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One of the hardest things for any company to do is protect itself against an unknown threat. How do you create a solution for a hazy problem?
You ask the right questions and you never stop learning.
I lead the firm’s Commercial business, using my lifelong love of technology and insatiable curiosity to help our cybersecurity clients cut through that haze and visualize a clear plan for business in an unpredictable market. I love the challenge.
It’s fascinating work because the threats are constantly changing.
Executive Vice President Bill Phelps leads the firm’s U.S. Commercial business. He drives the firm’s advancement in cyber, analytics, cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), and Agile systems development to address the most mission-sensitive challenges facing commercial organizations today. He also directs delivery of integrated consulting and advanced technology solutions to clients including commercial and investment banks, utilities, oil and gas companies, major retailers, auto, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Bill is a trusted advisor to senior client executives, helping them understand and address complex cybersecurity challenges as well as broader technology driven business disruption. He is also a widely respected keynote speaker and panelist at major security conferences where he has spoken on topics related to situational awareness, IT resiliency, and real-time compliance.
His areas of expertise include:
Prior to joining Booz Allen, Bill held a number of senior leadership roles at Accenture. His primary role from 2008 to 2016 was leading Accenture’s security practice, first in North America and then globally. Under his leadership, the practice grew fivefold, adding multiple service lines including managed security. He also played a key role in three security-related acquisitions, and in the development of cyber fusion and R&D centers around the globe.
In addition to his senior roles at Accenture, Bill spent 4 years as co-founder and senior leader at SevenSpace, a venture-backed innovator of remote infrastructure services, which was subsequently sold to Sun Microsystems.
Bill earned his M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin where he won the 1986 Moot Corp Venture Design Competition and holds a B.A. from the University of Connecticut.
Why are you passionate about the work you do at Booz Allen? I love the multidisciplinary work. What we do involves people and their behavior, it involves technology, and it involves an ever-changing adversary landscape. It’s important and it’s fun.
What led you to Booz Allen? I’m thrilled to be leading the growth of our Commercial business. This is a unique opportunity. Booz Allen’s people and talent are special, and this is a huge personal opportunity for me to build a new leader in the cybersecurity market.
What led you to this career? I’m not a computer scientist per se, but I’ve always been fascinated by technology. I’ve spent most of my career in technology-related services. About 8 years ago, I raised my hand and said, “I think one of the big new opportunity areas is security.” At the time, it was a small business area, and I offered to re-tool myself and take it over. And that’s what I did.
How do you connect with clients? I want to understand their businesses and stay on top of trends. I ask the right questions about them and how they’re evolving. I find out what kinds of cyber attacks would really hurt their business, then develop solutions to protect them.
When did your love of technology start? My father taught at a small college, and he took me to their computer room. It was the 1970s, and I played tic-tac-toe against the computer.
Were you the type of kid who took apart toasters to see how they worked? Many toasters, clocks, radios, and other prey fell before my screwdriver and pliers.
Do you see technology as creativity? Yes, it’s creative in a different way. I think people think of creative in terms of the arts. The best engineers are extremely creative. I built a variety of different things, some more successful than others.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in a small, rural town in Connecticut. There were a lot of farms, apple orchards, and dairy farms. It’s beautiful and peaceful. But as a 16-year-old, I hated it because it was boring. I left high school after my junior year and started college early to get away.
What do you think is scaring your clients the most? I think that they’re scared of the unknown. They solve one problem, and a new problem comes along. They don’t see any end to the cycle. The bad guys never stop innovating, so the threat never stops changing.
What are the pressing needs in security? We are looking at a skills shortage. We don’t have enough people with the right skills, and that’s hurting business and holding it back. That’s true in information security, and it’s true for programmers and developers.
How do you keep people motivated? Make sure that they understand the purpose of what they’re doing—why it’s important and how it fits in—so that they derive some meaning from what they’re doing. And of course, keep them challenged. Security people love a challenge.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten in your career? Never be afraid to ask for help. Ask for advice. Ask for favors. Ask for insight.
What advice would you give yourself as a young professional? I would tell myself that I should have taken more risks earlier. I started a company when I had one child and one on the way, and I wish that I had done that 10 years earlier.
What’s your strongest character trait? I learn quickly, and I move very rapidly to the heart of a problem.
How do you stay focused on fostering imagination? I strive to be inclusive and create an environment where everyone feels like putting their ideas on the table. You never know what might work.
What’s something not many people know about you? I have an aquaponic garden.