As a young Marine, Tony Crescenzo served in some of the world’s most unnerving landscapes, but combat zones in the Middle East were nothing compared to the independent duty station in Trenton, New Jersey, where he was presented with a choice. The gunnery sergeant he worked for offered him a way to make fast, easy money through embezzlement, creating false ID cards and cashing checks. “There’s no playbook for that kind of situation,” he recalls today. “I had to feel my way through it, and I figured I had three options. I could throw in. I could do nothing. Or, I could do the right thing.”

The next morning, Tony hopped in his car and drove to the Naval Investigative Service station in Philadelphia to report the incident. A battalion commander put him on undercover duty to gather intelligence on the questionable activity going on at the station—a fortuitous decision, as Tony was soon approached by a sergeant in a motor transport pool who had witnessed marines using cocaine. When Tony began following that thread, it led deep: ten marines were smuggling drugs into Warminster Naval Air Station from Panama. When the Marine Corps ultimately brought the individuals to justice and asked Tony to testify against them, he felt his life was in danger. And to make matters worse, the Marine Corps failed to transfer him out of the station. It had been a tight-knit group, and the Marines that hadn’t been implicated in the smuggling ring avenged their busted brothers by making Tony pay.

Through that period, Tony was hit with a number of false or ill-intentioned charges, including a court-martial for being twenty minutes late to work. In search of reprieve, he wrote letters to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, the Commandant, and his Congressman, but heard nothing back. “I was completely alone,” he remembers. “So I just kept my head down and kept at it, doing what I thought was right.” Finally, his Congressman intervened, and the Marine Corps agreed to transfer him anywhere in the world he wanted to go. Disillusioned almost to the point of giving up, he asked to be transferred home.

Tony spent the next eight months at a station in Garden City, New York, as an isolated counterintelligence marine stripped of his security clearances and stuck doing filing. But his nature kept him going, and his reputation and name were exonerated when the Commandant of the Marine Corps finally walked through the doors of the drab facility with a medal, a certificate of commendation, and four-page apology letter to Tony’s mother. “That marked my get-out-of-jail free card,” he says. “My court-martial was overturned. My file was updated. My assessments confirmed unlimited potential. I could do anything I wanted at that point, so I went back to my counterintelligence duties. The whole experience taught me not to quit. If you stay on track and do the right thing, eventually things will work out. Maybe not today, or next week, or next year, but they will.”

Now the President and CEO of IntelliDyne, an enterprise infrastructure management company serving critical missions of the federal government, Tony continues to measure his success in the moments where he stays semper fidelus—always faithful—to his ideals and integrity. Many times throughout his career, both in the service and later in the private sector, he has paused in difficult situations to ask himself what one of his mentors or role models would do. And now, he recognizes himself as that person for others, helping them to understand their moral compass and use it toward successful navigation. “This is more than a job to me,” he says. “It’s a vocation. It’s about being the kind of guy people think of in difficult situations and ask themselves, ‘What would Tony do?’ It’s about pulling people up the mountain to new heights, so they can in turn reach behind them and pull up someone else.”

A mid-tier company that holds no special competitive designations but runs entirely on might and craft, IntelliDyne is symbolized by the pirate flag. “We’re too big to be small and too small to be big, so we’re the guys you need to look out for,” Tony says with a smile. “As our tagline reads, we want our clients to experience above and beyond.” That commitment extends to the experience of the firm’s employees as well. When federal government funding authorizations expired in 2013 to cause a several-week shutdown, Tony developed an IntelliDyne program to allow executives and employees to donate 2,000 hours of vacation time to prevent loss of wages for new employees under furlough. The innovative solution was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, the Washington Post, and the Washington Business Journal, demonstrating the kind of synergy that can be created when a company cares enough about its employees to put skin in the game. “We wouldn’t take no for an answer, and we wouldn’t settle for what everyone else was doing,” he remembers. “It was one of my proudest moments.”

Such strategizing for the common good is almost a Crescenzo family tradition. Indeed, Tony grew up watching his father and grandfather respond to any and every personal request for help that came their way. When his grandfather stumbled across a man who had cut his wrists in an alley during the Depression, he took him home and set him on a better path, creating a lifelong friendship. “If someone brought a problem to my grandfather, he was the kind of guy who would find a way to solve it, no matter what,” says Tony.

Tony’s grandfather had come to America from Italy at a young age and was raised on his family’s farm in South Jersey, which he hated so much that he ran away to Philadelphia at age 17 to learn how to be a mechanic. The automobile was still a rare commodity at the time, but his enterprising spirit set the stage for his family’s success for generations to come. In October of 1929, he decided to finally buy his own car, so he withdrew all the money from his bank account. The next day, the stock market crashed and the banks closed. He decided to instead invest the funds in real estate, buying two city blocks of commercial real estate to start his own business. It was so successful that he retired at 45, handed the business off to Tony’s father, and came full-circle by purchasing a farm, where Tony would spend weekends throughout his own childhood. He also helped out at the shop, cleaning tools for his father, uncles, and cousins. “They were always incredible mechanics and visionary people,” Tony says. “My father told me it was lucky I was smart, because if I had to make a living with my hands, I’d starve. He knew being a mechanic was never in the cards for me.”

Tony’s parents divorced when he was five years old, but the big Italian family absorbed the ripple and remained tight-knit. His mother remarried a Navy Commander, and they moved with Tony to Beltsville, Maryland in 1972 while his stepfather attended Naval Postgraduate School for a year. They then spent four years in Hawaii, followed by several years in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. He was often the youngest in his class, and his smart mouth and constant moving around landed him in plenty of fights. “I didn’t really mind it,” he recalls. “Moving from place to place, you learn how to get along with people, fit in, be independent, and keep your own counsel.”

Tony would return to South Philadelphia in the summers to work in his father’s shop until the summer after his junior year of high school, when he landed a job as a mountain guide on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion. “I came to realize that, if you concentrate on the summit, you fail,” he explains. “But if you watch your feet and just stay at it, eventually you look up one day and you’re at the top.” It’s a mindset that would guide him to the helm of companies and industries later in life.

Around that time, Tony’s mother and stepfather retired to Scotland, giving him the opportunity to stay with his father and spend his senior year of high school in his hometown. And in ending grade school where he had begun it, he came to see himself in a new light. Though he clocked in at only 135 pounds, he earned a starting spot on the school’s football team because he was the kind of kid who saw things through, no matter what was coming at him. “Even back then, I felt like I was 42 years old, and I think other people could see that in the way I carried myself,” he reflects. “I’ve always been the guy driving things, both in business and beyond.”

Tony’s intensity carried him forward to Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where he took up fencing and was the Under-19 National Champion in sabre in the 1979 Pan American Games. “I would drive everyone crazy, practicing ten hours a day whenever I got the chance,” he remembers. “When I get my teeth into something, it’s hard to get out of it. I always wanted to be the guy that drives the ship and pushes the envelope, whether that meant working full-time while I was in college, or testing myself through long-distance running.” His was always the mindset of a Marine, and it would find its path forward one evening when Tony took a wrong turn on the way to a Jack Welch lecture. He ran into a Marine Officer recruiting table, and though he had always planned to become a history professor, he couldn’t resist the challenge set before him.

The Marine Corps training program consisted of an eight-week torture session at Quantico during his sophomore year summer, and another the following summer. The rigorous emotional, physical, and intellectual challenges were designed to weed out those unfit for Marine Corps leadership, but Tony withstood the grit and grind. “When I finished, I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” he recalls. “I wanted to be doing hard things in hard places. I wanted to be putting my energy toward challenging myself.”

In all, Tony spent eight years in the Marine Corps, traveling all over the world and working in cities like Rome, Paris, London, Hong Kong, and Mexico City. Then, in 1987, he was recruited out to work as a Director at Trecom Business Systems, a new Wall Street firm founded by Frank Casagrande, Russ Powell, and Manny Arturo. “They were the smartest, craziest people I had ever met,” says Tony. “They taught me that there’s a whole other dimension to life beyond the eight-hour workday.” Two short years later, they sold the firm for $160 million, and Tony joined a small startup in the Washington, DC area doing education and consulting on the AG products he had learned in the Marines. He was then recruited over to Software AG Federal by Dave Eaves, the Managing Director at the time. “We were complete opposites in every way,” Tony recalls. “I was a young, skinny, irreverent, loud-mouthed kid from South Philly, and he was this big, introverted, religious Texan. But we were a great team. When he left the company, I wrote to him thanking him for being such a good mentor to me. Two weeks later, he called saying he thought I was the one mentoring him. It was a match made in heaven.”

Tony served as COO at Software AG for three years and then worked another three years internationally, helping to open the Asia Pacific Region and turn around failing divisions. As part of their Global Services Counsel, he started working on technology intersection and then left to help a friend launch and sell a company before it even opened its doors. Thus marked Tony’s involvement in a series of startups, and his first job as CEO at age 33. “People would say I was pretty young to be a CEO, but I’d tell them that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at age 33, so what’s the problem?” he laughs. He was running Inline Software at the time, a venture-backed company putting out the first model-driven development technology for Java. But the dotcom blowup rendered the business an abysmal failure—something Tony’s Marine mind couldn’t wrap itself around until it was too late. “The one thing they never taught us in the Marine Corps was how to retreat,” he says. “I couldn’t see that we were never going to have a working model. I ultimately lost a lot of money and got walked out of the company. It was just awful, but I never learned more than I did through that experience. It completely changed the way I look at business, showing me that even a moderate success can actually be a failure.”

Tony went on to serve as the President and CEO of Illumitek, and then took a position as Vice President at Initiate Systems, a Chicago-based company looking to open a federal division. In that capacity, he worked on master data management in the healthcare sector, pushing software that could disambiguate a patient’s identity even if their name or social security number was entered into the system wrong. Three years later, he took a job as the COO of IMTS, an 8(a) in West Virginia, where he sought to apply this technology in the defense and intelligence spaces to disambiguate identities of targets in the Middle East. He got funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture fund, and built the technology to find people who didn’t want to be found. The technology was used to build an application called the Law Enforcement Information Exchange for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and was later used to capture, implement, and win an FBI program, Index.

Business was booming for IMTS until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Faced the need to reframe the company, Tony hired Achievence LLC, a management consulting firm. He hit it off so well with the firm’s partners that, when he was ready to make his next move after five years at IMTS, he sought their advice. A week later, he was a partner at Achievence, where he consulted with CEOs and Boards on strategy. In 2009, he began work on a strategy for IntelliDyne. When Tony tired of being an “outside guy,” drawing up robust plans for companies that often failed to implement them, he decided to get back in the game and landed there as COO. “IntelliDyne’s CEO was looking for someone who had real passion for the business,” Tony reflects. “He could see that in me, and in June of 2013, I transitioned into the CEO role.”

Shortly afterward, Tony married Kim, a brilliant and driven woman who has allowed him to fully flourish into his full potential. Kim graduated second in her class at Virginia Tech, earned her MBA from William and Mary, and got her masters in Environmental Science from Johns Hopkins. After a successful career working for Accenture, Booze Allen Hamilton, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, she decided to follow her heart and transition over to The Nature Conservancy. And now, even as she works long days saving the world, she is the perfect sounding board and support system for Tony. “She’s smarter than me, even though she’d never say that,” he laughs. “She’s just awesome.”

Today, IntelliDyne has a team of 260 employees concentrated in the national capital region, and with offices in Aurora, San Antonio, San Diego, and Chicago to best support its clients. They support the Justice Department in prosecuting antitrust violators. They run the Defense Health Agency, ensuring that active duty military get the quality healthcare they need and deserve. They support the technology used to run background checks for airline passengers. And because so many veterans work for the company, its philanthropic focus is on giving back to the veteran community, with highlights including launching a website chronicling 365 acts of kindness for veterans, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “We work for the government and citizens of the United States,” Tony affirms. “We run data centers, enterprise operations, application development, and security and network operations. But at the end of the day, we provide a good night’s sleep to our clients. We strive to be the company you don’t have to think about, and the company who can always be trusted to act in the best interest of the client. Our job is not to write code or make sure the network is up and running—rather, it’s to make sure your mission gets accomplished.”

In advising young people entering the working world today, Tony highlights that definitive moment on a person’s first day of work, when they’re handed a list of tasks to execute. As their career goes on, they’ll be given more responsibility, longer task lists, raises, and promotions. One day, they may find themselves a CEO. Will they have the will, the perspective, the character to be the list-writer? “At the end of the day, I do what I do because it’s in my nature to lead,” he says. “It’s in my DNA, as it was for my father and grandfather, who were leaders their entire lives—in business, in the community, and in our family. Leadership is a completely different mindset from management, which is more about the minimization of deviation from a plan. It’s a hard job, but leadership is about figuring out what that plan is, and getting others to believe in it so much that they’re willing to take it as their own.

“The real work of business isn’t done by grinding away eight hours a day in an office,” he continues. “It’s done by creative people thinking outside the box and making it up as they go. That’s where the fun stuff happens. That’s going beyond execution to see the big picture. But it’s hard. Everyone wants to sit in the CEO office, until they get there and close the door and realize there’s nobody else around. There’s no playbook. You make it up as you go. And hopefully, you carry a moral compass with you that always points in the right direction. When you’re the top decision maker, you live in gray—there’s almost never a clear right or wrong. Having a strong compass means understanding what North really means to you. There are no absolutes in life, but as long as you’ve defined what your own absolutes are—what you will and won’t do—you’ll find your way.”