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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Earle Williams and the lessons legends teach

It was great to honor folks like Teresa Carlson of Amazon Web Services and Mac Curtis of Vencore at the Northern Virginia Tech Council’s annual gala last night.

They and the other honorees are great examples of what the technology industry is capable of.

But the highlight of the evening came early on for me when Earle Williams took the stage to the give the lifetime achievement award to Bob Templin, Northern Virginia Community College president. The award is named after Williams.

I don’t know Williams well. I may have interviewed him once but he had already retired as president and CEO of BDM International when I joined Washington Technology. But I’ve heard so many speak of him and his influence and impact. It was great to see him on the stage.

As was mentioned by Templin and Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush, who received the NVTC’s Pinnacle Award for his contributions to the Northern Virginia technology community, Williams is one of the fathers of the government services community.

He saw the changes being wrought by technology and the power it capability it has to help the government. He and others had the vision and the guts to take the risks that founded a new industry.

The theologian John of Salisbury wrote in 1159, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

It’s important to hold close people like Earle Williams, Charles Rossotti, Ernst Volgenau, Phil Odeen, Jack London, Robert Beyster, John Toups, the late Dan Bannister and others. They laid the foundation for the government IT and services industry. They are the giants whose shoulders today’s leaders stand on.

Williams’ presence last night meant something else too.

I and others have commented often that the last few years have been the toughest market in decades, if not ever. Budget cuts, partisanship and a questionable economy are often blamed.

Maybe it is the toughest market; maybe it isn’t.

But leaders like Williams remind us that we’ve come through tough times before and we did OK. We did more than OK. We thrived.

This industry is capable of amazing things and many new companies, new entrepreneurs and new leaders prove that every day.

But our past proves it too, and we should never forget that.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 09, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Reader Comments

Thu, Dec 11, 2014 Anne Wells United States

My first job was with BDM in the late 70's, and I had the pleasure of working with Braddock, Dunn, and McDonald. Yes, Earle was President. I learned a great deal - first jobs are like that. But I've never since worked at a company so well structured, one so "future thinking", one so intent on ensuring that engineers also got solid management training, once put into those slots. I thought all companies were like that (silly me). Valuable lessons that have carried me through several jobs. Today, everyone seems to be in "stay alive" mode. There's not the future thinking, the focus on "what does the Gov. need in 5 years" that I learned to do at BDM.

Wed, Dec 10, 2014 Sharon Rainey United States

Nick, I am one of Earle Williams' daughters. Thank you for the kind words and keen observations. I grew up with these men meeting, talking, strategizing, problem solving. I knew what they did was really important, but i don't think i realized the longevity of their impact until i was an adult. Thank you for the insightful article.

Wed, Dec 10, 2014

Would be good idea to actually do some stat analysis of the rough times. What about a look at fall in growth rates, profit margins, headcount. No one has publicly charted the trough. You could have a scoop and then a platform to chart the resilient performance that you imply will be the response.

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