WashingtonExec Annual GovCon Awards Interview Series: E3 Federal Solutions CEO Everett Johnson

Everett Johnson, founder and CEO of E3 Federal Solutions

Everett Johnson, founder and CEO of E3 Federal Solutions

WashingtonExec Annual Greater Washington GovCon Awards Finalist Series

The clock is ticking. With just a few weeks away from the “Oscars of the Government Contracting Community,” the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Professional Services Council will both share the winners of the 13th annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards.

As we count down to the grand event at The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, WashingtonExec is interviewing “Executive of the Year” and “Contractor of the Year” finalists about how they’re setting their businesses apart in the government contracting arena, and how they’re attracting a new generation of workers to implement their mission.

Check out our interview with Everett Johnson, founder and CEO of E3 Federal Solutions, who’s a finalist for this year’s GovCon Contractor of the Year award in the $75 million sales category. See what he has to say about his nomination – and how his business is attracting millennials to the workforce.

WashingtonExec: What is your organization’s plan for growth over the next 3-5 years?

Everett Johnson:
We have been fortunate over the last several years to experience significant growth during a time of decreasing federal budgets. Three years ago we segmented our company into three business units and began to invest heavily in leadership, business development, and proposal management. The return has been evident with 161% and 91% revenue growth over the past two years. Going forward we continue to focus on strong growth across each of our business units. We expect DHS to level out due to the sun-setting of our TABSS IDIQs, but we anticipate a significant pickup in both our civilian and especially our DoD accounts where we recently were awarded a large BPA for knowledge-based services across OSD.
WashingtonExec: How has your business been able to grow as the federal market contracts?

Everett Johnson:
First, we have created a culture of excellence in everything we do, from our delivery teams, to corporate support to business development. We have been able to recruit and retain an incredible group of people. Our frontline personnel keep the customer-first commitment and do what needs to be done to satisfy their customers’ needs. Our business development organization, which includes BD, capture, and proposal managers, consists of self-motivated, entrepreneurial and competitive individuals who work collaboratively and like to win. When our BDO engine cranks up, good things usually happen.

It’s this mix of customer focus, entrepreneurial spirit, and competiveness that has fueled our growth over the last several years.

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

Everett Johnson:
Our Homeland Security business unit has seen the fastest growth over the past three years. In 2012 we won two strategically sourced IDIQs, known as TABSS (Technical Acquisition and Business Support Services); one for Program Management and the other for Financial Management. We were the only small business to win on both domains which gave us an envious view of most TABSS requirements. And we have fully capitalized on those vehicles. We have won 32 Task Orders and are the number one small business award winner in the small business track based on revenue. It has expanded us into almost every major DHS component and has provided us a strong foundation to continue our growth.

WashingtonExec: What was your organizations largest accomplishment in the last 12-18 months?

Everett Johnson:
Personally, refocusing and truly defining our core values and vision for the company in early 2014 was probably the most critical moment over the last 18 months. It was a strange experience, but we added an incredible amount of people in a very short period of time. In 2012 we had about 45 employees. In the spring of 2014 we had over 150 so there were more “new” people than “old” people in the company. We were quickly becoming a patchwork of cultures from various organizations and were at risk of losing our identity. So for about three months we focused extensively on defining and documenting our core values and vision. We conducted surveys and really engaged the employee base to help, and it made a huge difference. We talk a lot about these values, they’re visible, and they’re prevalent in everything we do. That was a very important moment in our history even though it had nothing to do with a contract win, award, or revenue. It was more than that and we had to do it.

WashingtonExec: Given today’s government contracting marketplace, how has your organization’s approach to customers, employees and future customers changed?

Everett Johnson:
Customers still need to accomplish their mission even while their budgets are shrinking. It’s more important than ever that we partner with our clients, to truly understand their mission, and to work collaboratively. This goes for both current customers as well as future customers and we need to show that we embrace their mission as much as they do.
Employees want to be engaged and be exposed to new opportunities. We are continually trying to give them exposure opportunities outside their project and give them the ability to move to new projects for their own career progression. Many times, employees feel they need to leave the company to find their next opportunity. We try to show them they can stay with us and have that opportunity here.

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

Everett Johnson: As with any emerging small businesses, we will need to continue to build the muscles to compete and differentiate ourselves at the next level. Thankfully, we have a runway of about five years where we are still considered small under all of our GSA Schedules so we haven’t completely jumped into the deep end yet. But thinking differently, hiring differently, and structuring ourselves differently in order to pursue and win unrestricted work, while taking advantage of our GSA Schedule small business status, will be the biggest challenge we face in the next 5 years.

WashingtonExec: We have seen many large, M&A transitions this year, do you anticipate this will continue in the future?

Everett Johnson: This is a tough time for companies in our industry, especially mid and large businesses. As we discussed, budgets are continually decreasing while small business preferences are increasing. There are simply not enough dollars or contracts to go around so companies are either exiting the market completely or going through M&A transactions. Unless these external factors change, I don’t see the trend in market consolidation slowing.

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

Everett Johnson: Employee engagement has been a priority to us since our inception. I have and always will be concerned about the experience that each employee has with us from initial contact, their career at E3, and if they leave, all the way through the exit process. With that, comes a tremendous amount of investment and personal commitment by our corporate team. We received our ISO 9001:2008 certification in HR management this year because we believe so strongly in the employee experience.

Every year we distribute an Employee Feedback Survey and we implement changes based on that feedback. In 2012, we created an extensive Integrated Talent Management program which includes career and competency roadmaps, defined employee feedback sessions, and a professional development site containing IDP guidance, exposure opportunities, and internal/external training resources. Communication to our employees is critical and we have made great strides in providing regular communications across multiple mediums to include CEO newsletters, E3 blogs, HR corner emails, professional development newsletters, internal SharePoint communication posts, and a private Facebook group. We also encourage participation in our health and wellness programs to further engage employees and that includes weekly fitness bootcamps, gym discounts, and Tough Mudder competitions. As I mentioned before, we have hired an incredible group of people and we want them to have a great experience with E3 and have the opportunity to stay involved as they desire.

WashingtonExec: Have millennials entering the workforce changed your company’s strategic plans or corporate policies? If so, how?

Everett Johnson: Millennials want to be challenged. They want to have opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way. We try to expose them to as much as we can without distracting from their client-facing jobs. We encourage their involvement with special projects, proposals, communities of practice, strategic initiatives, among other things. In 2012 we created a mentor/mentee program where we match a millennial with a senior person at the company. The two of them meet regularly throughout the year and the mentee class completes and presents a project to leadership at their graduation. With their client work as well as numerous exposure opportunities, we feel that we offer millennials an exciting opportunity to grow personally and professionally with us.

WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?

Everett Johnson: One of our core values is community, defined as “Internally, we will always value our employee relationships. We will continuously strive to strengthen the E3 family and will seek out opportunities to help our colleagues in need. Externally, we will always remember those less fortunate and we will give back to our community. We will always strive to pay it forward.”
This core value is exemplified through our E3 Cares program, which is a grassroots program run and sponsored by E3 employees. We participate in approximately 10 programs annually and provide hours for each employee to participate.

There are a few organizations that we consistently contribute to annually, which include Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN), Wreaths Across America, and Adopt-a-Family through the Children’s National Medical Center. Other events are identified and led by individual employees who are passionate about a particular cause. E3 Cares will adopt their cause and work with the individual to help with logistics and communication across the company, but it truly is a grassroots movement driven by everyone.  It’s been a tremendous success and will continue to be a central piece to our culture.

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