Tony Crescenzo, CEO of Intelligent Waves, recently sat down with ExecutiveBiz for the publication’s latest Executive Spotlight interview to discuss his promotion from president to CEO and his growth initiatives and drive for Intelligence Waves’ scalability.
In addition, Crescenzo also discussed the company’s culture and how it’s addressing the recruitment challenges in the federal sector as well as how IW’s GRAYPATH and Phantom capabilities to innovate cybersecurity solutions for the defense and intelligence communities.
“Change is constant, especially as you grow and transition from a small to a larger organization. There’s a lot of change that happens. Trust and communication are the glue that holds the company together and the grease that lets us move faster. That trust is built from getting to know our people and building that crux of communication and you can’t do that alone.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Tony Crescenzo below:
ExecutiveBiz: First and foremost, congrats on becoming IW’s new CEO! What can you tell us about your mission to continue IW’s growth trajectory and scalability as the company’s new CEO? Are there specific goals or new market opportunities that you have your eye on?
Tony Crescenzo: “The truth is that there hasn’t been a significant change from my role as president alongside our founder Jared Shepard. I’ve wanted to work with someone like Jared and in a place like Intelligent Waves. I’ve worked for several companies as the CEO or president that were single owner organizations. I’m at a point in my career where I’m looking for an organization and a workforce that focuses on the quality of their time and effort.
For me, I’ve been in the c-suite for the last 27 years, but I had my first CEO position at 33 years old. It was an unusual opportunity to do things in a different way. I learned a lot. I’ve risen through the ranks since those days. Like other people, I’ve done nearly every job there is to do. I’ve been a program developer, an enterprise architect, program manager and more in the technology field. After I left IntelliDyne, I was between retirement and looking for something special.
I wanted to find a place where I’d create my own Sistine Chapel and that had all the potential elements to drive for the future. When I walked into Intelligent Waves, it was a small business. We’ve grown a great deal since then, but the one thing that continues to define us is our culture. As a former Marine, I know a lot about culture and the root of culture is the ‘cult’ aspect.
Typically, that word has a negative overall connotation, but what it means to me is that you have a group of people who would be willing to do anything for each other. If you ask a group of employees from most companies and organizations, their biggest fear is letting their peers down. In my experience, the greatest indicator of success in any organization is belief.
My role hasn’t changed significantly because I have the same objective to lead the company into its next stage of growth. Jared Shepard is still very much involved as our founder and chairman. The big challenge for us now is to focus on scalability and new market opportunities.
It’s interesting because I’ve learned over the years that CEOs have the most prolific role in the company from the outside but the question to me is, ‘What does a CEO actually do?’ For most other roles, you need specific certifications or schooling to learn how to do a job, except for how to be a CEO.
When I ask around and distill the job to its essence, you get different answers on what being a CEO means to everyone you ask. I would describe being a CEO as envisioning a future that doesn’t yet exist and inspires everyone to help you drive that vision of the future into reality and hopefully make it their own. What I’ve found is that if you hire great people and manage expectations appropriately, they become a part of your vision as well and they make it their own to see it through.
From my perspective, change is the greatest constant. I walked into the company in the middle of a pandemic and met maybe 12 people face-to-face at IW in the first year. The rest was through video calls.
Change is constant, especially as you grow and transition from a small to a larger organization. There’s a lot of change that happens. Trust and communication are the glue that holds the company together and the grease that lets us move faster. That trust is built from getting to know our people and building that crux of communication and you can’t do that alone.”
ExecutiveBiz: In terms of fulfilling IW’s potential in the federal space and driving innovation in the most significant areas, how do you plan to lead and continue building the team, your company culture and recruit elite talent for the long term to drive value for Intelligent Waves?
Tony Crescenzo: “In my experience, the right culture is the foundation for any organization. It’s really about the team and it’s never about any one leader. It’s always been a team sport for me, and Intelligent Waves has had tremendous success and luck. We’ve been able to attract and bring in some great people from the outside but grow our talent from the inside as well.
In my opinion, it’s not so much about leading from the front, but more about finding a way to put the best team on the field and then giving them the room, they need to develop their skills and talent. The conductor at the front of an orchestra doesn’t play an instrument, right?
We often talk about leadership and management with the concept of interchangeability, which is something I’ve always seen as two separate concepts. Management is about the quantitative. If I made a profit, delivered on the schedule, etc. These are things that can be measured.
Leadership is about developing a plan and getting everyone so invested that they execute that plan as if it’s their own. That’s the influence, and influence to me is all about inspiration. When you can create a leadership team that has great management skills, you’re actually creating a foundation for scalability and growth.
I’ve learned through real-world experience that when you make the transition from a smaller to larger company it involves creating scale. Scale relies on process, and process kills innovation. If you want to build a business for scale, you need to be mindful of how that impacts innovation to ensure that breaking new ground remains at the forefront of everything that we do.
At the end of the day, I believe there are three key differentials for building any business, which are the economic side, innovation, and customer intimacy. For a company of our size and stage of our growth, we’re not going to win a prize or be a huge economic giant and that’s not at the heart of our goals.
We are innovators and our mission is to support our customers’ goals and their overall missions. We take an inside-out approach to our business and start with building a team that truly understands the mission. People have questioned why I’m focused on this or that and my response has been to be any closer to the mission, I’d have to put on a uniform and grab a rifle. That inspires me because I deeply enjoyed my time in the Marine Corps, so I know how important it was to ensure it stays at the forefront.
At each level of the organization, we bring innovation to every dimension of our work, because it’s really not just about the technology. You can innovate on the economic dimension or the customer intimacy side, but you need to find your sweet spot in the market you’re working to break into and cement your place. What’s your unique value proposition? And to me, that goes back to trusting your people and acknowledging the opportunities you have in front of you.”
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about GRAYPATH and Phantom as well as the other innovative cyber solutions for the defense and intelligence communities that IW has recently developed and successfully launched? What do these capabilities offer for your customers?
Tony Crescenzo: “The interesting thing about GRAYPATH and Phantom is that there have been a lot of demand issues in the federal market, and we’ve been focusing on solving those with our customers. GRAYPATH is the next generation of obfuscated transport networks. When you think about cybersecurity and how easy it is to hack a network, it’s virtually impossible to hack something you can’t find if the location of every device and IP address is on the network.
GRAYPATH provides the freedom of movement and choice. This is extremely important in the ever changing environments that we find ourselves operating in these days that allows its users to utilize their data and information on any device that they have available while providing a high level of OPS group optimization.
Here’s a great example of that; a team is dropped into a hostile foreign land. If they’re a special operations unit, they can’t just bring anything with them. They need to use the parts that are locally available to them. They can get the tools or technology parts they need from Amazon or other sources and then they have a ton of sensors and can collect data from anywhere on the globe.
The problem is that if somebody traces that IP address, they’re going to know exactly where you’re located. With GRAYPATH, we can make it look like you’re anywhere in the world. Because of the compression algorithms that we use, we can send full motion video over a cell phone connection in a third world country, and it looks like Monday Night Football.
It enables operators in the field to do things they could never have done before and allows them to cross the line of departure with the assurance that they’re not going to get identified. The device can also stay behind if they leave, which creates a much safer environment for operators because they can collect data without having to be physically present.
Phantom is a little different because it builds on top of the GRAYPATH technology and provides our customers with a unique obfuscated sandbox. For example, if you wanted to create fictitious personas to collect open-source intelligence and social media, you’ll need to be able to obfuscate the true identities of the intelligence or special operators, but you need to do it with depth. It’s deeper than scoping out their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, but what is the depth of that person’s real existence. Are they married? Do they have a mortgage?
Phantom doesn’t do all of those things, but it allows you to create these personas. I spent about three years undercover for the naval criminal investigative service. Once I crossed that line of departure, I didn’t come back until the job was done. In the modern days, you can do that work remotely, which is much safer. Phantom allows both the military and intelligence agencies to accomplish these types of objectives in a manner that ensures full operational security and safety for the operator in the field.
For me, that’s the DNA and the heart of what we do with Intelligent Waves. That’s not a newer concept that we just randomly thought of and are trying to sell. It’s a problem that someone brought to us that we have solved. The challenge now is to solve it at scale and keep our team together to drive success for ourselves and our customers.”