A Conversation with 2018 GovCon Award Finalist Mike McDermott

Mike McDermott

Mike McDermott, president of InquisIT LLC, is among the finalists for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Professional Services Council’s annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards in the Executive of the Year category for companies up to $75 million. The winners will be announced at an awards program Nov. 5.

WashingtonExec spoke with McDermott about InquisIT’s growth plan, accomplishments and anticipated challenges.

WashingtonExec: What’s your organization’s growth plan over the next three to five years?

McDermott: Growth is based on three things — first, establishing a recognizable brand within the market. This is something long-term that will support the company especially in traversing through mid-size revenue markers. Second, assuring the brand is supported by performance. That is in all areas of the company; exceeding contract metrics, driving efficiencies in and out of the business, staying on top of new technology options for the federal market, a well executing proposal organization etc. Last, we will continue to target contract vehicles and task orders under the vehicles in which we win. The market continues to be heavy on the utilization of vehicles both agency and governmentwide. With FITARA consolidations, we are seeing that expand and include larger blanket purchase agreements that in order to compete for real dollars you have to be a part of. In that area, we continue to hope that agencies see the General Services Administration as a good strategic partner and leverages vehicles that are in place also avoiding protests from impeding progress.

WashingtonExec: What was your organization’s largest accomplishment in the last 12 to 18 months?

McDermott: Prior to coming into the company, it had gone a few years with no wins and all revenue was in 8(a) programs of one form or another. The first year I was here, we started to build a team and hit a 9 percent win rate. Last year, we hit an 18 percent win rate, and this past summer, we won our first full and open contract. The numbers of the firm are great and speak to the larger accomplishment that I am most proud of and that is we have started to implement a much healthier competitive culture and team that is not only performing today but is ready to take on the future of the firm.

WashingtonExec: What are the largest challenges your business will face in the next five years?

McDermott: The largest challenge we face in the market has been the overall commoditization, and I believe this starts with industry. We all hear a lot of complaining in the market about not enough interaction with government stakeholders prior to a solicitation hitting the streets, and this has been compounded into a drastically increased protest market over the past decade and a market condition where industry is seen as almost adversarial.  

This is an industry issue — not government. We challenge our workforce to really put themselves in the shoes of the government. Even at its most basic — if every company website has mostly the same old stock images, the same old looking management team, and touts the same old hiring of current existing staff on new contracts, what is the value? And once you peel back to your value, how do you get it to your customers in a way that they know the change is safe?

The challenge here is that it can take years to truly differentiate an organization and have it be recognized. That said, the opportunity is clear. The government is at a crossroads and looking to really get things done better, faster and work more with commercial-type organizations versus those who replicate their bureaucracy. This is not about buzzwords; it’s about an organizational culture that assures the right behaviors and focus every day. We refer to it as, “Earning our customers’ business everyday” in our credo.   

WashingtonExec: How does your organization encourage employee engagement? Have millennials entering the workforce changed your company’s strategic plans or corporate policies? If so, how?

2017 LLS Light the Night Benefit

McDermott: At InquisIT, we have a tremendous amount of diversity and actually embrace millennials in the workforce. Our strategic plan has always been to facilitate a coaching culture that is thinking about scale. The “rep” that millennials get is a bit pretentious in my opinion. We tend to forget what our own attitudes may have been at that age. I have seen more bad hiring deflected to generational issues. The key here is not generational; it is your hiring process.

Organizations should think about the way college coaches bring in talent versus the assumption that a promotion to a management position grants some sort of mythical hiring ability. We teach managers to look at behaviors versus prepared answers, “listen between the lines,” and “try before you buy” whether it is through a small engagement or some tests of sorts.

WashingtonExec: What was your first job? Overall, how did that experience shape your career?

McDermott: My first job was as a paperboy. I took over an older kid’s route when I was 12 years old and was elated to have money in my pocket! I discovered very quickly a few lessons that I carry today. Doing great work for your customers takes sleeves-up discipline. In that job, I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning (rain or shine), wrap papers, and ride my bike around the neighborhood delivering papers. Sleeping in was not an option — living outside NYC, with many people commuting, they wanted their papers before hitting the road.

I also quickly learned the value of a tough conversation. Every other weekend, I rode around on my bike and did collections. Sunday afternoons, I owed the newspaper the money from my route. At a young age, this put me in a position where I was having a variety of discussions with adults over money; something that many are fearful of talking about. To this day, I’m an early riser who watches DOs and cash like a hawk!

WashingtonExec: What advice would you give your kids?

McDermott: I have four daughters, so this is a very real question. They would tell you that I don’t give a lot of advice or ask a lot of questions (drives them crazy and I know my “advice” would go in one ear and out the other). But it boils down to one thing: “be responsible.” I really try to prevent them from externalizing everything, yet accept and take responsibility. I often ask them what they think their part is in creating a certain result or situation. This leads them to introspect and creates a conversation where they tumble to answers without me telling them what to do.

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