In the winter of Carolyn Hannon’s freshman year at Montgomery College, she found fortune at a pick-up game of basketball. “Usually it was just me and a bunch of guys,” she recalls. “One day a girl I’d never seen showed up to play. Naturally, the guys paired us together.”
An immediate connection blossomed between the two basketball enthusiasts. Carolyn soon learned her new friend played basketball for Fordham University, and she suggested Carolyn try out for the team. At the time, Carolyn lived at home and held a half-hearted plan to matriculate to the University of Delaware. The opportunity to play basketball at Fordham was the sea change she needed—a flash of opportunity, and a chance to alter the tide of her life.
A phone call and a meeting try out later, Carolyn was awarded a basketball scholarship, and without the pressure of tuition payments, she was able to take full advantage of an education in the classroom and on the court. Fordham was where Carolyn established a community of lifelong friends and where she experienced the benefits of teamwork first hand. Thus, what started as a chance encounter in an informal setting eventually became the foundation for Carolyn’s future as a leader. “I believe in divine intervention because my fortuitous meeting set me on a defining path,” she says. “I think everything happens for a reason, and I believe you should always do the right thing, because being a good person is a reason in itself. I believe good things happen to good people.”
While luck has played a hand in Carolyn’s success as a businesswoman, her commitment to do the right thing is why she’s now the founder and CEO of eMentum, a management and information technology consultancy. Founded in 1999, eMentum’s mission is to help business owners break down complex technological challenges in an ever-evolving world. Whether the client’s aim is to save money, receive information faster, or improve security, eMentum provides a soup-to-nuts service. Carolyn’s team will even go as far as to assist with custom coding to achieve exactly what the client wants, and the company’s willingness to go the extra mile for its clients derives from Carolyn’s allegiance to fairness in an otherwise cutthroat climate. “A lot of business owners are at a disadvantage because technology is difficult to keep up with,” she explains. “People who don’t know what to look for can easily be taken advantage of, and I don’t think that’s fair, so we’re staunchly against that kind of practice at eMentum.”
Today, eMentum mainly focuses on two things – complex/ high impact management consulting service and security solutions for the federal government. The company has maintained a fourteen-year history of uninterrupted service to the large Federal Agency focused on Law Enforcement, a relationship Carolyn takes very seriously due to the sensitive information entrusted to eMentum. Carolyn and her team work hard to bring commercial best practices to the government, which can be heavily outdated. eMentum recently launched a small and medium sized business offering and expanded service into another large Federal Agency focused on securing our Country. Typical projects include overseeing enterprise transformation initiatives, like moving applications to the cloud or consolidating many applications or datacenters down to an ideal number, as well assecuring buildings with newer technologies, perfecting cyber security, and ensuring the right employees have access to confidential or sensitive information. “It helps to have a relatable mission,” Carolyn reasons. “And the fact that we work to protect the country we live in is the icing on the cake.”
Most recently, eMentum signed a five-year contract with the same large Federal Agency’s Identity Management Services Program. Under the $62 million agreement, eMentum will be responsible for the security of the people, information, systems and facilities. eMentum will also work to implement government-issued biometric smart cards designed to access buildings, networks, machines of all types, and a variety of databases. The move will help federal agencies reduce spending costs and merge redundant solutions, and it will allow employees access to work from home. With a team of 35 information technology experts and strategic thinkers by her side, Carolyn continues to deftly solve the critical issues her clients face. And while the company’s client base is impressive, Carolyn treats her customers as friends and isn’t afraid to tell the truth. “It’s important to call a spade a spade,” she says. “If your customers are doing something foolish, don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong, but what they could do better.” Carolyn’s straightforward and constructive attitude with her clients perfectly sums up eMentum’s simple motto, “Do good, have fun, and add value.”
eMentum’s good will, however, isn’t limited to the corporate world. The company’s philanthropic roots have extended across the Maryland and D.C. communities for years, and while its laundry list of charities is striking, what’s even more admirable is the hands-on nature of its involvement. eMentum employees personally buy fixings for the Thanksgiving baskets they dole out each year, and it’s common practice for employees to donate their own coats for the company’s annual coat drive. Carolyn’s parents, people she describes as common day working folks, were just as giving as she was growing up. “My parents were good neighbors and a constant for those who needed help,” she remembers.
While Carolyn credits her strength and business acument to the women in her family, she attributes her passion for technology to her father. A member of the United States Air Force, he worked for one of the armed force’s first TV stations. Eventually, he earned the title of Chief Technology Officer for Montgomery County before landing a job at the Library of Congress. “My dad had a simple yet effective philosophy,” Carolyn recalls. “Be honest, work hard, and enjoy your life.” The combination of his fascination with technology and his Protestant-like work ethic propelled him into a rewarding career Carolyn yearned to replicate.
High school was where Carolyn first put her parents’ wisdoms to practice, taking on many responsibilities and making use of her natural talents. Over the course of the four years, she played three different sports, held a few odd jobs, and maintained a decent grade point average. After high school, she became the first person in her family to pursue higher education and used the money she had saved up in a pickle jar to pay for Montgomery College. Montgomery College wasn’t Carolyn’s first choice, but she realized the economic value of the two-year school. “It’s important to be smart about where you spend your money,” she advises.
Carolyn’s early economic smarts paid off in spades. On her first day at Montgomery College, she met the father of her children, Blake and Brittany. It was also where Carolyn met the woman who urged her to try out for Fordham’s basketball team, the chance encounter that irrevocably altered the stars of her universe. “I always seem to be in the right place at the right time,” she jokes. Coincidence, however, didn’t play a role in her decision to pursue an MBA in Management Information Systems from the University of Maryland. Once she graduated from Fordham, Carolyn worked as a bank teller before landing an office manager position at her now ex-husband’s family business. The experiences she garnered post-college paid the bills, but they lacked the electricity of “a Calling”—a deficit which inspired Carolyn to secure an MBA. While her graduate career was difficult to balance amidst a sea other responsibilities, including marriage, she persevered thanks to her family. “I was really lucky to have a support system during that time,” she acknowledges. “Now kids are pressured to be independent, but they often lack the resources.”
Once armed with an MBA, Carolyn secured a job at Andersen Consulting, which eventually became Accenture. At Anderson, a major information technology consulting firm, Carolyn oversaw the optimization of multi-million dollar businesses and led teams with as many as two hundred people. After Andersen was absolved by Accenture, Carolyn’s technical and leadership responsibilities soared. As associate partner, she spearheaded crucial enterprise resources planning implementation projects and other high-risk ventures when she was re-hired as an independent subcontractor.
Accenture is also where Carolyn discovered her strength as a woman, as she was the first woman in her telecom group to return as a mother to the main consulting office. Most female colleagues Carolyn knew traded high-power positions for HR or recruiting, but she committed herself to a different path. Her higher-ups even started a women’s mentoring program due to concerns over an unbalanced gender ratio, and while Carolyn was lucky enough to choose a female mentor, most of her female co-workers were assigned to men because there weren’t enough women to go around. “It was the norm for me to be the only woman in a conference room,” she affirms. “The top is mostly dominated by men.”
During her fourteen-year tenure at Andersen Consulting, Carolyn took part in an abundance of professional development opportunities that provided her the education to eventually found eMentum. Drawing on her “do good” philosophy, she now tries to make similar opportunities available to her employees. “It’s important for me to invest in my people,” Carolyn says. “I want my employees to leave eMentum as even better people than they were when they came.”
Carolyn’s commitment to investing in people is why she ultimately left Andersen Consulting to become an independent contractor. Not only was she motivated to pursue electronic e-Commerce, but she also realized she didn’t want to work with people who held dissimilar core values. Over time, she came to view herself as an honest broker and as someone who didn’t place an emphasis on money. Branching out on her own was a decision ripe with uncertainty, but Carolyn forsook security for happiness. “Success is being true to yourself and knowing who you’re willing follow as a leader,” she says. When she founded eMentum, her resolve to stay true to herself and her values proved beneficial as she drew clients from past projects. In fact, her ability to garner trust from her customers is why eMentum survived its first years. “eMentum was born from a desire to do what I wanted and how I wanted for the right reasons,” she emphasizes. “People can see that kind of honesty in the work we do, and it resonates with them.”
A strong moral compass is a big piece of Carolyn’s advice to young people looking to strike gold in today’s turbulent market. “It’s important to do good,” she says. “Be true to yourself and do the best you can with your God-given talents.”
Carolyn tries to impress these same values on her son and daughter, both young adults now, and while she finds the prospects for her children’s generation scary, she reminds her kids not to sweat the small stuff. “Worry about the big things,” she advises. “Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t feel like you have to sacrifice your own self-fulfillment.” Not afraid to take her own advice, Carolyn was the assistant coach for her daughter’s basketball and softball teams. While her schedule couldn’t accommodate a head coach position, she found the experience extremely rewarding, and it taught her a valuable lesson. “You have to make concessions in life and be realistic about your time,” she says. “Otherwise you’ll make yourself sick.”
Carolyn’s quest for self-fulfillment and truth lies at the heart of her philosophy as a CEO, which stands in stark contrast to the approaches of many she’s come in contact with over her long career who are solely after power and affiliation. “I’d rather just achieve,” Carolyn says. “I’m fine with having power, but I won’t play the CEO card unless it’s necessary.” To help her avoid the pitfalls of power struggles, Carolyn draws from her experience as a basketball player. After countless hours on the court, it was only natural for Carolyn to internalize the collaborative spirit of teamwork so crucial to the game. “I like criticism and bad feedback,” she says. “It’s the only way you grow.”
Today, Carolyn focuses on the professional growth of eMentum. Now a small company, she aims to recruit more talented employees in the near future. In her grand plan, she foresees eMentum expanding to a team of fifty or even a hundred. The expansion, Carolyn hopes, will give both her clients and employees more opportunities to be better. “I take my stewardship responsibilities for my employees very seriously,” she says. “We’re a small community here.”
Luckily for her employees and clients, community has always been the brightest point in the constellation of Carolyn’s life. While some mystics believe our stars are fixed, Carolyn’s dedication to do right by her clients is why eMentum continues to yield fortune, and though financial success is important to her, the well-being of her customers will always come first. “We’re our clients’ right hand, if they’ll let us be,” Carolyn reaffirms. “eMentum is there for companies who need help.” Acting as a lighthouse, eMentum provides a sense of direction and comfort, and this kindness, a deceivingly simple gesture, is why Carolyn will continue to lead the company to success in a world where nothing is ever certain but flashes of opportunity are all you really need to redefine your path and realize a better future.