Chief Officer Awards Finalist Judy Bjornaas: ‘Always Question Everything’

Judy Bjornaas, ManTech

Editor’s note: The winner of the Chief Officer Awards Public Company CFO Award announced June 17 is Alison Harbrecht, GDIT.

On June 17, WashingtonExec will be virtually celebrating the most impactful and innovative C-suite executives in government and industry. These chief officers work in technology, security, data, operations, finance, business and more, excelling on both sides of the government contracting sector. Our team of judges have chosen the finalists for the inaugural Chief Officer Awards, so before we announce the winners during the event, we wanted to get to know the finalists a bit better. This Q&A series highlights their careers, successes, proud professional moments and notable risks.

Judy Bjornaas is chief financial officer at ManTech International and a finalist in the Public Company CFO Award category.

What key achievements did you have in 2019?

As ManTech’s CFO, I’d count three major accomplishments last year. First, I think ManTech’s financial results speak for themselves.

In 2019, ManTech’s revenue rose by 13% to $2.22 billion, marking the company’s fourth consecutive year of strong organic growth. We reported operating income of $138 million and a net income of $114 million. Diluted earnings per share was $2.83. Operating cash flow was $221 million.

ManTech’s growth continues — we booked Q1 2020 revenue of $622 million, up 22% from Q1 2019. In addition, bookings of $1.1 billion resulted in a new book-to-bill ratio of 1.8.

I also helped lead two strategic acquisitions last year.

In April 2019, ManTech acquired Kforce Government Solutions, a seasoned provider of transformation management, data management and analytics supporting federal health and defense missions, notably the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Then in August, ManTech acquired H2M Group, a respected company in geospatial analysis, imagery and full-motion video analysis for the intelligence community and for warfighters operating at the tactical edge.

I’m proud of these strategic acquisitions because they helped expand ManTech’s talent pool, complemented the company’s proven technology capabilities, and will contribute to our continued growth for years to come.

What has made you successful in your current role?

I came to ManTech 10 years ago as a deputy CFO, which enabled me learn the ropes and absorb the ManTech culture before taking the reigns as CFO.

When I first arrived, the company was decentralized, with a number of disparate business units – largely the result of multiple acquisitions. I worked with the finance leads of each of those business units to standardize and centralize processes at the enterprise level, which led to greater efficiencies.

I valued my time as as the deputy CFO because it offered the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and to learn to walk, so to speak, before I was asked to run.

Success isn’t always measured by climbing up the corporate ladder. I’d advise others to consider making what might otherwise feel like lateral moves as they build their own career journeys. The truth is, that proverbial ladder should really be compared to a jungle gym — sometimes, you may have to first move sideways to ultimately move up more quickly.

What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

I think the biggest risk of my career was going from a very large company (EDS) to a very small one, called I-NET. When I first joined I-NET, it had just 44 employees and $2 million in revenue. I was the very first finance hire they made. So, I was effectively asked to do everything — it gave me hands-on experience with the full range of the finance life cycle.

Fast forward seven years and the company had grown to $250 million in annual revenue, and I had built a finance department — I now had a team supporting me.

Growing with I-NET accelerated my career – I learned much more quickly than I would have had I simply stayed at a large company.

How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?

I’m particularly proud to mentor young women who find themselves in government or finance positions. The fact is, fewer than fewer than 15% of CFO positions in the United States are held by women, so I hope I can be both a resource for and an example to the next generation of female finance leaders.

That mentorship can take both formal and informal forms. For example, I occasionally speak at events that highlight my insight as a CFO and as an executive for a large government contractor. But I will also speak at Women in Business events that specifically highlight my path as a female leader in finance — an industry where women are comparatively underrepresented.

In addition, I try to advocate for talented young women on my team, ensuring they have opportunities for skill development and career growth.

My attention isn’t just on women in the industry, however. I hope I inspire the next generation of leaders in government to look beyond their work with their employer and take the opportunity to serve their industry through board service. For instance, I serve on the board of directors of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and I’m a member of the Association for Corporate Growth.

What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?

I elude to it above, but it was moving from a fairly secure job at EDS — a huge, well-known company to a much smaller one — the equivalent of a startup. While I didn’t know it at the time, that move accelerated my career far more quickly than growth would have happened had

I stayed with the Fortune 500. Though not a blind leap of faith, it was a leap of faith nonetheless.

What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Always question everything — and don’t assume that we must perform jobs or tasks the same way that we’ve done it in the past. Complacency kills innovation, motivation and momentum.

When I first arrived at ManTech 10 years ago, I make an immediate impact because I approached the job with the curiosity of a 5-year-old, questioning the processes and the reasons behind them. When you start asking “why” things are done a certain way, you might discover leaders are open to alternative ideas that, given the chance to be explored, prove more efficient and add value.

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