Letting Data Drive Solutions: Dabren Wills Innovates with Information

By Kerry McGinley

Dabren Wills counts at least 10 trips across the Atlantic Ocean this year. The director of Operations for Expeditionary Support Services trots the globe to ensure customers the world over are getting the level of service they require and to expand PAE’s support of the U.S. government and its allies. 

“We are really in the middle of implementing some of the most important missions in the world,” Wills said of his team’s work. “We’re in a customer-driven business.”

Wills is a problem-solver by nature. When a challenge arises, his approach is to let the data lead him to a solution. 

“I think of an endgame and I work backwards and really dissect how to get there,” he said. “I always believe in whether you’re doing something for the customer or doing something internal, you’ve got to analyze data and see what the story is before you start to conceptualize and build solutions. If you build it based on what you want, it doesn’t always align with what the customer expects.” 

That methodical path to improvement and customer focus earned Wills recognition as a PAE Values Champion for innovation. It’s a skillset that helped his team keep existing clients and identify new opportunities. Mike Smith, senior director of Expeditionary Support and Stabilization and Wills’ supervisor, nominated Wills as champion.

“He put together an extremely innovative solution for a major contract recompete,” Smith said. “He was able to shape the bid to guarantee us the win and because of Dabren’s hard work we won and are performing in the first year at a very high level. In addition to winning the recompete, Dabren also was successful at identifying and capturing a new international customer.”

Wills led efforts to enhance and improve security for a customer in a high-risk environment without affecting ongoing operations, which contributed to the win.

“The innovation in that came from challenge of upgrading (the) facility while still conducting the mission,” he said. “The solution was always going to be driven by real data and customer priorities versus anything else… It was pretty significant. It was really changing protocol of how we operate. It was a two-part approach of ‘upgrade facilities but keep the mission moving.’”

Wills also recognized how PAE’s existing footprint in the Middle East positioned the company to offer new services based on PAE’s current work in the region. He applied a methodical approach to building on existing relationships and successes to make the case for why the client should partner with PAE.

“You rarely get to demonstrate to the customer you can do the job if you’re not the incumbent,” he said. “It’s a great story of synergy. It’s knowing the culture, knowing the mission… (making the most of) the talent and infrastructure.”

It’s also about understanding the customer. 

“For me, it’s really kind of a mission-first approach,” he said. “I’m always looking at what the mission is asking, what’s the customer’s primary goal? How’s the environment, external and internal factors impacting their ability to meet and sustain that mission?”