2014 GovCon Award Nominee Babs Doherty, President and CEO of Eagle Ray Inc., Discusses Company’s Commitment to Performance Excellence

Babs Doherty, Eagle Ray Inc.

Babs Doherty, Eagle Ray Inc.

On Sept. 4, the finalists for this year’s Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards were announced and WashingtonExec is bringing you its annual series with the nominees.

The winners will be unveiled on Nov. 13 at The Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Professional Services Council. With more than 1,000 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.

Our next interview is with Eagle Ray Inc. President and CEO Babs Doherty. The company is nominated for “Contractor of the Year” in the $25 million to $75 million category, and Doherty is nominated for “Executive of the Year” in the less than $75 million category.

WashingtonExec: How would you describe your business strategy during the past 3-5 years, and what is your organization’s plan for growth during the next 3-5 years?

Our strategy during the past few years has been to solidify our reputation with a strong portfolio of partners and to position ourselves for future growth. Eagle Ray’s offering has evolved from its core capability of process improvement to program/project management and process implementation to senior-level advisory and enterprise architecture services. We’ve leveraged our experience as a sub-contractor to become an effective Prime contractor for our core clients. And, to further expand our service portfolio and diversify our client base, we acquired Kore Federal at the end of 2013.

The success of that acquisition confirmed for us that it makes sense for us to continue to grow that way in the future, along with continuing to build on our past performance to pursue larger Prime bids. To that end, we’ll enhance the role of our partners to access set-aside opportunities and penetrate new markets. Eagle Ray’s capabilities and experience have generated a solid core solution set that has broad applications across the federal market.

In December 2013, Eagle Ray acquired Kore Federal and as we approach the year anniversary, we could not be more proud of what we’ve accomplished together. From the outset, we knew they shared our mission focus, our applied common sense and our commitment to performance excellence. That like mind-set allowed us to hit the ground running as a merged company and resulted in doubled revenues for the year.

WashingtonExec: How has your business been able to grow as the federal market contracts?

Clearly, we operate in a challenging environment, with the uncertainty resulting from budget cuts, sequestration, etc. It’s a point of tremendous pride for everyone at Eagle Ray that we’ve continued our upward growth trajectory in such an environment. Most importantly, we do what we promise. Our outstanding performance positions us as a certainty in the uncertain world our clients may face. We’ve also worked hard to pursue contract vehicles under which to do our work. Another validation that we’re doing the right things. And finally, we’re looking at all the growth levers, which means yes, we will continue to grow organically, but another acquisition is also a possibility.

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

Eagle Ray’s largest growth came from our expansion into new non-Intel Federal markets, specifically DHS/CBP and Financial regulatory agencies.

WashingtonExec: What was your organization’s largest accomplishment in the last 12-18 months?

In December 2013, Eagle Ray acquired Kore Federal and as we approach the year anniversary, we could not be more proud of what we’ve accomplished together. From the outset, we knew they shared our mission focus, our applied common sense and our commitment to performance excellence. That like mind-set allowed us to hit the ground running as a merged company and resulted in doubled revenues for the year. We’ve diversified our services and potential client base, always looking to strengthen Eagle Ray the future as an agile mid-tier firm.

WashingtonExec: Given the current state of the federal contracting market, how has your organization’s marketing approach to customers, employees and future customers changed?

We sum up our marketing approach in three words: performance, integrity and relationships. We don’t just deliver organization change, we allow our clients to quantify efficiencies, cost savings and performance improvements. That kind of information is invaluable in today’s market.

We also focus on enhancing our clients’ internal capacity; we are explicit in our knowledge transfer to government staff so that they are fully self-sufficient when our work is done. Because we are trusted — a status we’ve worked hard for and don’t take lightly — and because Eagle Ray has a comprehensive capabilities set, we are able to understand and offer solutions tightly aligned with our clients’ pain points. Strong partner relationships have enhanced our ability to satisfy clients’ needs, offering customer intimacy and access to vehicles.

Relationships are the foundation of all our marketing, but that is not a change. Eagle Ray employees know that our success has been due to the partnerships we’ve forged with our customers, other companies, and especially with each other.

Our corporate culture brings out the best in all of us. It’s understood that we all have lives outside of work, and we all do our best to integrate the two. We promote wellness because we see how staying healthy and strong actually benefits the company, not just ourselves. And we support professional development, because we believe in our people’s limitless possibilities. But more than any of the activities or policies we offer, is the atmosphere of mutual respect and pride at being an integral member of a very special team.

WashingtonExec: What are the largest challenges that you predict your business will face in the next 5 years?

Because we are always looking ahead and positioning for the next level of growth, our client-facing activities are aligned for the foreseeable future. Our challenge will be the evolution of our corporate culture to reflect the reality that we have outgrown small business standards and expectations. Early on, we positioned ourselves as a big player even though we were very small. We need to make that shift again so that we see ourselves as a company that can tee up swing-for-the-fences prime bids.

WashingtonExec: How does your organization maintain engagement with all levels of employees?

We use a full range of communication tools to reach our employees, most of whom work on customer sites. I’m proud to say that a full 85 percent of our employees report feeling connected to Eagle Ray’s mission and purpose. From an employee’s first day, our goal is to demonstrate who we are as a company and set the tone for their experience going forward. Actually, it starts before the employee does; we see communication all through the hiring process as setting the stage for successful assimilation and a productive employment relationship.

Our employee engagement initiatives include in-person meetings with the leadership team held at locations close to where our employees work daily, an annual all-hands meeting at our corporate offices and program specific Town Halls. Webinars are another useful method for communicating to a large number of our dispersed employees at a variety of times to accommodate work schedules.

At these outreach events we update employees on new contract wins – and the work associated with them, training offerings and upcoming events. We engage via social media using our Facebook page, Twitter feed and LinkedIn corporate profile to communicate news and events. Our SharePoint-based corporate intranet is our central information location – we make sure announcements, policies, templates and corporate marketing material are always accessible to staff. With our recent migration to Office 365, we now have access to Lync instant messaging, yet another tool to keep us connected and informed.

When there is a significant event affecting our employees, such as our recent acquisition, our CEO shares the news and provides regular updates. Employee communication and outreach was a critical element of our post-acquisition Integration Plan. Our communication plan included engagement at multiple levels and included key talking points to make sure a consistent message was delivered across our new organization.

WashingtonExec: Have millennials entering the workforce changed your corporate policies? If so, how?

Eagle Ray operates almost exclusively in secured environments, and because of the associated clearance requirements, we haven’t seen a large influx of millennials to date. That said, workforce greening and increased competition have us looking for ways to recruit and clear entry-level staff. For all employees we use our portfolio of communications tools to improve connectedness, but often this is limited in our client spaces.

WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?

Eagle Ray supports charitable organizations through corporate volunteerism at all levels of the organization. It’s a big part of who we are. I’ve served in leadership positions for the Volunteer Fairfax Board, the Board of the Professional Services Council and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

As a company, we’ve had teams participating in the VoluRUNteer 5K, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure and the Walk to Defeat ALS. This year, we added the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce’s Char-a-oke (charity karaoke) to the list, a charity event at which corporate teams compete in a karaoke contest to benefit the Fairfax County Education Foundation.

We see these activities as excellent team-building opportunities in addition to supporting great causes. We encourage our employees to volunteer with organizations that match their career or personal interests. Whether it is giving a motivational speech to students or planning large events, our employees who participate in these activities improve their communications, problem-solving, organization and marketing skills. We understand that volunteering gives our employees the opportunity to try out new skills, experience different interpersonal dynamics and see things from a new perspective. We give employees full recognition of skills gained outside the workplace during the appraisal process.

WashingtonExec: What would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?

There are a set of foundational qualities I believe are important for leadership: integrity, communication and ability to delegate. Great leaders demonstrate these and something more. I believe creativity and encouraging creative thinking in my team is essential. You have to have a measure of humility about what you are doing today and stay tuned for that breakthrough idea. I also believe it is important for a leader to share a sense of humor. Mistakes will happen and the business environment can be quite stressful. It is my job as the leader of my organization to keep the energy as positive as possible so people can be their best even through difficult times.

WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style?

They would say I am inclusive and fair. I have built the Eagle Ray leadership team with experts who have the opportunity to apply their knowledge and passion every day. I empower them to make decisions necessary to achieve our corporate goals.

WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

A few years before launching Eagle Ray, I had gained a reputation as a turn-around Program Manager. When a program was off-track, I would be brought in to help set things right and repair the relationship with the customer. I noticed similarities across these struggling programs and the approaches I put in place to turn around performance became the foundation of the business process engineering services that were Eagle Ray’s first offering.

WashingtonExec: What is the No. 1 book that you gift to individuals?

I share Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I appreciate how it opened my mind to an array of factors that contribute to success. It takes into consideration not only the qualities of individuals and their education, but also their upbringing, environment and even when they were born. It integrates the benefits of hard work and consistent practice over time, concepts that get short shrift in today’s culture. I appreciate the message that is it OK to be successful on your own terms, to be an outlier.

I talk to my children about this, as well. I encourage them to own their successes and to not to be embarrassed if they score higher on a test or achieve something unique. This is a very important message for all our children and for our daughters, in particular.

WashingtonExec: What was your first job?

I built a company in the “knowledge economy,” but my first job in high school was as a carpenter’s apprentice, working as a roofer. I was the only woman on the field site and had to prove myself. I learned that practice and persistence paid off. Soon, I was able to carry the same loads, drive nails at the same speed and produce the same (and most times better) quality product as the others on the team. I worked hard and got rewarded for that hard work. I realized very early on that diligence and delivering a quality product would lead to success. Things are not much different in my work today.

WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?

I hope most of what I want my kids to learn from me I am demonstrating by my actions. But you can’t really be parent without imparting words of wisdom, so these are my top three:

  1. Tell the truth even if it means you’ll get in trouble.
  2. You (and you alone) have the power to define who you are. Live your life so that the definition is clear.
  3. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. Remember to laugh.

YRCI

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