RJ Kolton spent 22 years in the military before transitioning into the civilian industry. He served in various command and staff positions in the White House, US Central Command, Department of the Army, and the 82nd Airborne and 3rd Infantry Divisions.
Kolton now serves as Data Systems Analysts, Inc.’s (DSA) Senior Vice President of Business Development in which he is responsible for planning, implementing and managing DSA growth strategies and business development operations.
As a decorated veteran, Kolton has utilized his military expertise to strategically and effectively grow business at Ideal Innovations, Inc. (I-3), L-3 Communications Services Group (LSG), and MPRI. During his time at LSG, Kolton increased sales from $3.4 billion to $4.3 billion. As one of the key senior leaders at MPRI, Kolton was responsible for increasing revenue from $47 million to $1.2 billion.
WashingtonExec recently had the opportunity to interview Kolton about his new role at DSA, how his military background transcends his work in the civilian industry, how he tackles the challenge of growing business in uncertain economic times, and his forecast for potential challenges in the next five years.
WashingtonExec: Tell us about DSA and your current role at DSA.
RJ Kolton: I am currently the Senior Vice President for Business Development at DSA Inc. I joined the company in May of 2013.
DSA is a professional services firm with experience spanning five decades. We possess comprehensive understanding of the operational, security, collaboration and identity management challenges our customers must address in the context of their critical missions. We provide secure information sharing solutions that encompass collaboration and knowledge management, cyber security, identity management, and network and systems engineering and integration.
Our company is involved directly in supporting our customers and grappling with current critical information management technology challenges. These include – among others – supporting our customers in shaping and implementing the Joint Information Environment (JIE), as well as adapting advanced technologies to address critical information management requirements.
“It is critical to apply business and competitive intelligence to identify the optimum market segments for growth and to translate a company’s offerings into specific customer value propositions.”
WashingtonExec: How has your military background shaped your thinking style and decision-making in government contracting?
I’ve been in business now for fifteen years. There were seven practices that I took away from 22 years of active duty, which I applied to business.
- Understand the history and guiding principles of the business
- Master the doctrine or institutionalized best practices associated with the business
- Know and build close relationships with the customer
- Identify and analyze the customer problem or challenge to be solved and ensure that it’s the right problem.
- Design the optimum solution to be applied to the customer problem.
- Explain the solution to stakeholders in a compelling and understandable manor. This includes customers via the proposal, as well as company and team colleagues who are charged with designing and implementing the solution.
- Implement the solution aggressively and effectively as possible.
These practices helped me focus my transition to civilian industry and supported my efforts to quickly understand the universe of federal contracting once I entered the private sector. The practices reflect particularly what I learned over five years from 1993 to 1998 when I served in a succession of senior staff positions: Special Assistant for Strategic Initiatives to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army; Special Assistant to the Commander of US Central Command; and Special Assistant for Strategy to the Director of the White House National Drug Control Policy. In those positions I had to apply the full range of my academic and professional experience and related expertise to address strategic matters. I had to continually seek new ways to address the challenges confronting my organization. I drew on the knowledge derived from diverse thinkers and practitioners, past and present, located worldwide, within the military, government, academia, religion, industry and non-governmental organizations.
WashingtonExec: As Senior Vice President, what is your strategy for identifying market segments for growth?
RJ Kolton: Among the many critical strategic tasks any company in the federal market must accomplish are the following:
- Define the market segments to which its core capabilities apply.
- Identify specific offerings associated with those core capabilities that can be applied to a specific customer within those segments.
- Articulate the value propositions of those offerings to the customer.
- Determine the contract vehicles that it must have to compete effectively.
- Finally, win those contracts.
It is easy to describe this process, but difficult to execute. It is particularly difficult to execute those tasks in a consistent and effective fashion because so many factors can impact what must be done, when it should be done and how it should be done. Given this challenge, it is critical to apply business and competitive intelligence to identify the optimum market segments for growth and to translate a company’s offerings into specific customer value propositions.
“As in the past, companies must confront tough business conditions by reassessing their markets, offerings, and business models and by making tough business decisions. Some companies are going to fail. Successful companies are resilient; they adapt, evolve and embrace change.”
WashingtonExec: Which technologies do you anticipate to grow in the near future?
RJ Kolton: I do not believe we can view specific technologies as driving future business growth. Rather, we need to consider how technologies are being integrated as “systems of systems” to address customer needs. I believe that it’s the innovative application of a range of technologies that offer the most value to customers. Given the rapid pace of technological change, we look to match innovative leaders, managers and technical experts – all brought together in a well-run company – to produce value for our customers.
WashingtonExec: What is your strategy for maintaining growth in the wake of the reduced budgets?
RJ Kolton: Defense companies have confronted similar fiscal challenges in the recent past. Consider the years immediately following the end of the Cold War during the 90’s. As in the past, companies must confront tough business conditions by reassessing their markets, offerings, and business models and by making tough business decisions. Some companies are going to fail. Successful companies are resilient; they adapt, evolve and embrace change. They seek to redefine the problem of reduced budgets as a business opportunity to be pursued. They draw on the strength of their people. They offer superior leadership to their organization. They manage resources masterfully. We will achieve growth by carefully selecting how to satisfy our customer’s needs now and in the years to come, determining our specific business pursuits, consistently delivering quality solutions at the right price, and also continuing to be an entrepreneurial, innovative company committed to mastering and applying the most effective technologies and business practices.
“US industry must continue to support our IC customers by continually investing in new technologies, applying those technological advances in innovative ways, educating and deploying highly skilled subject matter experts, and remaining ever ready to support our IC customers with the best possible solutions to their challenges.”
WashingtonExec: As a former speech writer, what is something most people don’t know about the profession?
RJ Kolton: I believe a speech writer is a strategic thought leader within an organization. Owing to the relationship the speech writer forges with the senior leader of an organization, he or she must understand the philosophical underpinnings of that leader, coordinate with the organization’s staff to capitalize on their expertise, draw on the wide array of subjects when developing speeches and other presentations, be sensitive to differing world views and artistically express ideas in the various media.
WashingtonExec: How has the Intelligence Community (IC) changed since you first entered the industry?
RJ Kolton: The revolution of information technology has unleashed a torrent of information and data that is both a blessing and a curse. The IC has been challenged to sift through mountains of raw information to provide strategic, operational and tactical intelligence. It has devised imaginative ways to share information among agencies and with allies and coalition partners. It has done all of these things in the course of conducting operations in multiple theatres of war over the past decade while concurrently performing routine intelligence in defense of the nation’s security. The IC has performed remarkably, integrating technological innovations, collecting and analyzing intelligence quickly, fusing intelligence drawn from human and technical sources, promoting inter-agency collaboration and providing actionable intelligence products to operators when needed. US industry must continue to support our IC customers by continually investing in new technologies, applying those technological advances in innovative ways, educating and deploying highly skilled subject matter experts, and remaining ever ready to support our IC customers with the best possible solutions to their challenges.
WashingtonExec: What is the biggest challenge DSA will face in the next five years?
RJ Kolton: DOD, the Intelligence Community and Military Services are experiencing significant disruptive change. The US national security strategy and associated military strategies are being revised based on changing geostrategic conditions, budgets are being reduced, and organizations must decide how to best apply scarce resources to sustain current forces while also investing for future systems and infrastructure. All of these conditions have impact on industry. In this strategic setting, we at DSA must draw on our proven capacity and willingness to redefine how we will deliver value to our customers.