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.
WashingtonExec spoke with nominee Thomas Romeo, President of MAXIMUS Federal Services, who is a finalist for Executive of the Year in the category of companies worth $300 million-plus.
WashingtonExec: What would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?
Thomas Romeo: Leaders have to first be good listeners. It’s important to surround yourself with smart people, then take the time to hear what they have to say – even if (or sometimes especially if) they disagree with you. But equally important to listening is not being afraid to make decisions once you’ve heard the best counsel of those around you. Great leadership requires knowing when to make the move from listening to action. It is better to make a decision and move forward then to let entropy make the decision for you.
“If you don’t like it, do something to change it.” It reminds us that we always have power over our own circumstances.
WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style?
Thomas Romeo: They would say I am open, collaborative and I value a diversity of opinion. My goal is to empower leaders across the organization to do their best work. By doing that, I enable each of my leaders to run their portion of the business and make the decisions that grow our business.
WashingtonExec: How would your team describe your leadership qualities?
Thomas Romeo: They would say I’m sincere and that I practice what I preach as a leader. They would also say I’m focused on the strategic aspects of our business and have a clear vision for where we are headed.
WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Thomas Romeo: There are many, but one I remember vividly is from early in my career. I was at a very large organization where I had a lot of ideas but I was hesitant to be vocal. My mentor at the time told me to speak up and let my opinion be heard. That direction gave me the early confidence to lead, and I’ve followed it since then.
Another turning point came mid-career, when I was selected for an international assignment that taught me a lot about collaboration and the value of diversity. It shifted my mentality from being a strong individual contributor to launching my career in leadership and management.
And of course I can’t forget the inflection point that brought me to my current role – a breakfast meeting with MAXIMUS President Bruce Caswell where he told me about the amazing work we could do together. I accepted the job, and it has been a phenomenal experience both personally and professionally.
WashingtonExec: What is the business book that had the largest impact on your life or professional development?
Thomas Romeo: The book that best reflects my leadership philosophy is The Business of Happiness by Ted Leonsis. He talks about why happiness is the key to achievement and why a happy work culture is a more prosperous one. It inspires me to pursue happiness first and let success will follow it – as Leonsis says in the book, “Success may or may not make you happy, but happiness will almost always make you more successful.”
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?
Thomas Romeo: Ask for and listen to feedback, and be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. If you know yourself well, you can build a team that complements those qualities to make your business successful.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job? Overall, how did that experience shape your career?
Thomas Romeo: I started my career as an accounting clerk, but I didn’t like it. My wife and I came up with a motto then that has guided us ever since: “If you don’t like it, do something to change it.” It reminds us that we always have power over our own circumstances. I decided to leave that job and go back to school to get a degree in information management systems. That changed the course of my whole career.
WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?
Thomas Romeo: I’d tell them to follow the wisdom that has served me well: If you don’t like it, do something to change it. Change jobs, go back to school, follow your passion – doing that will lead you to the right opportunity. Be sincere, open and honest at all times. Always bring your best to the table and do the best at the job you are given. Others will see your work and advance your career.