2014 GovCon Award Nominee Brian Karlisch, CEO of Buchanan & Edwards, Discusses Company’s Tenue

Brian Karlisch, Buchanan & Edwards

Brian Karlisch, Buchanan & Edwards

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 Buchanan & Edwards CEO Brian Karlisch. The company is nominated for “Contractor of the Year” in the $25 million to $75 million category.

WashingtonExec: How would you describe your business strategy over the past 3-5 years and what is your organization’s plan for growth over the next 3-5 years? How has your business been able to grow as the federal market contracts? What is the fastest growing component of your business?

Brian Karlisch: We are a company focused on strategic growth, not growth for the sake of growth. We evolve our strategic plan every year through planning sessions. Our vision, which is a 20-year plan, has incremental five-year goals to help us measure success. These goals address three critical areas: our customers, our employees and our financial strength. Because our goals for growth are aggressive, we need each of these components to be seamlessly integrated and successful in achieving our vision.

We understand the importance of staying competitive in the contracting federal market while remaining steadfast in our mission to deliver custom, mission-based solutions to our clients. We place great emphasis on truly understanding our customers’ missions in order to build solutions that solve their challenges and cultivate mission success.

Buchanan & Edwards (BE) has experienced exceptional growth this year. We are fortunate that all of our business units are growing at a rate greater than 20 percent. We have a much larger team than we ever imagined, and we are looking forward to future growth.

A great leader is someone who can inspire a culture where people thrive. They are passionate about their values and they are steadfast in them, even in difficult times.

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

Brian Karlisch: In the last year, BE was awarded the two largest contracts in our 16-year history — Dept. of State Vanguard 2.3.1 and 2.3.2 enterprise IT programs, each valued at more than $65 million. We also received Microsoft’s Rising Star Partner of the Year Award in recognition of our accomplishments in developing innovative solutions for our customers using Microsoft’s ever-evolving set of tools. These wins resulted in several growth areas for BE including a seemingly overnight increase in employees and the hiring of key executives.

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

Brian Karlisch: Our marketing approach starts from within. We place great emphasis on educating our employees on our partnerships, providing technical training and Brown Bags, sharing project stories and hosting Communities of Practice events (designed to leverage collaboration, facilitate new ideas and foster individual growth in specific technical areas) to keep employees informed about BE’s capabilities and technical resources.

We have become more active in our use of social media, steadily positioning ourselves as thought-leaders within the federal IT contracting space. We are currently revamping our website to effectively market our capabilities to our employees, clients and future clients in an interactive, streamlined way.

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

Brian Karlisch: I anticipate that the federal contracting landscape will continue to get more competitive. More and more companies are looking to hire young, talented and tech-savvy individuals. Unfortunately, growth in the private sector around startups and companies that are more adaptable to change make it difficult to recruit and retain young talent in the federal government. People are looking for jobs where they can do something bigger than themselves, and the challenge for companies in the federal contracting space will be to create a business culture where that is possible.

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

Brian Karlisch: As a professional services consulting firm, many of our employees work out of our client offices. We have numerous activities, events and methods of communication to foster a strong sense of belonging and community across our company. Our year kicks off with an annual “All Hands” meeting where we share our prior year results, revisit our vision and mission, and discuss our priorities for the new year. We continuously communicate through quarterly newsletters, monthly “BE Minutes” (short company updates) and daily updates on our social media tool, Yammer. To bring our people together and build morale, we also hold events such as a Family Fun Day, happy hours and a holiday party, just to name a few.

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

Brian Karlisch: We have been always progressive in our approach to recruiting young talent. During our recruiting process, we look for people who are inspired by our mission and who would fit in well with the team-orientated and entrepreneurial spirit of our organization. We find that our business environment, one that is big on collaboration, innovation, inclusion and support of individual creative pursuits, naturally appeals to Millennials. We offer many opportunities for students and new graduates to embark on their career path by providing challenging internship and recent graduate positions in multiple disciplines throughout our company. We believe in investing in the talent and future aspirations of every BE employee.

WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?

Brian Karlisch: We are committed to working to improve communities and the lives of citizens across the nation through our technology expertise, resources and involvement. We invest in and aid community partners in facilitating technological skills development, providing access to education and supporting health and wellness initiatives.

Buchanan & Edwards proudly supports educational initiatives such as the Cynthia Earley Education Foundation, University of Virginia Hackathon, Howard University Marketing Summit, George Mason High School robotics team and the Luke C. Moore Academy.

BE also supports many other worthy causes, including Make-A-Wish, Teardrops to Rainbows and Relay for Life Arlington. Our commitment to philanthropic efforts is embedded in our company culture. In addition to the causes supported by BE, individual BE employees are actively involved in the community, supporting organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Push America.

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

Brian Karlisch: A great leader is someone who can inspire a culture where people thrive. They are passionate about their values and they are steadfast in them, even in difficult times. A great leader is a champion for the big picture, but never loses site of the person at the front line. True engagement is the secret ingredient to being a great leader, and success is a natural outcome of building a culture that is rooted in people-centered values.

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

Brian Karlisch: My leadership style is reflective of my belief that it truly is all about the people, and that helping people achieve their goals is integral to our company’s success. If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your customers, and the business will take care of itself. I also strongly believe in being a collaborative leader, one who is open to new and different ideas and who makes people feel that their opinions are truly valued.

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

Brian Karlisch: Starting Buchanan & Edwards from the ground up with my business partners, Greg and Tony Parchment was the pinnacle of my career so far. When we formed BE, we were fully entrenched in delivering solutions to our customers. As our understanding of our customers grew, so did the trust our customers placed in us, and in turn, their need for new services and solutions. We had to find new ways to deliver innovative solutions and with that came the opportunity to grow. We learned that creating an environment where people can thrive, investing in our people and focusing on the specific needs of our customers were the ingredients for success.

WashingtonExec: What is the No. 1 book (business or other) that you gift to individuals?

Brian Karlisch: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It is a self-help book that teaches the fundamentals of building persuasive arguments, how to be a better listener and most importantly, how to interact with people. Although it was written in the 1930s, there are relevant and immeasurable lessons of wisdom that can really help build both personal and business relationships.

WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?

Brian Karlisch: Our business is one of tenure. It takes a long time to become an effective player in the federal contracting space. To be successful in any business you must reinvent yourself: you have to be open to introspection, you must be inventive and you can never stop learning. You must have the fortitude to see things through and you must be accepting of change. Success is a journey, not a destination.

WashingtonExec: What was your first job? Overall, how did that experience shape your career?

Brian Karlisch: I was a busboy which then led to being a waiter. Many of the things I know about life, I learned from working in the restaurant industry. One of the most important things I learned was how to think on my feet. It is a skill that is critical in today’s ever-changing business climate. Learning to think on your feet opens doors to creativity, innovation and collaboration, all of which shape BE’s company culture.

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