Sky High Combat To Board Room Business | PVL Design Associates

LWMJanFeb2015-smallfinal_Page_26I always laugh when I’m asked this. Ostensibly, being the president of the leading regional Interior Architecture and Interior Design firm could not be more distinct from flying a combat mission. Little did I know when I took off years ago on my first mission that it was but another milestone preparing me for where PVL Design Associates and I am today. Our growth for tomorrow depends on the skill set and tenacity I experienced in my Air Force career.

My parents raised five of us. My siblings and I were taught to believe that we could do anything we wanted and become whatever we wanted to be. Growing up the daughter of an international airline pilot and living in America, Europe, Southwest Asia, and elsewhere, I was bitten early by the flying bug. To the chagrin of many of my Catholic high school nuns, in 1985 I graduated from the US Air Force Academy and a year later earned my wings as a US Air Force pilot.

I experienced a career that in many ways was pretty traditional: field operations, headquarters staffs, training and education, certifications, increasing leadership responsibility and command, promotions, all while moving every one to three years. But as a woman, and more uniquely at the time a woman officer and pilot, there were many times I was denied opportunities and endured “frat house” work environments. Frustration eventually evolved to creativity as I learned that obstacles meant to deter me – many large or of high rank – were merely impediments to be navigated around and it was just a matter of figuring out how. In doing so, I was able to break new ground for women officers and pilots.

By the time I retired from the Air Force in 2005, I had spent a career strategizing, planning, designing, and leading successful programs and operations ranging in scope from thousands to billions, and crumbling barriers to women serving their country. I joined a Fortune 500 federal contractor firm and navigated the often difficult path for Veterans of transitioning from our Military’s “bottom line” to corporate America’s “bottom line.”

I learned the business side of business: profit & loss, balance sheets, competitive pricing of goods and services, business development, networking, and the capturing and maintaining of business relationships. After almost 30 years, I had become a rabid dot connector, a passionate  “possibilitarian,” and a penultimate problem solver. I relished being thrown into the deep end of a pool– with or without water wings.

When the fiscal cliff arrived in 2009, it was not news tome having worked in the federal budget arena for the preceding eight years. I knew that it was time to figure out a new way to forge ahead. And I knew that the changes happening in the federal contractor industry would eventually lead to downsizing, which hit hard in 2011. My business partner and I had begun work in 2006 on a business concept and conducted extensive planning. We
were ready to launch in 2008 when the recession hit so we shelved the whole thing. In 2009, we identified and negotiated several deals which helped the course and change of positive beginnings. Taking the plunge having reviewed the opportunities we knew there was no looking back. The plunge was worth everything. “After all’ I told myself, isn’t that what IBM, McDonalds and Microsoft did?” Each started businesses in the middle of a
recession and the rest as we know is history.

This past summer was a highlight for our firm. We celebrated our 5th anniversary – the entrepreneur’s equivalent of medicine’s “golden hour”. Today, I have the privilege of leading an amazing team of interior architecture and design professionals who focus every day on taking care of our clients and working in trust and partnership with them to solve problems. We have grown, adapted, persevered, changed, and succeeded in the Federal, State, and private sector. Our culture is one of seeing opportunities to make a difference and finding ways to say “Yes.” Our philosophy is integrity always, service before self, excellence in all we do, and being good stewards to our clients – our planet’s greatest resource.

The skies of combat are not so far removed from the battles of business, after all.

By Eileen Isola, PMP
PVL Design Associates

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