On the Field and Off: Meet the Downers

The Downer family at the beach, summer 2012

The Downer family knows competition. They’ve been the competition. Whether it’s field hockey, soccer, football, or even rugby, this family knows what it means to strive for the best.

Today, Anne-Stewart (“Stewi”) Downer, brother Kip, and their dad Bill Downer all take reign in the government contracting industry, where their competitive athletic nature takes on a whole new meaning.

Bill Downer is Vice President, Federal Sales at DataDirect Networks (DDN). His daughter, Stewi Downer, is the Business Development Manager for Northrop Grumman Information Systems Sector, where she focuses on the federal civilian market. She is also the President of Young AFCEA Bethesda, and is a recent graduate of the ACT-IAC Voyagers Program. Oldest son Kip is an account manager for Cisco Systems on the Federal Healthcare team. He is directly involved in changing the way veterans receive healthcare through technology. As a market leader, Kip is focused on bringing context relevant patient data securely to the doctors and nurses of the VA in hoping to enhance the quality of veteran care nation-wide. Even second son Cole Downer is involved in the IT business, though more on the commercial sector as Account Manager at Presidio.

But if you asked the Downers if they knew government contracting was the sector they wanted to work in, they’d all have different answers for you. Dad Bill got his start in the field at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory’s management development program. After five years in different management and staff positions, Bill joined IBM’s sales development program. Since then, he has spent time with Digital Equipment Corporation, Sun Microsystems and now, DataDirect Networks. He has over 20 years of sales and management experience in both the public and private sector.

“I love the aspects of competing and winning business in the federal selling environment,” Bill Downer said. “And I enjoy coaching teams and young people in sports and sales. I coached all three of my children in various sports and instilled the concept of believing in yourself and your teammates.”

Cole Downer, playing football for Clemson University

And daughter Stewi can corroborate her father’s love of sports and the influence it has had on the family—all five Downers played sports in college. Bill played football and basketball at Randolph-Macon College, Stephanie (wife and mom) swam at Longwood University, Stewi played field hockey at University of North Carolina (UNC) (D1 National Championship team), Kip played rugby at UNC-Wilmington, and Cole played football at Clemson University (D1).

Skiing is also big in the Downer household.

“Beyond team sports, my brothers and I each learned how to snow ski out west when we were three-years-old,” Stewi Downer said. “One of my favorite childhood memories was our annual ski trips to either Colorado or Seven Springs, Pa.”

In fact, Stewi said she was “convinced at a young age” she’d land in the sports industry, and admitted that as a first grader, she didn’t really know what her Dad did.

Ski trip, 2013: Cole, Stewi, & Kip Downer

“I wanted to be the next Erin Andrews,” Stewi Downer revealed. “Two sports-related internships later, I decided to join the rest of the family in the alphabet soup, acronym-filled, government contracting world as a Marketing Coordinator at CEXEC, Inc (a privately-held, veteran-owned small business, professional services company). A year later, after seeking advice from my dad and brothers, I joined the Northrop Grumman Business Development team.

But, I remember telling my classmates in 1st grade that my dad was a ‘Supermarket Director’ (in reality, a Marketing Director for Sun Microsystems) but I added the ‘super’ to his title since I thought it sounded better. Doing that convinced my teacher that my Dad directed grocery stores. So, needless to say, I didn’t think that was the route I was going to take.”

Eldest brother Kip, who in college studied finance with a focus on commercial real estate, said he knew information technology was what really interested him.

“After interviewing all over the marketplace, I determined I wanted to be in a business where I could support transactional business as well as learn the true art of program business, and IT was that sweet spot,” Kip Downer said. “I interviewed all over the IT industry and became enamored with federal government work. Nearly 10 years later, I know more acronyms and F.A.R. language than I EVER thought!”

Today, Kip thanks his parents for being such big role models in his life, recalling in particular how he enjoyed “take your son to work days” when dad Bill was at Digital Equipment Corporation.

“[My Dad’s] colleagues let me participate in meetings, write emails, and all kinds of fun stuff,” Kip said. “Ironically, at the time Dad was selling to someone who is now my customer! I’ve always been technically inclined. I loved logging onto MS-DOS and using our 56k modem to mess with Dad over email as a kid as early as nine-years-old.”

The Downer kids over the years

But what all three children—Stewi, Kip, and Cole—can agree on is the advantage their athleticism has had in the IT industry.

“My father and I were both successful in college athletics and always had the will to win in all aspects of life, which has translated to the business world as well,” Cole Downer said.

And growing up, whether it was the “mandatory family dinners,” essays the kids had to write when they got in trouble (detailing what they did wrong and an apology), or alternative athletic punishments in push-ups or basketball layups, one thing was certain. The Downer family learned about hard work, respect, and responsibility at an early age.

So does this close-knit family ever work together?

Stewi said the funny part about being in the business together was running into her father at an event where neither knew the other was attending. Though she has yet to do business with him, or her brothers, Stewi says that when the time is right, the Downers may just have to “start a family business!”

“It makes me proud to continue to be able to encourage and coach my children in their careers,” Bill said. “Nothing is more fun than attending an industry event and running into my kids and seeing how others in the business relate to them.”

Though the kids and dad Bill live and breathe government contracting, they try to let mom and teacher, Stephanie Downer, get in her two cents.

The Downer's in Copper Mountain, Colorado, 1990

“Mom is our biggest cheerleader and a Teen Living teacher at Franklin Middle School,” Stewi said. “We try and let her share at least a few funny stories about the everyday adventures of teaching middle school.”

But sometimes, it’s just hard to keep the dinner table government contracting-free.

“Cole and I talk-shop quite often about healthcare and Cisco, and Dad and I talk about the state of the federal marketplace often too,” Kip said. “Frankly, Stewi is constantly teaching me things about getting involved across the federal industry and even has me driving up from Raleigh to attend AFCEA events! So yes, the business is a constant in our family. Nothing better than having your network be your family!”

Even Bill shared Kip’s sentiments, saying, “I never thought we would be sitting at a family dinner discussing the merits of certain IT architectures or solutions we have sold.”

It’s safe to say that the Downers not only have experience working together both on the field and off, but understand what it takes to succeed.

In imparting some final words of wisdom, Stewi took to a quote her dad posted on her bulletin board when she made her first All-Star soccer and basketball teams in fifth grade: “the difference between the possible and impossible lies in ones determination.”

Today, Stewi said the quote sits on her office desk and she credits it with helping her overcome the challenges associated with being “too young.” Stewi is currently the youngest Young AFCEA Bethesda President, the youngest industry ACT-IAC Voyager, and youngest NG BD Manager amongst other roles.

For Kip, honesty is key, and he said his parents have “always spoken about being honest contributing members of society.”

And when it comes to working with family, Bill said it best.

“Believe in yourself, always take the moral high road, and treat everyone you meet with complete respect. It is fun when people make the family connection and have something nice to say about your children.”

The Downer's, President’s Day Weekend ski trip, Feb 2013

WashingtonExec, in addition to profiling Mobilegov’s Tom Suder, has also profiled other families in government contracting, like the Curling clan, Dale Luddeke & Lindsey Littman, and the Alderson family. Keep checking back for future featured families in the industry.


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