Interview with GovCon Executive of the Year Nominee John Wood on Corporate Citizenship, STEM and Military Communications

John Wood, Executive of the Year Nominee for the 2012 GovCon Awards

WashingtonExec Series: Want To Be GovCon Executive Of The Year?

The finalists for this year’s Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards were announced last month, and as promised, WashingtonExec is bringing you its annual series with GovCon Awards nominees all this month before the winners are unveiled November 1.

The winners will be announced at the annual gala at Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington, D.C., and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Professional Services Council (PSC) and Washington Technology magazine will present the awards. With over 1,300 business and public sector leaders attending the event, our series will keep you up to date with all the finalists for this year–who they are, what they do, and why they are worthy of winning.

Today’s series nominates John Wood, Chairman and CEO of Telos Corporations, who is nominated for “Executive of the Year” in the $75 million to $300 million division.

WashingtonExec: How do you differentiate your company from its competitors? What is unique about your approach?

John Wood: With security as the common thread through all of our services and solutions, Telos has preserved the ability to be agile, see a problem as it really is, and take action to adapt to the unique needs of each customer. Clearly, the need for cybersecurity will increase over time, and by staying focused on its core competency, the company will not be distracted by reinventing itself as new technologies come and go. In addition to agility and long-term view, the company has differentiated itself by investing in intellectual property since 1997.


“For our military customers, advances in wireless communications have brought greater efficiency and opened whole new opportunities for effectiveness in pursuit of their missions. Yet these applications require a level of security far beyond what is necessary for commercial uses. We are privileged to be among the few suppliers capable of meeting these requirements.”


WashingtonExec: How have you grown the company as the government asks the private sector to “do more with less?”

John Wood: Our pricing structure differs significantly from most of our competitors. Rather than charging for Time Plus Materials, we do more than 90% of our business under a Firm Fixed Price model. Under a FFP model, efficiency is rewarded—and efficiency is in our DNA at Telos. This is a win-win for our customer and for Telos—which will ultimately benefit from a culture that demands efficiency and good problem-solving, both of which fuel innovation.

WashingtonExec: What is the fastest growing component of your business?

John Wood: For our military customers, advances in wireless communications have brought greater efficiency and opened whole new opportunities for effectiveness in pursuit of their missions. Yet these applications require a level of security far beyond what is necessary for commercial uses. We are privileged to be among the few suppliers capable of meeting these requirements.

WashingtonExec: Obtaining top talent in government contracting is fierce -how is your company able to not only recruit top talent, but also retain it?

John Wood: Recruiting and retaining top talent at Telos starts at the top. It starts with whether we embrace the corporate core values, or if they are only words thrown on our walls. The work we do at Telos is more than just a 9-5 job. The work we do to support and protect our nations’ warfighters and first responders is a mission worth getting behind. Our employees understand not only our core values, but our mission and dedication to the warfighter we support and protect. Which is why our average tenure is over 8 years, and our average management tenure is over 15 years.

WashingtonExec: What is your corporate culture? How do you maintain satisfied employees?

John Wood: It is important that our employees understand that strong financials are not enough; the success of Telos depends on more than dollars. Our success as a company depends on our integrity as a company and as individuals. We follow four simple core values: “Always with integrity, at Telos. We: Build trusted relationships, work hard together, design and deliver superior solutions and have fun doing it.” We expect our employees to live these values on and off the clock. It is also important to remember that every business is a people business—which means we need to go the extra mile to treat our employees, and their families, well.

WashingtonExec: How has the government contracting industry changed since you entered the sector?

John Wood: The dynamic of the government contracting field has changed quite a bit since I began over 20 years ago. When I started, when a company won a contract with the government, they were the only company that could sell the government that item. Today’s contracting landscape is much different. Now, a company is one of 10 that have the contract—and each of the 10 companies must compete on each delivery model. This has been a positive change in that the government is trying to get the best possible price, however, the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy now required has stymied any ability to innovate.

WashingtonExec: Does your company have a Bring Your Own Device Policy (BYOD)? What has been your largest challenge with this policy? How is the “mobile workforce” changing the way you conduct business within your company and with the federal government?

John Wood: Yes, we have a BYOD policy at Telos—in fact, we were early in the curve. Our policy is simple, stating that upon signature of the policy, all contents of the personal device will be treated as company property. For instance, updates will be pushed, encryption will be enforced, and if the phone is lost, the company will remotely wipe all contents – personal pictures, emails, texts included.

WashingtonExec: How is your company involved in the community?

John Wood: Telos supports philanthropic efforts that focus on victims of tragic loss, which includes wounded warriors and their families. I have personally been very active in two organizations that we currently support: Project Rebirth and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). The second area of philanthropic focus for Telos is the promotion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. We believe these efforts are essential to building the workforce of the future.

WashingtonExec: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

John Wood: Fresh out of college, I was given the opportunity to meet with the chairman of one of the most successful firms on Wall Street. As a young, ambitious, talented twenty-something, I was anticipating being “wined and dined” in the executive dining hall. When I arrived for my meeting, the receptionist led me to an interior office. The chairman looked up from his desk, greeted me, and pulled a brown paper bag from his desk drawer. From the bag, he pulled a tuna fish sandwich, which he then proceeded to tear into two pieces. He handed a piece to me, which I accepted. The chairman asked if I had expected to be eating lunch in the executive dining hall, to which I replied, yes. The chairman, of a company I would never work for, then gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me all of these years. He said, “We prefer to put our money into our people.”

WashingtonExec: What is something most people might not know about you?

John Wood: I played the keyboard and sang backup in a band. I even had the chance to open up for a few big names in New York City—the Beach Boys and Michael Bolton.

WashingtonExec: What book do you recommend to young executives?

John Wood: When I was in college at Georgetown, I was on the crew team. Crew taught me the hard work and perseverance needed to ensure a team succeeds, despite knowing an individual may not be recognized for his or her individual efforts. With these values, unbelievable things can happen within a team. The Amateurs, by David Halberstam is a great book with lessons pertaining to far more than the sport; anonymous team work is a principal that is essential in the business world.




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