officer.
“I love to lead and mentor,” Carroll says. “I don’t want anyone to supervise.”
Of Lee, IIa’s Founder says, “We are extremely different individuals with different motivations.” Carroll sees that as a positive for the company.
“We’re at a point where we (the company) are ready to take the next step,” she says. “To further advance into a large business, we needed new expertise and skills.”
Carroll started thinking about shifting her role several years ago and, as she puts it, “realize some of the gains (equity)” she had built in IIa over three decades. Ironically, it was four females who consummated the deal – Carroll, Lee, Carroll’s lawyer, and an investment banker.
“I used her (the lawyer) in a 2011 acquisition, and I went right back to her this time,” Carroll said. “She’s that good.”
The deal closed March 31, and Carroll is comfortable shifting into her less stressful but exciting new role.
“With Jeannette, it was perfect,” Carroll says. “IIa did not go away. It stayed intact as a company and will be the platform for winning new business and acquiring new companies.” That view is held by Lee as readers will see if Part 3 of this series.
With the recent but much larger corporate acquisitions in Knoxville like Scripps Networks Interactive and Regal Entertainment, local leaders are always concerned about what the changes mean.
“Keeping the back-office operations in Oak Ridge made it a really good deal for me,” Carroll says. “We are a part of this community. It is part of our DNA.”
NEXT: What’s next for Carroll and what lessons has she learned over 30 years.