ICF is among the finalists for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Professional Services Council’s annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards in the Contractor of the Year category for companies greater than $300 million. The winners will be announced at an awards program Nov. 5.
WashingtonExec spoke with Executive Vice President Ellen Glover about the company as well as her own leadership role within it.
WashingtonExec: What are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?
Glover: The most important quality of a leader is the ability to listen. And not just listening intently when people are talking, but listening to/for signals from your clients, the market, your employees that come in many ways — in gestures, actions, noise in the system, emotional reactions. The second most important quality is the ability to execute — they are many great ideas out there that never come to fruition. You must be able to organize resources to bring ideas to reality.
WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Glover: Moving from a project role to a business management role was an eye-opening experience, allowing me to see the interplay of the many things that impact delivery — acquisition, human capital, finance, communication, program management, customer experience and more. From that point, I wanted to be able to influence/lead around all of those factors to find the right solutions for the best delivery.
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?
Glover: While there is lots of good general advice for aspiring leaders, I think there is one piece that is specific to the government contracting industry. Our industry is unique in the amount of “co-optition;” that is, we both compete and collaborate/team with each other across a spectrum of clients and capabilities to bring unique solutions to the federal customer. Because of this, your personal integrity and your personal network is very important to your continued success. So my advice is to engage in our community, participate actively in organizations that support our community, and do all of this with the goal of doing the best for the customer.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job? Overall, how did that experience shape your career?
Glover: My first “real” job was as a presidential management intern — an opportunity that was seminal to the direction of my career. I learned that the federal government was a fascinating environment with many significant challenges that had a marked impact on the country, and I’ve made it the cornerstone of my career ever since.
WashingtonExec: What is your organization’s growth plan over the next three to five years?
Glover: We have made great strides to move away from being a company focused 100 percent on servicing the government, and that forward momentum will only continue and amplify over the next five years. We will continue our diversification strategy on two levels. First is through diversified offerings. We will continue to provide both traditional consulting expertise and cutting-edge marketing engagement services and look for more opportunities to blend the two. Our customers are already reaping the benefits of this cross-fertilization.
For example, our public sector customers now have greater access to innovative tools and digital technologies usually leveraged by commercial businesses that increase customer and workforce engagement and experiences. Likewise, our private sector clients now benefit from the deep subject-matter expertise available through our traditional market-centered advisory services.
The second is a diversified customer base. We will continue to expand the type of customers and industries we serve, and the global regions we serve them in, as our capabilities grow.
As we strive to create the “next generation of professional services,” we’ll continue to offer new ways of engaging consumers and citizens as business and government continue to evolve. From addressing the nation’s opioid crisis to providing support in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we’ll use our unique ability to adapt to the rapidly changing industries we serve to deliver increasingly meaningful impact and help clients solve global dilemmas of the future.
WashingtonExec: How has your business been able to grow as the federal market contracts?
Glover: Despite delays in FY2017 budget approval, our federal business grew in 2017 and accounted for a large portion (45 percent) of our work in 2017 (the other 55 percent derived from non-federal customers, including state/local government, international government and commercial clients). Within the federal government, we were awarded a significant number of high-value and strategically important contracts in 2017 across a broad group of agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the departments of State, Homeland Security, Interior, Energy, Transportation and others. This was also a strong year for ICF at the Department of Defense, where we won a $93 million cybersecurity services re-compete from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
Diversifying into private sector projects has allowed us to remain fairly unaffected by delays in budget approvals and a changing market, whereas other companies may struggle. By also diversifying our capabilities through 18 acquisitions over the past 10 years, we have positioned ourselves to offer more to our customers and serve them in a more holistic way.
WashingtonExec: Given today’s government contracting marketplace, how has your organization’s approach to customers, employees and future customers changed?
Glover: At the heart of our future approach and past success are three key values: innovation, collaboration and passion. Our teams span different departments, business units and regions, coupling deep industry experience with data and creativity. We are diverse in every sense of the word, and we value new ways of thinking that challenge us to deliver the best solution — not the easiest or most obvious.
Industries may shift, the work may change — but ICF will continue to help clients solve and overcome their toughest challenges. We are as committed as ever to helping customers and employees create a healthier, more sustainable world.
WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?
Glover: ICF is motivated to be a catalyst for change, and we are devoted to helping shape a more sustainable and equitable world. We have helped governments and communities manage large, complex disaster recovery and management programs, worked with public and private sector leaders on economic infrastructure and workforce development, and created customer-centric fraud detection programs.
Specifically, our work to combat opioid addiction speaks to our involvement in local government and communities. Building on our collection of public health communications work with the CDC, ICF was tapped to develop the Rx Awareness campaign, which used personal stories to raise awareness and increase knowledge about the dangers of prescription opioid use and misuse, and help treat and prevent addiction.
ICF lives values internally. We invest in people, are committed to sustainability and support important causes. Last year, ICF implemented a company-wide mentoring program, kept our turnover rate 3 percent lower than the industry average, and maintained gender balance across management, with 55 percent of leadership being women. Additionally, ICF made progress on its carbon reduction goal in 2017, achieving 27 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per employee since 2013. We also increased the company’s charitable corporate match policy to 1:1, giving an additional $560,000 in cash donations to causes (like Red Cross and American Cancer Society) important to our employees and local community.