WashingtonExec sat down with Greg McCarthy, CEO of AOC Key Solutions, a proposal development firm, to discuss leadership, growth and trends across government contracting.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
WashingtonExec: How did you get to where you are?
Greg McCarthy: I started my career in sales and marketing, working for several major corporations including Black & Decker, where I was the director of marketing. I joined AOC Key Solutions 12 years ago to run third-party assessments and manage proposal writing before moving back over to business development.
For the last two years, I’ve been business development and then senior vice president of operations and now as the president and CEO. My job is to guide the ship strategically and hire the best talent for what we do. I also maintain key client relationships and grow the business.
WashingtonExec: How do you think starting in marketing and business development prepared you for this role?
McCarthy: I think it rounded me out in a variety of ways. I understand the market and I understand bringing value to clients. I understand the overall operations of the company and how to best manage them.
WashingtonExec: What are clients demanding right now?
McCarthy: They want value. Cost is always a factor, but they are really looking for efficiencies and an understanding of technology. They are looking for people that they can work with. In our business, we always say there are two things: the business skills and the technical skills.
Our best people possess both—they are good technically, they are versatile, they are quick, they are efficient and they know how to get along with people. They know how to manage teams and how to drive solutions, and they know how to get that into a compelling proposal that is going to sell and be evaluated very strongly by the government.
WashingtonExec: How do you find people with those technical skills? Where do you look?
McCarthy: It is not easy. We’re very picky and we have low turnover. We are only looking for a handful of people a year as we grow. We are a small business with just over 30 people in our company. We augment with consultants that we hire on the 1099 basis—job by job.
We find [talent]through affiliations, groups like WashingtonExec for example. This would be a breeding ground for us if we find people that have the right skills and interests. We hire a little bit off the college campuses and we’ve brought in some interns.
Mostly, I would say we are relying on referrals. We are looking for people that are strong with the English language—that are good writers who also have good people skills. It is not easy to find all of that all of the time—believe it or not. They’ve also got to understand proposal writing which is a majority of what we do. They also need to understand how to read an RFP and respond to the requirements of an RFP succinctly and powerfully.
WashingtonExec: What is your growth strategy?
McCarthy: We don’t want to grow too quickly at the risk of quality and high turnover—turning and burning talent, we don’t want that. I will say this: We grew 25 percent last year and I will be interested in compounding that in the next five years so that we are double our size in five years.
WashingtonExec: What are some of the key trends that you see in your industry?
McCarthy: Too many times, we see that our clients are burned out because they’re being asked to be at their job at the government site Monday through Friday and then write the proposals on weekends and evenings. While that works, in the long term it leads to burnout.
Why not have writers like Lisa Mundt (chairwoman for Rising Stars of GovCon at WashingtonExec), one of our most talented proposal specialists, write the proposals as opposed to some software engineer who is good at being an engineer, not necessarily writing proposals?
WashingtonExec: What are broader trends you’ve noticed about government contracting?
McCarthy: While cost is always going to be a factor, we see Lowest-Price, Technically Acceptable going away. The pendulum is swinging back to best value—who can do the work. We are seeing a trend toward the use of IDIQs, the big multiaward vehicles and small technical responses, and past performance being critical. Government wants to see if you can really do this work. Resumes and key personnel are really key.
AOC Key Solutions, Inc. is a consulting firm based in Chantilly, Virginia, dedicated to helping companies win government contracts through proposal development, capture, and market assessment services.