Andy Maner Leads Mission-First, from West Wing to C-Suite

Andy Maner, CEO of E3 Federal Solutions/Sentinel

Andy Maner, CEO of E3 Federal Solutions/Sentinel

Andy Maner is an accomplished leader in the federal IT and consulting space, as well as the third employee of the Department of Homeland Security with experience in the West Wing and a fierce attachment to the government contracting mission.

And that’s not all. Yes, he has successfully sold and merged companies throughout his career, served the nation in senior positions moreover in a foreign warzone, and even faced a near-death experience — but before all of this, Maner was a driven post-graduate fascinated by the operations of the White House and presidency. 

Maner, who today is CEO of E3 Federal Solutions/Sentinel, was a communications and political science major at Purdue University when he snagged an internship after his junior year with Sheila Tate. At the time, Tate had co-founded and ran public relations firm Powell Tate. Prior, Tate was the press secretary to first lady Nancy Reagan from 1981 to 1985, and later served as George H. W. Bush’s press secretary during his campaign for the presidency in 1988.

It was in this job Maner was first exposed to the operations of the White House and presidency.

“I was fascinated by it,” Maner said. “At that point, it really didn’t matter who was president, a [Republican] or a [Democrat]. I didn’t get into this for the politics of it. I wanted to work in Washington.”

Maner described what he did next as “pretty wacky,” because it probably wouldn’t register with younger generations today. There was less technology back then, after all.

“I wrote a letter a day for 40 days to the same person, Marlin Fitzwater, who was [Bush’s] press secretary. He had no business talking to a plebe like me. I just kept writing letters asking for a job,” Maner said.

These letters — funny vignettes, for example, to appeal to Fitzwater’s well-known sense of humor and Midwest warmth — worked.

“Ultimately, they called me and said: ‘we’re going to get you a volunteer job, but you’ve got to stop with the letters. You’ve got to dial it back,” Maner recalled.

He began doing advance trips for Bush.

“It was a huge honor for me,” Maner said.

Growing up with modest surroundings in Michigan, he had never experienced anything like this before. Maner completed about 10 advance trips, and though he wasn’t getting paid aside from per diem, it was through this experience Maner realized the “bigness and greatness” of Bush.

“This is where I want to be forever,” Maner remembers thinking.

Shortly thereafter, Fitzwater promoted Maner into a full-time position in the White House press office, which eventually led him to Bush’s personal office. That, in turn, took him his next experience: Somalia.

After Bush lost re-election to Bill Clinton in November 1992, Maner moved with him to Houston to set up his post-presidency office. It was during this time, in June, Bush ultimately asked Maner to go help the mission in Somalia.

“He asked if I would be willing, which when a president asks you this, they don’t really mean that as a question; what they mean to say is, ‘You will do this,’” Maner said.

He was 23 at the time, young and not completely aware of what this trip meant.

On December 4, 1992, and with less than two months left of his presidency, Bush announced he’d be sending 28,000 U.S. Marines to Somalia as a humanitarian military mission as the country was under a massive humanitarian crisis and a budding civil war.

“I was not prepared for what it meant to enter a warzone, and to enter a zone of the world that had no security, rules and certainly no handbook,” Maner said.

For Maner, this journey from determined post-graduate to Houston happened in a matter of about 24 months. He was in the White House Office of the Press Secretary from 1991 to 1992, and in Somalia in 1993, as special assistant to the United Nations envoy.

And it was in those two years and during the trip to Somalia, Maner witnessed the power of technology and the importance of leadership under uncertainty. He also found his true passion for the mission he currently helps to serve.

The Power of Technology

“When people in our industry say they support the warfighter, I love it. It means something to all of us,” Maner said. “What I saw in Somalia was that it helped — technology contractors literally helped the individual soldier.”

While in Somalia, a very famous colonel, whom Maner wishes to keep anonymous and will refer to as Colonel Smith, made a huge impact on him.

Every night, Maner would see Colonel Smith, at the gate of the U.S. Embassy compound leaving armed with nothing more than a translator and little pieces of technology he was being asked to test.

“He would leave in the middle of the night and go out in one of the most dangerous cities in the world with a little piece of technology to accomplish a very specific mission,” Maner said. “Colonel Smith is why I do this, because I saw it. I saw if you stink at it, Colonel Smith is in danger. If you’re great at it, Colonel Smith and the company that follows him the next day are going to be better.”

That’s how — and why — Maner entered the government service and then the contracting market. It’s a manic drive about the mission.

“That’s where it started — being in a really, really violent place,” he said, referring to Somalia. 

Plank Owner

Shortly after his experiences in Somalia, Maner turned to industry. He was running a commercial business and getting his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Maner knew he needed different skills for the private sector, so he took his liberal arts background that taught him to be a great communicator and added a business acumen.

He was the vice president of procurement outsourcing provider ICG Commerce, later rebranded as Procurian, Inc. and acquired by Accenture, from 2000 to 2001. Then, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened.

“My work at DHS began on the day after [Sept. 11],” Maner said.

Initially, he had moved to the U.S. Customs Service to help with the transformation of that agency from counterdrug to counterterrorism. However, just 11 days after Sept. 11, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was appointed as the first director of the Office of Homeland Security in the White House and Maner immediately began to work on those issues that led to the creation of DHS.

Maner served in the agency from 2001 to 2006. He was chief of staff for CBP from 2002-2004, and DHS chief financial officer from 2004- 2006.

And his experience as one of the first members of DHS fostered a true desire to work on the mission from the industry side.

“DHS, in its first days, needed everything,” he said. “This is a $50 billion budget. We didn’t even know where the bathroom was on day one, but we had serious missions to accomplish.”

It’s important to remember the Sept. 11 attacks were still fresh, and to consider how people were thinking back then, Maner explained.

“We needed serious help from the contracting community. We weren’t going to be able to hire federal employees fast enough,” he said. “We needed technology and we needed people who didn’t lead with things other than helping the government.”

Fewer than half of the companies coming into Maner’s office at the time understood that sentiment and presented a contract representing the mission.

“The successful ones made it about the nation and the mission, and they won by doing that,” he said.

Yes, they were for-profit companies, and yes, they were going to make money.

“But they were doing it because they had something, and they did it in a way where they talked about our mission. They talked about how to make our people better. That’s never been lost on me,” Maner said.

Every mission at DHS has been massively impacted by technology and continues to be so. Maner has said technology was the x-factor after the Sept. 11 attacks. From screening humans to cargo, and from airport arrivals to emergency management and beyond, the contracting community has been instrumental to continuing innovation.

“I’m pretty proud of DHS, certainly what we did in the beginning, and what they continue to do today,” Maner said.

So, when he talks to customers today, he focuses on bringing ideas for innovation and identifying areas his company can help.

“If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, let’s not waste anyone’s time,” he said.

But in those early days of DHS, Maner said they needed the contracting community, and they got the best of it.

“I know who those people are. And they know who I am. And this is a small town we live in. That’s now 15 years ago. I still interact with those people, because they are mission focused,” he said.

Fiercely Attached to the Mission

Maner’s start in government contracting was backed by his government experiences: his time spent in the executive branch and his time spent in an agency.

“For me, how contractors treat customers, the federal government, is why I’m in this space. I’ve always thought there’s a better way. I’ve always thought there needs to be a better relationship there between our community and the government. I could sit around and whine about it like a lot of people do, or I can actually do something about it,” he said.

Maner is in this market because he believes in the market, from the inside out.

“I’m fiercely attached to the mission in a very personal way,” he said, and that dates back to his work with Bush. “I believe it’s the most important thing to do in the world.”

His eagerness to perform meaningful work and support the federal government doesn’t just mean the warfighter or intel — it encompasses all missions; from agriculture to energy and civilian.

“If you don’t get payments right, at the Department of Agriculture, farmers can’t feed their families,” Maner explained. “These are missions that matter. They matter every day. And they matter even more now. The contractor community is counted on even more than it was 10 years ago.”

Learn to Lead

Even as the CEO of a company dedicated to these missions Maner speaks so passionately about, he still stresses the importance of continuing to listen and learn from those around him.

“A lot of people in our industry have forgotten that we are of ‘two ears and one mouth.’ My day is filled with exactly that ratio: two parts listening, one part talking,” he said.

This means learning how to be a leader, too.

Maner is a student of leadership, and he’s constantly reading about it. And learning to lead goes back to his first job working for “the greatest leader in history that I’ll ever know,” Maner said, referring to Bush.

“George H. W. Bush was such an incredible leader, not because of his background, not because he had some great jobs, [but]because of his approach to people, because of his approach to problems,” he added.

Maner learned a few things from Bush he continues to practice today: never stop learning, treat people like celebrities and celebrities like people, and always have a true commitment and loyalty to people.

In fact, when Maner was in graduate school entering the private sector, his only frame of reference about how to lead people was from Bush. That knowledge grew during his time in Somalia and his return to government in DHS.

“One had a lot of physical violence. One had a lot of mental violence,” Maner said.

Both were difficult missions with no clear metrics for success or a how-to manual — but the work had to get done and the nation was counting on these missions. Maner looked to great leaders during this time, and he continues to surround himself with great leaders.

And that’s leadership, not management.

“I have focused on making sure that when I’m in a leadership position, I’m showing up as a leader, not a manager,” he said. Leaders inspire, hire, fire and fix; they’re humble, Maner added.

“When you grow up in the view of the president of the United States, you learn to lead. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re there to do. There are plenty of other people to manage.”

Continued Growth, Continued Success

As a leader, Maner has big plans for E3/Sentinel. He wants to continue growing the company, and in the next year or so, will focus on five major areas: organic growth; mergers and acquisitions to excel in the middle market; new capabilities; integrated talent management; and injecting massive solutions and ideas into clients’ organizations.

In the long term, Maner wants the company to be the “most muscular, most admired middle-market business that this market has ever seen,” from how talent works to how the company shows up for its customers and which missions it supports.

“I want it to define the next 10 years,” he said. The middle market is counted on for innovation, entrepreneurship and being a great place to work, and Maner wants E3/Sentinel to lead the way.

Learning from Life

Maner hopes to one day put his journey through work and life into a book, one a younger generation could learn from, as he’s learned from so many people along the way.

Part of this love to teach comes from Maner’s yearning to impact people’s lives in the way his life has been impacted so significantly, particularly after a near-death experience while vacationing in Peru with his wife and three kids in 2012.

The story is personal and Maner’s to share. Ultimately, the accident left him severely injured and in need of multiple surgeries. He first recovered in Peru, and while Maner doesn’t crutch on this experience, he is extremely proud of his commitment to his recovery and in total awe of the community that surrounded him and his family during that time.

“The whole network of friends and family just came to life,” Maner said. “I want to do that kind of thing for other people 20 times a year. I want to impact people’s lives. I want to make people better.”

“It’s a pretty audacious goal, I get it. Maybe I should have just stuck with hockey and reading,” Maner joked, as he, his wife and kids, now teenagers, are a huge hockey family.

And rather than lean on this experience, Maner uses it to enjoy all he has every day — at home, in life and through larger, nationwide missions at work.

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