The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next up is Intelligence Industry Executive of the Year finalist Vicki Schmanske, who’s president of Leidos’ Intelligence Group. Here, she talks key achievements, career turning points and other advice.
What key achievements did you have in 2019 / 2020?
Prior to 2019, Leidos had a combined defense and intelligence organization. In that environment, the intelligence work wasn’t getting the focus it required to grow. We recognized that the intelligence market is unique and demanded solutions tailored to the intelligence community’s needs so, at the beginning of 2019, Leidos stood up the Intelligence Group.
This strategic move has benefited Leidos and our customers. We built a strategy that opened up new markets in enterprise IT, cybersecurity, mission software and space technologies. Additionally, we returned a declining business to year-over-year growth, are growing our direct workforce and have a strong pipeline of opportunities.
In the past year, we also stood up the Intelligence Group Workforce Pillars, a program focused on inclusion and diversity, talent recruitment and selection, employee engagement and leadership. This initiative clearly demonstrates that our business values the people who work at Leidos and that my priority is to develop and retain talent for opportunities across the enterprise. These efforts have improved recruiting and helped reduce attrition by more than 6%.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Strong leadership experience throughout my career has given me the necessary building blocks for my current role. I have had the opportunity to work across all four major federal market sectors: defense, civil, health and intelligence. I have had both program management and functional management roles across multiple technical domains, including systems engineering, software and information systems development and enterprise IT services.
Through those assignments, I built a strong network that enables me to collaborate across the Leidos enterprise and within the industry. I have leveraged these diverse experiences to drive a robust growth strategy with new business innovation and strong program performance and execution.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
I have a briefing called “Things I Learned on the Jungle Gym” that I use when doing career-mentoring engagements. The core concept is that it’s important to focus on more than just moving up the career ladder, and to ensure that you are taking advantage of developmental opportunities along the way. The right lateral movements can create the skills you need in order to succeed in the future.
My turning point occurred when I took my own advice and made a lateral move to perform in a defense enterprise IT organization. Through that process, I acquired leadership skills in enterprise IT, which is a high growth area of the business. I also gained an advocate and mentor in the executive vice president of the sector, who as a result assigned me to take over a large and challenging civil IT portfolio.
In that role, I received visibility that, when combined with key results and strong performance, led to several roles of increasing responsibility. Ultimately, that put me on the trajectory for where I am today — a key member of the Leidos executive leadership team.
What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
I constantly tell my team, “Mission First, People Always.” My two primary focus areas are supporting the customers’ missions and recruiting/retaining the workforce to execute this important work. In the Intelligence Group, we proudly support our customers’ critical national security missions by providing meaningful operational analysis, technologies and tools.
These missions are not slowing down in the face of ever-changing adversarial threats. We need mission capabilities to neutralize those threats, so we have aggressively focused on cyber, ISR and transformative software and analytics.
People are our most important asset. We recognize that having the right personnel, skills, clearances and culture are fundamental to success in this market, and more importantly, to the success of our customers’ missions.
In a high-attrition market, where clearances are a “golden ticket,” we are investing to ensure we can attract, and more importantly, retain the talented and diverse workforce required to execute our missions.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
It’s important to create a culture of broader representation in leadership positions, particularly for women and diverse employees. By establishing a process to create a pipeline of talent to meet business needs and cultivating an inclusive work environment that connects employees to the company, we differentiate Leidos from competitors.
I routinely engage women at all levels in the company to mentor them, coach them and connect them to a broader network. I am committed to talent identification and development and am a vocal advocate to ensure Leidos appropriately represents women and diverse employees in corporate talent discussions.
In order to ensure readiness for advancement, it’s also necessary to change the perspective of leadership development. That’s why I encourage rotations into nontraditional roles to drive diversity of experience.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Be authentic. It sounds simple, but for many, it’s not. In order to be authentic, you have to bring your whole self to work every day. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a Catholic, a coworker, and of course, a woman. These traits shape my life and who I am as a leader.
As our company began increasing our focus on building a culture of inclusion last year, this prompted conversations with employees who sometimes feel they cannot bring their whole selves to work. From an inclusion and diversity perspective, industry is missing out when employees don’t feel they can be their authentic self.
At Leidos, we stood up the Enterprise Inclusion Council earlier this year, of which I am a co-chair. This council represents all levels and functions of Leidos, and we are taking a thoughtful look at the mission, objectives and reputation that we at Leidos want to have. Our vision is a workplace that fosters the engagement of individual diversity of thought, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives for full participation in resources, opportunities and decisions across the enterprise.