By Lamont Hames
Carmen Powell founded Veritiss with the intent of providing the very best service and support to the Government. She is the founder, president, and CEO of Veritiss, LLC. A twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Powell honed her leadership skills in many responsible positions within the Army. As an Army officer, she held positions of increasing responsibility as she ascended to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. As a Captain, she commanded three successive company commands, an exceptional and rare achievement in the Army, which led to her selection for battalion command. Her grooming and training as an Army HR officer allowed her not only to lead, but it also increased her learning and understanding of people.
Before her military experience, Powell, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, says she was fortunate to have loving parents who believed in her and her siblings and encouraged them to achieve what they couldn’t. Growing up in a harsh blue-collar environment, her mother owned a restaurant, and her first job was as a waitress, and while serving customers after school and working double shifts on weekends and throughout the summer, her parents often said she was born to lead.
Powell says that while she had an excellent support system throughout her childhood, it was not without her share of pain and struggles. Until only a few years ago, after the passing of her mother who was profoundly private, she kept a secret about her father who loved his family dearly but struggled with an addiction to heroin. She recalls, “Although my father struggled throughout the years, he was a great, loving and protective father and would say to us, you have to make it, go to college, and achieve opportunities not afforded to me.” She adds, “My dad was great and emphasized not to go down a certain path, that he made mistakes, and often questioned how he and his friends became addicted to heroin in the African American community.” Powell credits her great parents for ensuring she achieved successes in high school, college, pursued a career in the Army, and for who she is today.
Powell says she is driven to succeed and to help others and the less fortunate because of her personal experiences, upbringing, and lifelong commitment to her parents to “do better, be better and achieve what they couldn’t.” She shares this experience whenever she can, particularly as she supports programs like The Salvation Army and Reston Cornerstones that support the less fortunate. Powell says, “This is why I’m driven, this is why I am inspired to serve and support the community and others.”
After retiring from the Army, Powell took a corporate job with SRA, a large government contractor and was thrust into a cohort of approximately 20 colleagues to be groomed for management and leadership positions as an “up and comer” in the company. Powell credits her first corporate mentors, Renny DiPentima, who was SRA’s Chief Operations Officer at the time, and Colonel (Ret) Charles Perry, a former SRA executive, for guiding, coaching and mentoring her through the ebbs and flows of the business. Powell says that she and DiPentima remained in touch after their departure from SRA for years, and recommends that everyone can benefit from a mentor, even if they seek the mentor relationship. Powell also credits a host of senior Army leaders for her successes, specifically Lieutenant General (Ret) John A. Dubia and Lieutenant General (Ret) Robert L. Ord. As Powell recalls her military and corporate experience before launching Veritiss, she said “I always give thanks to the Soldiers who inspired me, the noncommissioned officers (sergeants) who trained me, and the senior leaders who mentored me. So without those experiences and great individuals, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
In 2004, Powell founded Veritiss based on high standards of ethics, an unwavering commitment to outstanding service and support to its government customers, employees and their families, and to the community where they work and live. Veritiss provides six core competencies: Facilities Support Services, Human Resources (HR) Management & Administration, Information Technology Services, Intelligence Support Services, Language Services, and Law Enforcement & Security Management. An award-winning company, Veritiss provides outstanding professional support services throughout the United States and globally. When asked about her leadership style, Powell resorts to her training, many years of experience, great employees and those who have guided her. She adds “First, you have to hire the right people with the right skills and experience in their trade craft. You also have to ensure that the people you hire have the needed level of professionalism and ethics to fit your company’s business model and culture. You have to empower people to lead, and then let them lead. You have to inspire them; and you also have to train, support, and guide them so that they can continue to develop and excel. In the training process, you also have to teach them to take responsibility for their actions. You have to hire great professional people who are committed to achieving successes, working as a team, and making the company better and stronger. The hardest part of being a leader is letting people go who do not share the same professional values, work ethics and commitment to service after you have tried your best to develop and guide them. As a leader, you cannot hold on to unprofessional employees at the expense of the mission, the company, and the team. As a leader, especially a female leader, you cannot be afraid to lead, and you cannot be afraid of the false things people will say that fit “stereotypes.”
Powell is compassionate about doing what is right for the team and the government, at the right time . She emphasizes accountability. At Veritiss, they have incorporated policies and procedures to support their values and workforce to excel. Powell says, there is a phrase they use, “You’re going to terminate yourself,” because there is so much investment and support that Veritiss provides for its workforce, so on the unfortunate occasion that she has to terminate an employee or they resign, they have done everything possible in support of that employee. Powell says that in the cases when this has happened, in many scenarios, the employee came back to her later to say, “I apologize, or add, how much they learned while they were employed at Veritiss.”
Veritiss supports the Department of Defense and Federal Government customers with critical mission’s support. Given today’s climate where performance, integrity, and trust could not be more critical, Veritiss is proud of its record where the government refers to Veritiss as a value-added “partner.” Powell implemented an ethics program for its workforce with bi-annual mandatory training. At the end of the training, Veritiss employees sign an oath of ethics and a “Standards of Conduct, Values, and Expectations” guide that they helped to create. As a Service-Disabled Veteran, Powell says she and Veritiss employees are honored to provide continued support and service to our great nation. Veritiss believes in giving back and supporting the community where they work, live, and serve. Veritiss has partnerships with national programs like The Salvation Army, and local partnerships with South Lakes High School in Reston, VA where they run a mentoring program for Junior ROTC cadets.
Powell believes that great employees are vital to the company’s success and the performance success of government contracts. She also points out that, as a small business owner, she has to be front and center with the customer to help build and maintain their confidence, but that committed, professional employees with excellent skills and qualifications are critical to any company’s success. When asked what advice she would share with up and coming small businesses, and what did she do as an owner to turn the corner for growth, Powell said she worked every job. “I held almost every job here at Veritiss corporate.
In the beginning, before I had a staff, I was the payroll specialist, the human resources manager, the recruiter, the facility security officer, and others to name a few, she said laughingly. “I held almost every single job,” she continued. Know your business, offer capabilities you can do exceedingly well, focus on outstanding performance and delivery to your customers, learn the jobs within your company, especially contracts, and HR, and hire the right people to perform and trust and guide them. Be a great business partner, provide value to others, surround yourself with great partners, and nicely and quietly walk away from those who aren’t.
In the early years, before Veritiss became a prime contractor to federal agencies, Veritiss focused (then and now) on providing extraordinary value to business partners as a subcontractor. One of her big breaks was as a teaming partner to Lockheed Martin, on a competitive opportunity, where Army mentor Brigadier General (Ret) Velma Richardson, then a Lockheed Martin senior leader helped to facilitate. One of the requirements was to source over 90 cleared personnel, and Powell’s job, unknown to Lockheed was to become a recruiter suddenly. In the end, Veritiss delivered the candidates that enabled Lockheed to re-bid and win the contract. As a result, Veritiss earned more work from Lockheed and became a trusted, proven, and value-added partner to Lockheed and others.
Veritiss has positioned itself to compete for federal and DoD prime contracts with large businesses as subcontractor partners. Powell says you have to deliver great value and service to each of your partners and the community you serve adding, “I always assess our relationships, and am proud to have brought successes and value to each. I am proud that many of our government customers have said that Veritiss is their best business, not their best small business. The goal of Veritiss is to have each of these entities to say, “Drop the mic. We have Veritiss, LLC!” said Powell.
Powell is mission focused and says you cannot successfully perform the mission without great employees and partners who are mission-focused as well. To win work and contracts, you have to build great internal and external teams. She says “I’m passionate about this corporation. I’m excited about what we’ve done and what we can do. I am also grateful for the awesome support and opportunities provided me and Veritiss LLC. We’ve never looked for hand-outs. We looked for opportunities where we could prove through our performance that we were the very best valued added partner supporting the U.S Government. That’s the bottom line.”
This year Veritiss will be hosting its third annual free small business matchmaking forum. The Veritiss Small Business Matchmaking Forum is a result of Powell’s willingness and commitment to support other small businesses, without gain, and the fact that government agencies were sending small business owners to her to help and support. Government agencies would send a small business to Powell for guidance and mentoring, then later, more and more. Powell said, “I stopped at one point and said, wow, I’ve got all these agencies sending small businesses to me, so I decided to formalize something, which resulted in the Veritiss Small Business Forum launched three years ago. The forum is free, and includes matching making with government agencies and large businesses. The purpose is to help facilitate learning, networking, and teaming among small businesses.”
Powell believes so much in partnerships: customers, community, employees, and that’s why she promotes it so passionately. She is committed to inspiring others through outstanding performance.
About the Author: Lamont Hames is founder and CEO of LMH Strategies, Inc., a leadership, management, and human systems consulting firm located in Washington, DC. Before founding LMH, he was chief of staff for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs.