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 Scott Goss, President and CEO of Preferred Systems Solutions (PSS). He is nominated for “Executive of the Year” in the less than $75 million category.
WashingtonExec: What would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?
Scott Goss: First and foremost: Honesty and Integrity are so very important, I believe they are the foundation for any leader. A great leader fosters an environment which leverages the talent and skill of his team, provides guidance and direction when necessary, but gives his team room to execute without unnecessary obstacles.
WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style?
Scott Goss: I guess that would depend on the situation. I believe I have an adaptive style — I can be very hands on when needed, but mostly trust my team to do the right thing for the company. I am willing to get my hands dirty working alongside employees at all levels. I try to provide guidance, yet also know that the role of a CEO is to support and make the team successful. Thus, I try to be supportive of new ideas, accomplishments and work efforts and reach out to employees who have done great things to provide them encouragement and positive feedback.
Finally, it is okay to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t trying to improve.
WashingtonExec: How would your team describe your leadership qualities?
Scott Goss: My team would describe me as firm, but fair. Most decisions are made democratically — where opposing views are openly discussed and vetted. Everyone has the opportunity for their day in court, but once a decision is made, I expect everyone to support as one team.
WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Scott Goss: The major inflection point in my career happened when I was with I-Net. I-Net had just been acquired by Wang Federal, and I was given the opportunity to either take the chief information officer job offered at Wang or a new job at SIGNAL Corporation as VP of Accounting and Finance. Up until that point, I had successfully used both my technical and financial skills throughout my career. For example, our financial systems did not provide the level of granularity that I felt was necessary to monitor the financial health of the company so I built and implemented a financial automation tool, PM Reports.
I decided to take the VP Accounting and Finance job at SIGNAL and then became the CFO/CIO. During my tenure, I helped, along with a stellar management team, build the company from $30 million to $260 million and eventually led the sale of SIGNAL to Veridian. Working at SIGNAL gave me the opportunity to hone my managerial and operational skills — skills that are essential to my CEO role at PSS.
WashingtonExec: What is the No. 1 book that you gift to individuals?
Scott Goss: I usually suggest/gift articles, rather than books, to my team and friends, most likely because I read material that most normal people would find boring and put you to sleep! If I were to choose a book, it would have to be Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks & Fraud in Financial Reports by Howard Schilit (a former professor that I worked for, as well). Since I have been involved in so many mergers and acquisitions and investment activities, I find that this book provides some of the best lessons learned in looking at ways companies manipulate numbers. I did warn you I was a boring reader!
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?
Scott Goss: You need to have lots of passion for the work to be in this business. It’s easy to be engaged every day when you focus on customers, investors and employees who rely on you. Half the battle is to surround yourself with good people. Lastly, have the fiscal responsibility to meet the needs of those counting on you.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job?
Scott Goss: When I was 11, I had a real old fashioned paper route. Every day after school, I’d hop on my bike to ride over to the distributor to fold papers. After loading up my bike, I’d spend about three hours placing the papers on each subscriber’s front step. Delivery took even longer on rainy days – after wrapping the papers in plastic, I’d hang the paper on each door knob so I wouldn’t have to replace wet papers! Believe it or not I had this job (and a couple others too) for four years.
My parents taught me a valuable lesson: if I wanted things in life, I had to work for them, there are no handouts. I still remember the drum set I wanted so badly; I had to work for it so I really appreciated it once I was able to buy it with my own hard-earned money.
WashingtonExec: Overall, how did that experience shape your career?
Scott Goss: My paper route taught me the value of hard work. When my friends were spending their allowances to go to the movies, I’d think long and hard about whether or not the cost of the movie ticket was worth the number of days delivering papers. I learned about communication and customer service — the better the service, the more tips I’d earn. Trust me, I quickly learned how to track down those customers who were “not home” on collection day since those fees, if not turned in, came out of my paycheck. I still use all of these skills today.
WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?
Scott Goss: First and foremost, be yourself and be honest –providing full disclosure and being up front with people will serve you well in life. There are times in life to ask for forgiveness, but more often than not, it’s better to ask for permission.
Second, don’t quit when something gets hard. My parents didn’t let me quit that paper route for more than four years, and it taught me the value of hard work.
Finally, it is okay to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t trying to improve. The key to the mistake is to analyze what went wrong and move on. If you know what went wrong, you won’t make the same mistake again, you’ve learned something, and hopefully, gained value from the experience.
WashingtonExec: How has your organization changed over the past year and what makes you optimistic about winning GovCon Awards in your category this year?
Scott Goss: Obviously, it has been tough in the government contracting business with the sequester, government shutdown and Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) environment. PSS was not immune to the financial impacts of these difficulties. As the CEO of PSS, I am responsible for and answer to my customers, investors and employees so I spent the better part of the year re-focusing my efforts to deal with these challenges. I’ve had to make some tough decisions and, with the help of my excellent management team, have crystalized PSS’ strategy going forward. While we are seeing some improvements on the organic growth side of the house, we are finally making in-roads in new markets. We’re actively, no aggressively, pursuing strategic mergers and acquisitions to better position PSS for the future.