Nominees for the 2017 Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards were announced in September and the competition could not have been tighter. While the winners won’t be announced until Nov. 1, Jim Corcoran, Northern Virginia Chamber president and CEO, stated “finalists have a great deal of which to be proud.”
WashingtonExec spoke with David Kellogg, CEO of Solers Inc., nominee for Contractor of the Year ($75 million to $300 million), about leadership and the future of his company.
WashingtonExec: Where do you see your company in 3-5 years?
David Kellogg: Solers’ success has been driven by performing on awarded work and expansion through follow-on and referrals. We strive to make our customers successful in their respective organizations by delivering on time and on budget. All of our growth has been organic and has tended to run in spurts and plateaus. We’re coming to the end of a plateau right now and the next leg up should take us well past $100 million in annual revenue by the end of 2019.
WashingtonExec: How has your company managed the technological advances in its various fields within the past 10-15 years?
David Kellogg: We have historically recruited a substantial number of high-quality computer science and engineering graduates from major universities each year. The influx of new, young talent drives technical currency and keeps the older technical talent challenged to manage each new wave. Solers also offers generous tuition reimbursement for those interested in pursuing university studies at night and encourages every technical staff member to attend conferences and training courses in their areas of expertise.
WashingtonExec: Can you expand more on the work Solers did with ESPDS for NOAA?
David Kellogg: ESPDS is the Environmental Satellite Processing and Distribution System. The program replaces a morass of stovepipe systems interfaced with over 100 organizations. The new system is a single enterprise solution for processing and distribution of data from NOAA’s weather satellites. Providing a single interface saves millions in maintenance costs for the Environmental Satellite Processing Center, and also lowers integration costs for new data consumers. Ultimately, ESPDS has supported improved weather prediction through near real-time access to weather products that are critical to protect people and property. We transitioned ESPDS to operations in November 2016 to coincide with the launch of NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite.
WashingtonExec: In a 2001 article for The Washington Post, you and Twila Campbell said the work environment at Solers was “more like a university department floor than a typical corporation.” Is this still true 16 years later? If so, how do you maintain such an environment?
David Kellogg: If you hire quality staff and properly incentivize them, a decentralized, autonomous, flat organizational structure can work where teams are free to innovate within limited constraints. I believe the flat structure is more akin to a university department structure than a rigid hierarchical structure characteristic of many defense contractors, where information flows up and down the chain of command rather than across peers. Sixteen years after that article was published, Solers still operates with a flat organizational structure. The structure is maintained by retraining hierarchical thinkers to think outside their box.
WashingtonExec: How would your team describe your leadership qualities?
David Kellogg: Based on economic theory and financial results. I have always treated Solers’ staff as its major asset and provided rewards for performance through bonuses and stock ownership opportunities.
WashingtonExec: What is something most people don’t know about you?
David Kellogg: That I worked as a door-to-door salesman in Pittsburgh the summer of 1978 while awaiting a security clearance.