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December 06, 2020 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: PSI’s Sean P. Williams attracted to fixing things that are broken

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a three-part series spotlighting Sean P. Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer of Protection Strategies Incorporated {PSI} located in West Knoxville.)

Sean P. Williams is attracted to fixing things that are broken and also has an innate intellectual curiosity, the latter being something he believes is a critically missing priority for many people.

Both of those skillsets have served him well during a career that started as a Pararescueman in the U.S. Air Force and continued through leadership positions with several of the nation’s major government security contractors. Today, as President and Chief Executive Officer of Protection Strategies Incorporated (PSI), Williams is growing the Knoxville-based company that he joined in 2014 as President and Chief Operating Officer before buying controlling interest in June 2017.

“We tend to get called when things get messy,” he told us during a recent interview at the company’s offices off Pellissippi Parkway.

That interview covered a great deal of ground . . . from 1987 when, at age 16, Williams left Nashville, where his family moved nine years earlier, through a career that involved bringing the military discipline he learned and embraced in the Air Force to roles with several government contractors. The discussion ended with significant insights into the executive’s philosophy about business and life and his passion for this country.

Every individual can cite at least one pivotal moment in their lives that changed their trajectory, and Williams is no exception. He points to a conversation with General Frank Martin who told the youthful Williams: “I can get a hundred guys who can jump out of a plane and shoot a gun.”

The message was clear: if you want to distinguish yourself, gain some significant additional skills.

That advice led Williams to secure an MBA, something he said launched him from being a Special Operations type to a business guy in less than five years while working for The Wackenhut Corporation that ran the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Training Center at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico. He initially led the Antiterrorism training component before being promoted to Director of (all) Business Operations.

That transition from serving in the military to being fully integrated into the national security system occurred during a fateful time in our nation’s history – September 11, 2001 or the date better known as 9/11.

“We knew it was going to happen,” Williams says in his matter-of-fact style. “We had videos where Osama bin Laden said his people were here, they were planning to attack our transportation infrastructure, and we could not stop them.”

After his work in New Mexico, Williams transferred to Wackenhut’s corporate headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, FL where he oversaw at $240 million portfolio of business. His next stop was back in Nashville in 2009 with Correction Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, a move Williams described as “a chance to get home” and as something that his new employer “wanted (because of) my experience in finance, contracting and government work.”

Several years later, he moved back to New Mexico, eventually assuming responsibility for business development for Akal Global, a portfolio of companies with more than 8,500 employees. At that time, it was one the largest remaining U.S.-owned security service providers to the federal government. During his three years with Akal, Williams says his business development team won about $2 billion in federal contracts.

He described each of those stops this way: “I built a reputation as a guy who can fix broken things.”

So, how did he get to Knoxville?

NEXT: An ETEBA conference brought a new opportunity.

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