2014 GovCon Award Nominee Interview with AMERICAN SYSTEMS’ President & CEO Peter Smith

Peter Smith, American Systems

Peter Smith, American Systems

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 AMERICAN SYSTEMS President and CEO Peter Smith. AMERICAN SYSTEMS is nominated for “Contractor of the Year” in the greater than $300 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?

Peter Smith: Several years ago, we began the transition from preferred subcontractor to prime contractor of choice in five key strategic business areas—National Security, C4ISR, Citizen Safety, Acquisition & Logistics, and Readiness. Revenue from prime contracts now makes up approximately 70% of the company’s annual revenue, and the forecast is for this trend to continue. The company’s strategic plan remains the same moving forward, with an emphasis on pursuing large prime contracts.

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

Peter Smith: AMERICAN SYSTEMS focuses on areas of national priority in which federal funding is fairly stable, despite fluctuations in overall government spending.

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

Peter Smith: We have earned a reputation as one of the nation’s leading providers of support to law enforcement through our Identity Intelligence practice, and we foresee continued growth and success in that area.

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

Peter Smith: In late 2012, AMERICAN SYSTEMS acquired Test & Evaluation (T&E) assets of another company. The acquisition accelerated the company’s growth, complementing and strengthening AMERICAN SYSTEMS’ current T&E capabilities and expanding the company’s offerings. It is one of the largest acquisitions in company history and contributed to a 34% jump in revenue.  Specifically over the last 18 months, we have completed the integration of this business unit into AMERICAN SYSTEMS and accelerated growth in areas where the synergy of the two have summed to a capability greater than each.

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

Peter Smith: We are using targeted, cost-efficient, and sometimes out-of-the-box methods in our capture and marketing efforts. As an example, we recently hosted an Open House at our Newport, Rhode Island, office, inviting our customers, teammates, and prospective employees through well-placed local ads and a targeted e-mail campaign. One of our cybersecurity experts is also an award-winning author of naval thrillers, and we had him in attendance signing copies of his books. The event was picked up by local radio and newspaper outlets, so we had a full house of visitors. I was able to speak directly with all attendees, and there’s no substitute for that kind of face-to-face interaction.

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

Peter Smith: Like everyone else, we are challenged by the Low Price Technically Acceptable environment, and as a mid-tier contractor, we are being squeezed by growing Small Business Set-Asides and the large primes who are now competing for smaller contracts. However, we believe that the unique combination of smaller company agility and bigger company reach back and stability will serve us well.

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

Peter Smith: We have robust communications channels with our diverse, global workforce, and as an employee-owned company, our engagement index is much higher than most, as everyone has a vested interest in the company. In addition, I travel to every AMERICAN SYSTEMS “population center” at least once a year, delivering a State of the Company presentation and interacting with our employees.

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

Peter Smith: Due to the nature of the work we perform, our workforce is more “seasoned” than most, but we have adapted to the times with relaxed dress codes, flexible work hours, and more telecommuting opportunities. We are also introducing policies for more flexibility in the use of different types of paid time off, including traditional holiday hours and parental leave. We continue to work hard to ensure that all of our employees achieve a very healthy work-life balance.

WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?

Peter Smith: AMERICAN SYSTEMS has always been known as a good corporate citizen, not just in the DC metropolitan area, but throughout the country.  For instance, our employee-owners support fundraising efforts for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through Light the Night Walks at most of our office locations. In 2013, AMERICAN SYSTEMS exceeded its goal by donating a company record of $55,000 to the organization.

Locally, we are a champion supporter of Northern Virginia Family Service, and in 2014, chaired their annual fundraising gala which raised a record $688,000.

And we’re very proud of our association with our local schools. 2013 marked our 15th year of providing tutoring support to Deer Park Elementary School in Centreville, VA. In 2013, we participated in Deer Park’s Backpack Program, assembling meals that were donated to the school and distributed weekly to needy students.


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