WashingtonExec Annual Greater Washington GovCon Awards Finalist Series
Known as “the Oscars of the Government Contracting Community,” the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and Professional Services Council will reveal the 13th annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards winners Nov. 5 at The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner.
During the weeks and months leading up to the ceremony, WashingtonExec will interview “Executive of the Year” and “Contractor of the Year” finalists about how they have grown their businesses in a contracting marketplace, what sets their organizations apart from the competition and how millennials are changing the overall workforce. We also went a little more personal with the “Executive of the Year” winners by learning about their first jobs and inflection points in their careers, as well as what advice they give their children.
First up this year is Knight Point Systems‘ Chief Operating Officer Doug Duenkel, who is a Greater Washington GovCon Awards finalist in the $75 million to $300 million category.
WashingtonExec: What would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?
Doug Duenkel: Great leaders have excellent listening skills. They listen to what their team members have to say, and they listen to their customers. They combine those listening skills with empathy. A great leader will work to understand the vantage point where someone else is coming from. Leaders take this information and understanding to make decisions for the greater good. People gravitate towards these types of leaders and will follow them – even when they make contrary decisions – because they know that they are “heard.”
I interviewed three different times until I was granted a job in sales. It changed my life. I learned that you needed persistence to get to your passion.
WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style?
Doug Duenkel: I believe the team would say that I have an entrepreneurial management style. We like to talk a lot about unique abilities at Knight Point, and I try to focus the team on making sure we know each person’s unique abilities. Those are the areas where they thrive and enjoy work the most. It is also where they are the most productive. If we are each focused on a domain that we like and have fun doing, it’s easier to push ourselves harder. I love growing the business, so I naturally focus there.
WashingtonExec: How would your team describe your leadership qualities?
Doug Duenkel: My teammates all have different unique abilities. I’m hoping that they would describe me as a good judge of those abilities, and someone that can lead by putting together the best team possible. If 80 percent of our day is done doing the things that we are good at, we’ll all enjoy the work more, produce more and feel like we make a difference.
I’m hoping that the team sees me as a leader who is encouraging and wants the group to “dream big.” It is one of my favorite things to see the team work together to find a solution that did not seem evident. It’s even more fun to celebrate with them when we reach our goals!
WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Doug Duenkel: My first job out of college was in Oracle’s federal group. Many people don’t remember that Oracle had massive restructuring using borrowed money from Nippon Steel at that time in 1991. Every day it felt like employees were being let go, but it was an exciting culture. I initially joined as a sales engineer and worked hard enough to make the annual Achievers Club. I knew that I did not love the work that I was performing and continued to ask to be moved to the sales organization. I interviewed three different times until I was granted a job in sales. It changed my life. I learned that you needed persistence to get to your passion.
WashingtonExec: What is the No. 1 business book that had the largest impact on your life or professional development?
Doug Duenkel: I love to read business books, however the book that I believe had the largest impact on my personal development may not be considered a traditional business book. I read it at least once a year. It’s The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. The Alchemist starts as a story about a quest for treasure, but ends as a metaphor for finding what is inside. The best quote in the book is, “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” Every time I read it I find something new. For example, when I read the book this summer I thought about all my dreams from my early days and how journaling could be a help. I’m trying hard to keep up with a “Gratitude and Dreams” journal.
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?
Doug Duenkel: I’d give two pieces of advice. The first is to surround yourself with as much talent as you can. At Knight Point, we made it our first priority to hire the right people and then give them the right tools, like training, to grow and advance. We try to hire employees who have leadership aspirations and even have a year-long mentorship called the Emerging Leaders Program to help them build their skills.
Once we have the right people, we talk quite a bit about “synergism” – meaning the whole is greater than the sum of our parts. Working as a team is imperative but if we can, we’ll achieve great things together. I love tying this to our unique abilities mantra. I’m really blessed to have this opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself, and I hope other aspiring leaders would also take this advice.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job?
Doug Duenkel: I grew up in Fairfax, and my first job was at Po’ Folks, a restaurant that used to be near Fairfax City. I was a freshman in high school and started as a dishwasher, later moved to fry cook and then became a line manager for dining.
WashingtonExec: Overall, how did that experience shape your career?
Doug Duenkel: What a great experience! There were several other workers that actually bused in from D.C., and this was their only source of income for their family. I learned that hard work matters, and that you need to give it all to succeed. If you do, you will get the chance to advance. I also learned that my education was not an entitlement, and that I better take advantage of the opportunities that were put in front of me.
WashingtonExec: What are three pieces of advice would you give your kids?
Doug Duenkel: At our house, my wife and I like to say, “Dream It. Pray on it. Do it!” We want our kids to be big dreamers – whatever those dreams are. But they are only dreams until they are written down and made into goals.
Faith is an important part of our life, and a good prayer life is critical. It’s interesting that every time you see Jesus in the Bible at a major crossroads or decision point, he separates Himself to pray.
Then, as Bo Jackson would say, “Just do it!” Action is positive whether there is perceived success or a failure. A failure is just a learning experience to get better. We can’t grow without making mistakes.