Bonnie Carroll: Librarian to Successful Entrepreneur
D. Ray Smith
Carolyn Krause gives us a glimpse of Bonnie Carroll, one of the most successful business owners, longtime supporter of Oak Ridge charities and good friend. I’m happy to bring you this information thanks to Carolyn’s research and Bonnie’s lecture at the Friends of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This “Historically Speaking” series will consist of two parts, first a more personal look at Bonnie and her company, Information International Associates, and second, a broader look at the world of information and her involvement in it.
One of Alvin Weinberg’s lesser known legacies was one of the most successful businesses started and owned by women in the Oak Ridge-Knoxville area – the former Information International Associates (IIa). He also left a long legacy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in science and scientific data management.
In the early 1960s, ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg was asked by President Kennedy to chair a special group of the President’s Science Advisory Committee on Scientific Information to examine the growing information challenge. The result of this study was the famous Weinberg Report of 1963 titled “Science, Government and Information: The Responsibilities of the Technical Community and Government in the Transfer of Information”.
One of the avid readers of the report was Bonnie Carroll, founder of IIa. She had read it while studying for a master’s degree in library science at Columbia University in New York, where she was born and raised. In 1971, she was hired as a librarian by ORNL, where she met Weinberg, an avid library user.
“The Weinberg report helped me focus on scientific information,” she told a recent Friends of ORNL talk. She explained that it addresses the problem of retrieving and communicating the growing amount of scientific and technical information (STI) of varying quality.
After her time at ORNL’s library, she joined Weinberg’s new Environmental Information Systems office, and then Weinberg’s planning group. Eventually, she was appointed coordinator of ORNL’s 24 information centers, which were created in response to the recommendations of the Weinberg report. Their staff collected, analyzed and synthesized data on, for example, the abilities of different materials to resist cracking, protect you from radiation damage or increase your risk of cancer. Some of these centers still exist.
His early conversations with Weinberg, Carroll said, “launched my leadership at Oak Ridge. My company was a spin-off from the foundation that ORNL gave me and which influenced my thinking about scientific and technical information.
So why did she leave the lab at 30 to alternately work for the private sector and the government?
“As a woman and a non-doctoral student. librarian, there was no place for me at ORNL,” she explained. She got a job in the private sector for the Franklin Research Center. “It exposed me to the industry that IIa has become a part of,” she said.
She then took a job with the Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), formerly known as the Center for Technical Information. She was drawn to OSTI because it was in the world of science, but her primary focus was information as “input and output of the scientific process.”
After seven years, she left OSTI and returned to the private sector at another public contracting company which was an 8(A) minority company.
“I learned the management tools of a public contracting company there,” she said. “Why did I go there? Honestly, they closed their Oak Ridge office and I had nowhere to go!
For a September 2018 article by Tom Ballard for Teknovation.biz, she said her “original goal wasn’t to be an entrepreneur. The company I worked for left town. I started consulting and my clients needed more staff, so I had to hire staff.
Carroll founded IIa in 1988 in Oak Ridge at the age of 40. During his 30 years as CEO of IIa, the company grew to more than 250 information managers and scientists, technology systems designers, developers, mission specialists and security professionals who lived in Oak Ridge, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Germany and United Kingdom. A second office was later established in Washington, DC. The company was sold in 2018 and many of its employees now work for Keylogic Systems, LLC, an integrated partner company founded in Morgantown, W.Va.
Carroll credited some of her success to male mentors — Weinberg, Bob Livingston, Larry Peck and Bob Van Hook — and the opportunities she had to work on White House committees. She was also elected president of the American Society for Information Science (ASIS) in 1985.
“It was said by a notorious CEO of Chemical Abstracts that being president of ASIS was worth $10 million,” she said. “It was very true. It allowed me to jump hierarchies and associate with leaders that I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise.
IIa’s clients were primarily government agencies whose missions heavily depend on their abilities to capture, organize, analyze, exploit and disseminate scientific and technical information and intelligence data. Major customers included ITS-focused organizations within major federal energy, defense, intelligence, and civilian agencies. But IIa has also provided information services to Middle Eastern countries and the private sector, including a major pharmaceutical company and a multinational food company.
The largest of IIa’s 18 government customers were the U.S. Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Defense (including several Air Force bases), the National Nuclear Security Administration and ORNL, as well as the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
“Because we wanted to confirm our move from our public image as a library manager for Air Force bases to our evolution as an information technology (IT) company and because we wanted to bid on IT contracts more importantly, we acquired a company that was doing IT work for the NRC,” she said. “The biggest change came when we won a major IT contract with the PTO, almost doubling the IIa size.
“Our company has made significant advances in the information management capabilities of its customers through the innovative application of technologies and in-depth knowledge of its customers’ environments. We were proud that our work had impacts on national defense, intelligence, homeland security, nuclear research, national disasters, and STEM education. People wanted to work for us because our core value was integrity in a tough business environment. We were very proud of it. »
“Write a eulogy, not a resume!”
Carroll said many women have asked her how to become a successful entrepreneur.
“I advise them that before you can answer the question of how to become a successful entrepreneur, you need to ask yourself what your goals are. Do you want to be rich or famous, or leave a legacy? Do you just want to be your own boss, the toughest boss you’ve ever had? Do you want to sell a technical service or a patented product? What is your passion? What is your exit strategy? Write a eulogy, not a resume!”
What lessons has she learned since the creation of the company? Here are some of his responses. The business world has changed because there are a lot more opportunities for women and a lot more female role models.
Technical people who start businesses should employ experts in accounting and finance.
“You can be hugely profitable and go bankrupt because of cash flow problems – that is, you don’t have enough money to pay your staff and pay your bills,” she said. “I started to understand why CFOs rather than CTOs become CEOs.”
Another lesson, she added, is that the CEO needs to let go and not try to do everything.
“You should hire people smarter than you. You should realize that you are the conductor, but you are not playing the instruments.
Carroll said the worst thing about having your own business is when you have to make decisions about other people’s livelihoods, like firing them.
“The best thing about having your own business is the ability you have to make your own decisions, weigh the risks, and own the positive consequences. She enjoyed “making a positive contribution to the community and to the nation, see the world and receive recognition for their efforts”.
After her first retirement, Carroll became acting executive director of the World Data System International Program Office, the global consortium of data systems around the world, which she helped bring to the Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, a joint venture between ORNL and the University. from Tennessee to Knoxville.
She retired for the second time when a full-time executive director was found. Today, she continues to work hard, but it is mainly in a voluntary capacity for the scientific and charitable organizations that she loves.
Alvin Weinberg would be proud.
Thank you, Carolyn, for an in-depth look at one of our most successful business owners. Bonnie has not only had a great career in business, but she has also supported many charities in a major way. I have had the pleasure of serving on boards and committees where she is consistently among the most effective members and most generous in her support.