Throughout 2023, WBENC is recognizing and celebrating WBEs who have demonstrated remarkable resilience and capacity to reinvent themselves. The 2023 WBE Stars are being honored for perseverance and excellence through reinvention and innovation, despite the unprecedented challenges of recent years.
Meet Marian Neilson, President and CEO of Abator Information Services, Inc. Despite personal and professional hardships, Marian recently introduced an innovative venture in her business: 360-Access. This initiative focuses on charting the accessibility amenities in public spaces to cater to individuals with disabilities. Through community impact and services provided by Abator, Marian proves herself to be truly commendable throughout the network.
Witness Marian’s resilience and stay tuned for our 2023 WBENC Stars article series throughout 2023!
Each WBENC WBE Star has been selected by one of 14 Regional Partner Organizations (RPOs), who lead the world-class WBENC Certification of women-owned businesses throughout the country. The 2023 WBE Stars were honored during the 2023 WBENC National Conference, a gathering of more than 3000 entrepreneurs and business leaders taking place March 20-23, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee, and throughout the year. WBENC will be featuring the 2023 WBE Stars in many ways, including this article series and in WE USA Magazine feature articles this summer.
Meet the Inspiring Marian Neilson, President and CEO of Abator Information Services, Inc.
Abator is a multi-faceted traditional consultancy supporting government and commercial clients. They build engagement teams or provide staff augmentation; their core competencies are project management; QA/IV&V; systems/applications/web development; systems integration; and database administration. With their GetDiversityCertified services they counsel and assist diverse business owners on their path to certification.
Abator operated as a family-run enterprise, spearheaded by Joanne Peterson, Founder and mother to Marian and her brother Andrew Neilson. Marian and Andrew played pivotal roles in the company. Andrew, serving as the Chief Technology Officer, unexpectedly passed away in 2018, leaving the family emotionally distressed. Leading up to her mother’s passing in 2021, Marian and her team managed the business amidst the challenges of Joanne’s cancer treatment. In retrospect, the impact of COVID was comparatively minor in comparison to the efforts invested in sustaining the business during that period.
Impact After Impact
Not only did Marian co-found the WBEC-East NextGen Committee but also holds the position of Chair. Acting as an informal mentor, she has guided numerous aspiring WBE applicants along the way. While previously serving as an engaged Certification Committee Member, handling tasks like file reviewing and site visits, she later stepped down to avoid potential conflicts of interest due to her extensive mentoring involvement with WBEs. Marian is equally engaged and holds certification with DisabilityIN.
Marian orchestrates regular “Ladies Who Lunch” events, creating a space for women business owners in the Pittsburgh area to foster connections. Through her dedicated efforts on our NextGen Committee, she actively seeks out and champions young women entrepreneurs. In addition, Marian is committed to ensuring accessibility for both individuals with disabilities and women business owners, demonstrating her unwavering dedication to inclusivity and empowerment.
Marian, what does resiliency mean to you? How do you practice resiliency as a woman leading a business?
“The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resiliency as ‘an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change’ or in other word, persist. When my mom was seventeen she was hit by a car. At first the doctors didn’t think she’d live. After she pulled through, she was told she would never walk or have kids. She proved the doctors wrong on all counts. That’s what resiliency means to me, moving forward no matter the obstacles. And how I practice it, is putting one foot (sometimes metaphorically) in front of the other to reach where I want to go.”
When and how was your business started?
When our founder, Joanne Peterson, started Abator in 1984 there were very few women-owned technology firms. She began her career with Cutler Williams in Dallas, followed by a stint with Allen Services and Consultant Systems. When her employer closed their Pittsburgh office, Joanne reached out to the contacts she made to see if they would buy from her if she had her own business. When they said yes, she established Abator.
If you did not start your business, when and how did you come into ownership of your company?
Abator is family owned. As Joanne’s daughter, stock was put in trust for me as a child. Throughout the years I was either gifted or inherited additional stock. I worked part-time for Abator throughout high school and college, before joining the business full-time in 2003. In 2006, I joined our Board of Directors as Secretary. After Joanne’s passing in 2021, I took over the role of President/CEO of Abator.
What is a challenge or opportunity your business faced because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and how did you face it?
To preface, Abator was family-owned and operated, and my mother Joanne Peterson started the business. My brother, Andrew Neilson and I were both involved in the business. He was serving as our CTO when he passed away unexpectedly in 2018. Prior to my mother’s passing in 2021, we were running the business while working around her treatment for cancer. Honestly, COVID was a blip compared to maintaining the business through that.
Provide an example of how innovation helped you overcome a challenge, pivot, or adapt to a crisis.
Abator got into the government marketplace because a long term resource wanted to go home to Illinois. We looked into opportunities and ended up getting our first state contract. A form from that contract led to Illinois issuing us our first WBE certificate. We grew the business with state government projects and certification. Our firsthand experience with government and 3rd party certification gave us the knowledge to start our GetDiversityCertified offering and write Certify & Sell: Your Guide to Certification & Supplier Diversity. Sometimes innovation is following the groundwork set years ago into new areas of opportunity.
What have you learned about yourself as a leader from mentoring or coaching others?
There are different elements of being mentor or coach. You act as a sounding board, a problem solver, sometimes you’re emotional support or the general who needs to kick butt–much like being an entrepreneur, you wear multiple hats and choose the best one for the situation. In terms of leadership, that has made me flexible on the “how,” as long as the goal is achieved. Or think of it this way: when you bring on an employee, they’re trained to do things the way you know. I’m all for them devising an alternative method as long as the work gets done.
What do you view as benefits of being part of the WBENC network? How has your company grown and changed since its inception and since becoming certified?
The greatest benefit of the WBENC Network is our fellow WBEs. Especially my core group, or tribe as Monique likes to call us. These ladies are some of my dearest friends and I’m grateful every day for them. Other benefits include the occasions we have had to introduce ourselves to regional and national corporate members, the industry specific programming and educational opportunities WBENC offers. Abator participated in Tuck and Dell’s Women in Technology through WBENC, and both programs were outstanding.
Whenever we need to procure something our first stop, after looking at the WBEs and DOBEs we already know, is WBENCLink.
What guiding words would you like to share with a newly certified WBE who is looking to get involved in the WBENC community?
You’ll get out of the network what you put into it. One of the best things you can do is volunteer with your local RPO. Whether you’re joining a committee or offering your expertise for one of their programs, it is a way for the RPO, their corporates, and their certified WBEs to get to know you and your business. And if they know you, they can tell others about you. Personally, I make numerous mutual introductions each month.
What areas of innovation do you foresee for women entrepreneurs over the next few years?
I often feel like the term innovation is overused. If we’re saying everything is innovated, how can it be? That said, areas and industries in need of problem solving are the best places for women entrepreneurs to offer innovation. Technology is obviously always on that list. Since I believe the future of office work is hybrid, the tools, training, and equipment to make that successful is another area. The pandemic also shifted mindset—people want a good work/life balance and mental health issues are more openly talked about. Any services or technologies that can assist companies with aiding their employees with these are another area. Other areas I think are in need of problem solving include: distribution and transportation, energy creation and usage reduction, employee retention and/or key person knowledge retention.
Abator is multi-faceted traditional consultancy supporting government and commercial clients. We build engagement teams or provide staff augmentation; our core competencies are project management; QA/IV&V; systems/applications/web development; systems integration; and database administration. With our GetDiversityCertified services we counsel and assist diverse business owners on their path to certification.