The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Chief Officer Awards were announced March 25, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person May 11 at the The Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Virginia.

Next is CEO (Private Company, Annual Revenue <$150M) finalist Tony Crescenzo, CEO at Intelligent Waves. Here, he talks key recent achievements, career success, proud organizational moments and more.

What key achievements did you have in 2021/2022?

When I walked into Intelligent Waves, it was a small business. Of course, 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 an overall negative connotation, but it means 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.

The right culture is the foundation for organizations. It’s about the team and never about any one leader. Intelligent Waves has had tremendous success and luck. We’ve been able to attract and bring in some great people from outside but grow our talent.

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.

What has made you successful in your current role?

I’ve learned through real-world experience that when you make the transition from a smaller to a larger company, it involves creating scale. Scale relies on the 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.

I believe there are three critical differentials for building any business: 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.

What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?

The achievement I am most proud of is the transformation of Intelligent Waves’ corporate culture into a fully-engaged culture where social responsibility is ingrained. For example, I initiated employee engagement initiatives to ensure that the voice of employees is heard not only on professional matters, but also in matters of diversity, equality and inclusion through individual meetings, town halls and an independent Employee Advisory Council that provides honest feedback to the management team.

What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so critical to the future of the nation?

In 2021, Intelligent Waves launched two award-winning solutions, GRAYPATH and Phantom. 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 freedom of movement and choice. This is extremely important in the ever-changing environments that we find ourselves operating in these days. Additionally, it allows its users to utilize their data and information on any available device while providing a high level of OPS group optimization.

Here’s a great example: A team is dropped into a hostile foreign land. If they’re a special operations unit, they can’t just bring anything. 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 will know exactly where you’re located. With GRAYPATH, we can make it look like you’re anywhere in the world. For example, because of the compression algorithms, 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 being 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, suppose you want to create fictitious personas to collect open-source intelligence and social media. In that case, 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 to ensure 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 is to solve it at scale and keep our team together to drive success.