WashingtonExec Series: Want To Be GovCon Executive Of The Year?
The finalists for this year’s Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards were announced in September and WashingtonExec is bringing you its annual series with the nominees.
The winners will be unveiled on November 7th at The Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce (FCCC), the Professional Services Council (PSC) and Washington Technology magazine. With over 900 business and public sector leaders attending the event, our series will keep you up-to-date about all the finalists for this year–who they are, what they do, and why they are worthy of winning.
Today’s interview is with John B. Wood, chairman and CEO, Telos Corp. Wood is nominated for “Executive of the Year” in the $75 to $300 million category.
WashingtonExec: As a leader in the community, how have you approached the government shutdown? What did you learn from the last government shutdown?
John Wood: The lack of leadership in both Congress and the White House is astounding; it is truly appalling that they won’t work together to address our enormous deficits and ever-growing debt.
The consequence of all this dysfunction is enormous. Morale is abysmal among military and civilian workers, many of whom suffered pay freezes and furloughs and are facing even more sacrifices because of the politicians’ inability to perform the basic functions of government. Military readiness is suffering. Federal contractors are waiting for their government customers to make basic decisions that affect our national security, our businesses and our employees’ livelihoods – but the government customers can’t take action because of the repeated and politically-driven budget impasses Washington creates every few months.
Here at Telos and in businesses across the country, we run into issues that seem insurmountable. Often times, we have to work with colleagues or customers who have varying points of view, but at the end of the day, we do what’s best for all involved and get the job done. I’m not sure why that is such a difficult concept in Washington. Over the last year, I’ve written quite a bit on my blog about sequestration, the nations’ budgetary uncertainty and the government shutdown.
WashingtonExec: What is your 2014 market outlook for the federal contracting community? Where are you seeing areas for growth?
John Wood: The federal contracting community as a whole is in for some continuing uncertainty. Even with the immediate crisis behind us, there is much to be done in terms of appropriations as well as acquisition reform. In a time of so much uncertainty, the silver lining for Telos is that we have focused on cybersecurity solutions since the late 1990s. The money allocated for federal IT and cybersecurity is increasing, as legislators and policymakers recognize the threat of our cyber adversaries.
“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.”
WashingtonExec: How does your company identify and then cultivate high-potential employees to become leaders in your organization?
John Wood: Our employees understand that strong financials are not enough; our success 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.
Recruiting and retaining great talent at Telos starts at the top. It starts with whether we truly embrace these core values – or, if they are only words thrown on our walls. It’s those employees who share the integrity, anonymous teamwork, and commitment exemplified in our values who are with us for the long haul.
WashingtonExec: What trends are you seeing that are important to your customers?
John Wood: The shift towards lowest price technically acceptable, or LPTA, has the potential to change the government contracting landscape dramatically. Ultimately, customers who opt to use LPTA will get what they pay for, and it may come back to haunt them months or years down the road. High quality players will not participate in LPTA and diversify into different markets. If long term budget concerns are the issue, government customers should be thinking about lowest life cycle cost rather than lowest cost at time of acquisition.
WashingtonExec: What is your company’s biggest accomplishment in the last 12-18 months?
John Wood: As tongue and cheek as it may sound, I would say our biggest accomplishment over the last year is surviving the idiocy in Washington. With sequestration, budgetary uncertainty, healthcare changes and the government shutdown, it has been a very challenging time to operate a business.
That being said, I firmly believe that we haven’t been subject to the same risks over the last year as many companies who rely on a time/materials pricing model, because most of our work is fixed-price. At fixed-price, we are paid to deliver a specific solution and our customers appreciate that this saves them money and shows good faith on the part of the company. In this pricing model efficiency is rewarded, and in our current fiscal climate, efficiency is key.
WashingtonExec: How is your company involved in the community? (Corporate citizenship)
John Wood: Telos supports philanthropic efforts that focus on victims of tragic loss, specifically the families of those who have died in military service. We are significantly involved in supporting the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) with both financial and in-kind contributions – and, I have the privilege of serving as chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. A second area of philanthropic focus for Telos is the promotion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. For four years now, we have funded Wolf Trap Foundation’s Early STEM Learning through the Arts in Loudoun County. Many of our technology professionals have mentored students through the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program. These efforts are essential to building the cybersecurity workforce of the future.
“Crew taught me the perseverance to ensure a team succeeds, despite knowing an individual may not be recognized for his or her individual efforts.”
WashingtonExec: What would you say was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
John Wood: As a young college student at Georgetown, I met a handful of challenges and experiences that provided me with a strong entrepreneurial foundation. The most poignant experience? Like most college kids – I was broke. As an undergraduate with only $500 in my bank account, I was infuriated when the bank charged me a $20 low-balance fee each month. That $20 fee drove me to take action. Along with a handful of other students, we secured a $100,000 certificate of deposit from Georgetown University. Beyond that, we secured over $500,000 in initial capital pledges from the student population and within a year, we created the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, or GUASFCU.
As the CEO of the GUSAFCU in 1984, I gained an unbelievable amount of real-world business experience. I had nine job offers out of college – despite having a 2.7 grade-point average. I attribute those job offers and my subsequent successes in part to Georgetown doing an excellent job of educating the whole person. But I also give credit to the hands-on business experiences from managing the nation’s first entirely student run credit union, which today trumpets over $15 million in assets, 11,000 accounts, and offers a wide range of financial services to Georgetown students and alumni.
“Our challenge is to evolve with new technologies; we need to learn how new technologies fit within our lives, and not how our lives fit within these technologies. “
WashingtonExec: What makes a good leader? How would you describe your leadership style?
John Wood: My leadership style was influenced by my time as a member of the crew team in college. The beautiful thing about crew is it revolves around anonymous team work. There are no names or numbers displayed on the backs of the team jerseys. Although to the observer it may look like everyone in a crew boat is doing the exact same thing, the reality is that each person in the boat has an individual role and an individual skill set. The outsider sees a team working hard together to propel the boat forward, unaware of the many individual skill sets needed to achieve that movement. Crew taught me the perseverance to ensure a team succeeds, despite knowing an individual may not be recognized for his or her individual efforts.
WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?
John Wood: The one piece of advice that stands out at the moment is: take time to disconnect. Being within arms-reach of your smartphone around the clock is not a normal human behavior. Our challenge is to evolve with new technologies; we need to learn how new technologies fit within our lives, and not how our lives fit within these technologies.
That includes taking the time to eat dinner with the family, to tell stories and play games. I hope that when the time comes, my kids will talk to their kids, and really listen to what they have to say.