LGS Innovations 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 CEO Kevin Kelly about the company’s accomplishments and what’s in store.
WashingtonExec: What’s your organization’s growth plan over the next three to five years?
Kelly: LGS Innovations will continue to invest in the industry-leading technologies needed to improve the mission effectiveness of the C4ISR and cybersecurity solutions we offer our customers. We anticipate significant growth for LGS in the spectrum management space as agencies seek to address the spectrum crunch by entering spectrum sharing agreements with other USG agencies and commercial entities.
We also anticipate significant growth in our free-space optical communications business as our NASA, defense and intelligence community clients continue to revitalize the nation’s space architecture and deal with the natural limitations of RF communications on space-to-space and space-to-ground communications. Lastly, as the U.S. Cyber Command continues to stand up as a full and independent Unified Combatant Command, we expect significant growth in our work to support their dynamic mission areas.
WashingtonExec: How has your business been able to grow as the federal market contracts?
Kelly: We pride ourselves on being true partners with our customers, working side-by-side with them in active-mission theaters of operations, where we learn their true needs first-hand — rather than wait for an RFP. We take the lessons we learn from working with our customers and feed them into each year’s refresh of our go-to-market and tactical operational plans. This helps to ensure ongoing alignment between our solutions and our strategic commitment to maintaining our technical dominance in the C4ISR and cyber mission spaces.
Through each tactical plan refresh, we assess the current state of technology vis-à-vis our customers’ rapidly changing needs to identify any gaps in our solutions, then either design and build an LGS solution or acquire and enhance commercial technologies to fill those gaps. This “Buy it, build it, or borrow it” model is key to creating the best solution and allows us to tap the best technologies available from other partners when that makes the most sense — rather than reinvent the wheel.
This business model also helps to keep our focus on the needs of our nation’s most critical missions, and maintains a layer of insulation between our strategic targets and the vagaries of the market, budget ups and downs, and changing government procurement processes.
WashingtonExec: What’s the fastest-growing component of your business?
Kelly: LGS has four primary lines of business: wireless solutions, cybersecurity, photonic solutions, and integration solutions. All are growing equally fast at the moment.
WashingtonExec: What was your organization’s largest accomplishment in the last 12 to 18 months?
Kelly: Like many of our peers in the industry, LGS provides a significant portion of its solutions to classified missions. As such, we are not at liberty to discuss all our accomplishments in an open forum. Among those we can discuss, our most significant recent accomplishments have been the development of a wide range of free-space optical communications solutions for NASA and the successful launch of a portfolio of spectrum management solutions to help government and commercial clients as they pursue spectrum sharing agreements.
We call this portfolio “Intelligent Spectrum Management” to reflect the extensive range of spectrum-based capabilities we deliver to our customers — from spectrum monitoring, awareness, and alert services to dynamic management that leverages new uses of untapped spectrum and enables secure spectrum sharing. With the advent of 5G and the internet of things, these issues are top-of-mind with our government and commercial customers.
WashingtonExec: Given today’s government contracting marketplace, how has your organization’s approach to customers, employees and future customers changed?
Kelly: This may sound contrary to the premise of the question, but we’ve found that an unchanging strategy of being a technology innovation company focused solely on our customers’ missions has not only carried us through ongoing changes in the federal contracting world, but has also driven growth rates well above companies of our size. We’ve always been a mission-first company, and that’s reflected in our employee base: of our 1,300-plus employees, nearly 1,000 of them are engineers and scientists with advanced degrees.
As for our relationships with our employees, we recognize that today’s millennials (and tomorrow’s engineers and program managers) have a different view of the work/life balance than some of us “more senior” team members — so we’re working to meet them where they live, with flexible working schedules, teleworking where possible, and ramping up our tuition assistance programs (they’re much more “lifetime learners” than some older folks). We’ve found these efforts to be essential to continue to attract the best and brightest to our ranks.
WashingtonExec: What are the largest challenges your business will face in the next five years?
Kelly: Our biggest challenge right now — and it will surely remain so for the foreseeable future — is finding, attracting, and retaining the high-caliber talent we need to continue achieving our strategic objectives. We’re implementing a variety of new outreach and scholarship programs to accommodate the work/life preferences of younger scientists and engineers. As just one example, the LGS Innovation Initiative program offers employees the time, space and funding to innovate their own ideas and build market-ready solutions around them.
WashingtonExec: We have seen many large, M&A transitions this year, do you anticipate this will continue in the future?
Kelly: All indications are that the M&A market will continue to be very active as large systems integrators seek technical differentiation and the mid-market companies seek the scale needed to compete. That said, gradually rising interest rates and other external factors may slow M&A activity a bit.
WashingtonExec: How does your organization encourage employee engagement?
Kelly: We hire folks who like to work hard — and play hard, too. We know that a happy employee is a more productive employee, and that a high level of employee engagement is essential to our culture of innovation — so we’re always looking for ways to ensure all our employees remain connected, involved and happy in their work.
We think it’s better to overcommunicate within the company than to under-communicate — so we jointly host quarterly all-hands town halls where we update our employee base on how and what we’re doing, followed by an open-floor, “no spin” Q and A session. The entire senior leadership team and our managers all keep an open-door policy, and I send weekly “good news” messages to all-hands as well, highlighting our successes and offering shoutouts to employees who go above and beyond to meet our customers’ needs.
Outside of “Corporate,” each of our work locations maintains a robust employee engagement program of social activities such as picnics, holiday parties and raffle programs to win tickets to ball games and concerts, and so on. We’re also about to roll out an online app to further foster employee engagement. Collectively, all of these employee engagement programs help to maintain a healthy and happy work environment — and are a big reason why we’ve been recognized as a “Top Workplace” by The Washington Post three years in a row.
WashingtonExec: Have millennials entering the workforce changed your company’s strategic plans or corporate policies? If so, how?
Kelly: Millennials and now Generation Z employees are not only a key part of our success today, but are essential to our future success as well. We continue to make changes in our flexible work schedules, teleworking procedures, work attire and other business practices so that millennials, GenZ, and all other teammates can enjoy the most optimal work/life balance possible.
WashingtonExec: How’s your business involved in the community?
Kelly: We appreciate the communities where we live and work, and put a high priority on giving back. From school supply drives and food and blood drives, to volunteering in STEM education support programs in K-12 and colleges, to a variety of human services activities that serve to improve the lives of our neighbors, LGS employees take the initiative in working to benefit our communities. Each of our office locations maintains a community relations budget, and we also support veterans programs from both corporate and local levels.
WashingtonExec: Is your business involved in cultivating our local pipeline of young STEM professionals?
Kelly: At LGS, we’re finding that investing in our nation’s STEM education programs is something we can’t afford not to do. And it’s not just because it makes us feel good: We know it helps our nation at large, because a rising tide of educated U.S. engineers will lift all of our boats. We’re also learning that our STEM investments help us to recruit the young scientists and engineers we need to fulfill our customers’ missions. Which is to say: Supporting STEM can help your bottom line.
We promote STEM programs in a variety of ways, including:
- Internship and recruiting programs with over 24 educational institutions across the nation.
- Executive involvement on multiple university advisory boards to encourage and advise on interdisciplinary STEM curricula.
- $5,000 annual scholarships for college juniors, seniors and graduate students enrolled in ABET-certified STEM curricula programs.
- Reimbursements to cover employees’ expenses when volunteering to support STEM education programs in their local communities (e.g., robotics and science clubs, fraternity mentorship programs, etc.).