For Stan Soloway, it’s been a long run, and a good one. For 15 years Soloway guided the Professional Services Council through an unparalleled period of growth and sustainability, precisely at a time when many associations of its kind were struggling. Now, Soloway is leaving as president and CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based association, focused on the government services sector and is starting a new chapter.
“I am at that stage of my career where, if I want to do something different and substantial before I retire, the time to do so is now,” he recently said. But we couldn’t let Soloway go without a reflection on his career achievements, the leadership lessons he’s learned along the way, and what he has to say about the future of the government contracting sector – and how your business can prepare for the next administration.
WashingtonExec: Will PSC see more changes after you leave?
Stan Soloway: I don’t think we are going to see dramatic change. A lot has already changed in our market over the last 15 years [with]periods of historic spending and growth, to periods of flattening and coming down a bit. Then you have the whole role of technology and how it’s playing a part in everything we do. Those are really the factors that have driven the biggest changes in the market – that’s a big shift and it’s taken hold. And PSC has adjusted well to them.
WashingtonExec: When we talk about the market increasing and declining, some experts talk of a 20-year cycle – do you believe in that?
Stan Soloway: We are in a different era now. I’m not sure that that historical, cyclical model will hold in this new environment … largely as a result of apps and applied technologies, not just the move to the cloud, but its broader ability to fundamentally change the nature of work, from lower end to high end. Yes, overall contract spend will go up and down with budgets and cycles, but in the key technology sectors, the spend is still very high and will continue to be. It will grow more than any other part of the market because these are areas that are increasingly dynamic and critical for the government and that – almost by definition – require more, not less, private sector involvement.
WashingtonExec: Do you see any progress in turning the tide of the mid-tier squeeze?
Stan Soloway: First of all, you have to define what “mid-tier” means; the term means something different to many people. Second, the squeeze is not monolithic; it has different characteristics and different impacts in different functional areas. As we cut the data various ways, we find there is a squeeze in certain sectors with certain customers but that doesn’t necessarily hold in the same sectors with other customers.
That also makes it difficult to come up with a universal “one-size-fits-all” policy because there are such varied impacts and trends. That’s not to say the squeeze is not real; but the lack of a universal trend actually makes it harder to define and address and certainly makes developing a “one size fits all” policy more difficult. Ultimately, as companies qualify their pipelines and strategize going forward, they need to look at increasingly targeted data, not just the global data. That said, I also think there may well be more emerging opportunities for high quality mid-tier firms going forward.
WashingtonExec: What can contractors do to prepare for the next presidential administration?
Stan Soloway: I don’t think that companies can do a lot nor need to do a lot to prepare for the next administration, other than make sure they are involved with groups like PSC that are engaging early and often with the various campaigns to make sure there is an appreciation and understanding of what this sector does, what it can do, and what needs to change.
Beyond that they need to continue sharpening their pencils and updating their capabilities, which is what they are already doing now. Budget pressures are going to continue even with the budget deal. This is still a tight budget. It’s not like the faucet has been opened with an unlimited amount of water.
WashingtonExec: What are some of the biggest career lessons that have shaped your leadership style?
Stan Soloway: There are a couple. We all talk about empowering people around us, but all too often it’s not real. I had a powerful lesson in leadership when I was in OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] in the Pentagon. I remember being on an aircraft carrier; everyone, from the captain of the ship to the engine room [operator]was clearly invested. [Everyone] took pride and ownership in what they were doing regardless of where it was on the scale of the mission. And that pride and ownership were a direct reflection of the leadership philosophy. The engine room operator really believed it was his engine room.
How you empower and support people is something I would like to think I brought to PSC. I also came in with a strong belief that not only could mission come first, but you could also get good by doing good. You know the expression, ‘Get well by doing good.’ I’ve always believed that if we structure business relationships in the right way, it is a win-win for business and government.
WashingtonExec: What are some initiatives you led at PSC that you’re most proud of?
Stan Soloway: I’m proud of the fact that we’ve consistently grown and become stronger during an era when the association world was not necessarily a great place to be; that we have not struggled. In fact, we have gone in exactly the opposite direction. We’ve been able to focus on our mission constantly and continually remind ourselves that we are in the customer service business while keeping our eyes on the horizon. We were ahead of the curve in the market shift to an as-a-service model. We saw that coming. We saw it evolving and we adjusted quickly to it. We’ve been able to be agile even as we’ve grown; we stayed true to our mission and constantly improved and enhanced the value proposition to our members.