Innovation is a challenging job – imagine building the Grand Canyon on your own. The winding intricacies and overwhelming magnitude of canyons were formed over centuries, if not more. Nature’s persistence laid out a vision that has mesmerized humanity for generations. In a similar fashion, individuals are required to put in thousands of hours to build a knowledge base. Moreover, general knowledge isn’t enough. We are required to use our experience, imagination, and ultimately, apply intuition to solve worldly challenges, sometimes seemingly as big as the Grand Canyon itself. In an increasingly complex world filled with canyons, a leader who has lit the world of innovation with inspiration is Kasey Ortoski, the Deputy Director of Mission Operations at Jacobs.
A Team Effort
Kasey started at Jacobs as a project manager. The role was modest; the task at hand was not. Her job was to modernize the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida. She quickly rose through the ranks with her ingenuity and ability to work with people from various backgrounds. Soon after, a new opportunity led Kasey to accept the position of Integrated Master Scheduler supporting the North America Aerospace Defense Command. Her knowledge management skills and integrity propelled her forward, eventually landing as the lead of Mission Assurance Centers across the country. Today, her responsibilities involve identifying key ways to innovate the core of defense management with modernization implementations and take the competitiveness of defense command to the next level. Despite her illustrious career, Kasey remains humble on her feet. She notes, “My team is a group of highly-skilled and mission-minded people, despite the major challenges with security innovation.” She believes this remains her core strength as she breaks down barriers to modernize national security in the Department of Defense (DoD) space.
A Unique Outlook on Innovation
On her way to the top, Kasey experienced many challenges. Many challenges shared the central theme of security, which Kasey believes can sometimes get in the way of innovation. Security necessitates operating within the confined bounds of a rigid set, and it requires strong problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome these challenges. In such difficult positions, it is important for leaders to operate with a clear vision and a roadmap ahead. Kasey found such inspiration through Medici Effect, a book by Frans Johansson. The book addresses the notion that innovation comes from an intersectional relationship between things seemingly completely unrelated. Kasey embraces this concept wholeheartedly in her career. She applies it to every facet of her professional life, including finding new talent to add to the team or deploying key techniques of problem-solving to bring new innovation. She also finds a deep connection with her hobby, painting, as a way to actualize her vision of innovation, a deeply satisfying pursuit. Kasey expresses, “I seek to create in innovative ways by considering the nontraditional as this provides opportunities for me to operate or develop in an inventive manner.”
A Trial by Fire
Before becoming an innovator in the DoD sector, Kasey spent years becoming a universe of knowledge in her own small way. She underwent many trials by fire before becoming a unique innovator. As a child, she traveled with her parents to sell fused art glass; she also managed a restaurant, taught in elementary school, and worked on film sets, among her many varied experiences. Kasey believes these unique experiences are essential for extending a natural love for learning and fueling curiosity for life at every step. She summarizes the importance of experience in a few words. Kasey asserts, “Knowledge is my currency, and experience is one of the best generators of knowledge.”
A Challenging Journey
Her love for learning and unique life experiences helped her overcome some grand challenges during her leadership at Jacobs. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Kasey faced an incredible obstical with security protocols keeping employees from working remotely. Contrary to the need on the ground, employees needed to deliver 24/7 service to ensure support for critical missions. She managed to provide a flexible schedule for employees during this challenging time to ensure they could take care of their sick loved ones. At the same time, she also ensured robust support for clients by hiring dedicated team members who always brought an inner passion for work, valuing it above the mere financial gains. Despite the challenging world of innovation, under Kasey’s leadership, Jacobs managed to secure prestigious awards such as the Veteran Award, a testament to the company’s success with its workforce. Her leadership sailed Jacobs through turbulent waters to emerge with greater resilience and resolve.
The Covid-19 pandemic also brought major disruptions in supply chains globally. The issue culminated in challenges related to software development, running standard operations, and hardware maintenance, all while attempting to keep constant innovation from derailing. Kasey witnessed organization-wide difficulties like gaining access to hardware. She met those challenges head-on, and mitigated them using in-depth resolution courses with supply vendors and leveraging the relationship of the company to secure key resources during testing times. She outlines this as a core priority for companies to grow in the near future. She notes, “Alignment with technologies like digitalization is imperative for a sustainable future. We need to be strategic on modernization endeavors, and clearly map our efforts to build a roadmap.” When progress is near, the temptation to slip back into easier, old habits is never far behind. Kasey remains cautious in her approach. She believes tackling the long-term transformation requires a solid platform, and finding a quick code fix, as it is often done, is not the way to go.
A Roadmap for the Community
Kasey leads the efforts of Jacobs to build a strong community of employees, along with their family members. The company regularly holds school supply drives with a strong focus on sustainability. Jacobs also prides itself in its initiatives to go above and beyond when it comes to safety for employees of all backgrounds. Jacobs currently has eight network groups of employees in the workplace that extend past their homes and communities. The company employees, including Kasey, regularly participate in food bank, breast cancer awareness, and other adoption drives with local families. Many feel this is not the badge that an organization should feel strongly about; however, Kasey feels differently. She says, “I am proud to work for a company that truly puts people and communities first.”
Along with her passion for community building, Kasey also keeps a strong focus on the future roadmap of Jacobs. Building a sustainable tomorrow is part of the bright future Kasey envisions for the company. She notes that the strength of Jacobs lies in its team, which has endured tremendous hardships and has continuously proved resilient. For Kasey, small, incremental improvements each day are how she envisions her team building a better tomorrow for the global community. She also offers advice to young entrepreneurs. She says, “make yourself visible, be curious, and use your voice. Take up opportunities like attending conferences, and speak and volunteer at every opportunity.”
Through years of diverse experiences and challenging the status quo, Kasey came to find her own voice and adopt an open-to-growth mindset that pushes her to consistently seek out better ways of executing goals. She believes opportunities like attending conferences are vital to shaping curiosity and finding a natural space in technology for an individual to grow. She also advises young entrepreneurs to connect with new people, collaborate, and seek help whenever they need it.