WashingtonExec Annual Greater Washington GovCon Awards Finalist Series
The clock is ticking. With just a few days 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 Aquilent President and CEO David Fout; the Laurel, Md.-based company is up for Contractor of the Year for businesses worth $75 million to $300 million category, and CEO David Fout is up for Executive of the Year.
WashingtonExec: What is your organization’s plan for growth over the next 3-5 years? How has your business been able to grow as the federal market contracts?
David Fout: 2014 was a difficult year for many companies—particularly government contractors reeling from the effects of the 2013 government shutdown and drastically cut federal spending. By contrast, Aquilent saw revenue increase. The company’s 2014 revenue grew by double-digit percentages over 2013 revenue, which grew by double-digit percentages over 2012 revenue. These increases translated into back-to-back Inc. 5000 awards in 2014 and 2015.
The two primary factors behind Aquilent’s growth has been its Strategic Planning Process and its unflinching focus on innovatively solving critical problems for customers.
Aquilent has a mature Strategic Planning process. This process involves an annual executive gathering, during which the group together develops a common vision for the growth of the company and a deliberate plan on how to achieve that vision.
Aquilent’s disciplined Strategic Planning process is comprised of three key elements:
• The Strategic Vision that describes what Aquilent is today, what it wants to be, and where the company is going and what success looks like
• Three-year Goals that describe what key milestones Aquilent needs to achieve to fulfill its strategic direction
• One-year Goals that describe key milestones and the plan specifics of what Aquilent needs to achieve in the first year of its three year goals.
These three elements are supported by a clear process of ownership and accountability. The Strategic Vision and the Three-year goals are owned by the entire Strategic Planning Team and each member is accountable. In addition, each One-year Goal has a champion who owns the goal and is directly accountable for its success.
This process is managed through a series of meetings, tasks and subcommittees and the outcome is undeniable. With consistent double digit year-over-year growth, even in troubled years in the federal market, Aquilent continues to be successful.
For our customers, understanding that agencies were being asked to cut millions of dollars, the Aquilent team focused its efforts on helping agencies save money, and introduced ways to provide the flexibility and scalability required to meet evolving needs, but with little to no additional spending. Aquilent won a majority of work during this “difficult” period as a direct result of the value Aquilent provided, and continues to provide, through this strategy and the increased confidence from federal agencies that Aquilent has their best interests in mind.
Aquilent will continue its successful growth pattern with its proven formula that works in both good times and bad—its robust Strategic Planning process coupled with solving its customers’ challenges through innovative solutions. In fact, both of these are designed specifically to help the company grow from its own results.
WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?
David Fout: Aquilent is intensely proud of its AquilentCares_ program. This program focuses specifically on community involvement, and serves as a platform where employees can “give back”. AquilentCares_ is designed to:
• positively impact the community
• foster company pride among employees
• promote team building through shared experiences around philanthropic activities
• build a sense of community for Aquilent staff
AquilentCares_ provides participation in a range of organizations—particularly those affecting the Washington, D.C. area. Some examples include:
• Children’s Inn at NIH: Aquilent regularly plans special events for the residents of the Children’s Inn at NIH. In addition, Aquilent disseminates holiday eCards instead of printed cards and donates the savings to the Children’s Inn at NIH and Fisher House
• Veterans’ Outreach Program: Aquilent created this program to support veterans as they transition from the military
• American Red Cross: Aquilent holds an annual Red Cross Blood Drive
• Adopt-A-Road: Aquilent regularly volunteers to this cause to help keep the community litter-free
AqilentCares_ is also the driver for charitable events throughout the year, including:
• Annual Red Cross Blood Drive
• Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter Adopt-a-Road Initiatives
• Annual School Supply Drive
• Annual Food, Clothing, and Coat Drives
• Marine Corps Toys for Tots/Sponsor a Family for Christmas
In conjunction with AquilentCares_, the company offers a Charity Match Program to support charitable causes important to each individual employee. Aquilent will match up to $100 per employee per calendar year to the qualified charity of their choice.
AquilentCares_ and all of its associated activities are run entirely by employee volunteers.
WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style?
David Fout: I ensure Aquilent builds itself to scale, to be a bigger company than we are today—the company we want to be. This way, when we get there, the processes and resources are in place to support it. In fact, when we get there we have already moved on to become an even larger company.
Aquilent’s strategic vision, strategic planning process, and implementation are all driven with a mantra of continuous improvement and accountability. The results are pretty remarkable: Aquilent revenue nearly doubled from 2011 to 2014. Moving forward, Aquilent just finalized a new three-year plan to double again.
The success of the company is based largely on our unique strategy-based approach. We drive a strategic approach in every aspect of the company—including its financial posture. Our strategic financial philosophy revolves around people versus numbers, and how a company’s financial operations must map back to customer goals and objectives. For example, understanding that agencies were being asked to cut millions of dollars during sequestration, the Aquilent team focused its efforts on helping agencies save money and introduce ways to provide the flexibility and scalability required to meet evolving needs, but with little to no additional spending. Based on this strategy, Aquilent won a majority of work during this time as a direct result of this strategy.
This strategic, best-practices approach ensures Aquilent can scale and evolve successfully year after year, regardless of the ebb and flow of external industry and market influences—which is exactly what it’s done. Due in large part to this approach, Aquilent remains financially solid with strong cash flow, profit growth, and revenue growth.
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?
David Fout: Collaboratively develop a clear vision of what you want to be and a plan to get there. That vision and plan can become your playbook, where the entrepreneurs throughout your business can call their own plays as long as it’s from the agreed upon “playbook”. Establish strong accountability into your plan.
Build the company you want to be, not the company you are today. It’s how you will get there so once you are there, the resources and processes are in place to support it. In fact, when you get there, you should have already developed a new, bigger vision and are building that organization.