The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is Contracts Industry Executive of the Year finalist Jai Spivey, who’s vice president of federal contracts at Parsons. Here, she talks key achievements, taking professional risks, learning from failures and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/ 2021?
- Served as a Capture, OCI Volume lead and member of the strategy team for largest Parsons’ win: TEAMS Next Missile Defense Systems Engineering $2.2 billion
- Stood up a Program Management Office, including Resource Management; Operations Support; Compliance Management and Financial Management in support of a $1.5 billion program supporting 1000+ employees and 40+ subcontractors
- Led COVID response for 1000+ employees accommodating telework and essential worker tracking and reporting. Process was labeled as a model for COVID management within the Missile Defense Agency
- Developed and implemented an Organizational Conflict of Interest Program that MDA quoted as the “vision for contractor OCI compliance”
- Provided contractual guidance and support as a part of the MDA Mentor Protégé program for two small business that went on to win Nunn Perry Awards as well as two Small Business Administration All Small Business Joint Ventures
- Cash Flow
- Established a billing schedule and invoice allocation that resulted in a 10-day average decrease in Days Sales Outstanding across the business sector
- Team Building
- Implemented consistent staff training opportunities for the team
- Utilized Parsons’ PAR-Docs tool to develop the Federal Contracts Workspace that centralizes information
- Increased customer engagements that have translated into immediate financial returns
- Increased engagement with internal customers; numerous contracts professionals receiving public recognitions from PMs
What has made you successful in your current role?
Collaboration has been key throughout my career. Collaboration requires that you view each issue from the perspective of all stakeholders. It’s at that very moment that you evolve from advocating for your position to advocating for the best solution.
Oftentimes, getting to the best solution is not the real win; it’s the resulting relationships you build by considering the thoughts and opinions of others. In many cases, these relationships continue to pay dividends because they tend to be built on mutual respect and honesty regardless of the outcome of a specific project or action.
What are your primary focuses going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Government and industry collaboration is at the top of my list. I can’t tell you how many times I encounter the us versus them attitude, from both sides. This attitude is an obstacle to bringing solutions to bear that protect our nation and our warfighters.
If we’re truly to maximize our capabilities for the warfighter, we, government and industry, have to be willing to build meaningful relationships that facilitate collaboration to identify the best solutions to the nation’s most difficult problems quicker than our adversaries.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
Shaping the next generation will heavily depend on our ability to provide meaningful opportunities to learn while also providing them with a platform to share new ideas.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
As a child my grandmother would say, “Eat the fish and spit out the bones.” So, I grew up learning to use the good and throw away the bad. There are so many times in my career in which I had to use the good to keep me going and make a conscious effort to leave the bad behind me.
I’m reminded of an instance in which I went out of my way to support a colleague but what I perceived as helping wasn’t received as such. The loud tone and curtness of her words helped me to quickly begin to realize there was an issue here.
After the call, I “spit out the bones” and began to think about the root cause. It wasn’t that she didn’t want my help; it was that collaboration was absent from the engagement. A few adjustments and we were off to solving the problem and closing the project out in a manner that considered all ideas.
What did I learn? My grandmother was right. Eating the fish and spitting out the bones is the key to moving past the failure to success.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
Falling into the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality will inevitably leave your organization broke and in desperate need of fixing; it’s just a matter of time. Rules in general should be evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness regularly to ensure that they evolve with our changing environment.
As leaders, we must recognize that questioning rules doesn’t necessarily mean the rule is ill-intended; rather, it could simply mean that the rule no longer fits the current environment. We must continue to ask why so that we outfit our organizations with the proper guidance while also removing unnecessary barriers. This is where the rubber meets the road to spark innovation and efficiency.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
In 2017, I’d been in federal contracts for almost 20 years. I was comfortable in contracts and had experienced many successes. I’d recently taken a director of contracts position for a new business sector when I was presented with an opportunity to help stand-up and lead a Program Management Office for a $1.5 billion business sector supporting over 1,000 employees. Initially, I rejected the idea because I was comfortable. What did I know about program management? Why would I leave a director of contracts role? The last question was the turning point.
For the first time in a long time, I was hung up on a title rather than my commitment to continue to be a better me. Not long after that I was chomping at the bit to get started as the director of the PMO.
The PMO team experience much success including implementing best practices across the business sector that were pivotal in winning the follow-on contract, TEAMS Next Missile Defense Systems Engineering valued at $2.2 billion. It was a pivotal moment in my career and today, as I work through issues, my experience as the director of PMO allows me to consider the program management perspective as a best practice in implementing policy across Parsons federal contracts.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
Unquestionably, the relationships are the most rewarding part of my career. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who are now forever a part of my life. They consist of leaders who have developed me and people that I’ve developed. They are customers who have become friends that I talk to for hours about family, vacation and sometimes even retirement. And some of them are just simply the smartest and most innovative people I’ll ever meet. Wherever they’re from and however we met, the people I work with is what keeps me coming back.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest career struggle has been balancing career and family. Although we all know which is more important, there is still an underlying stigma associated with women who are mothers first.
I remember coming back to work after maternity leave and being thought of as less than because I needed to excuse myself to pump for my nursing child. Just 5 miles away, my husband was receiving a promotion and his leader told him that he was doing a great job and “had more mouths to feed” so he deserved this promotion. There are many women who share similar experiences.
Surprisingly enough, it was one of the single defining moments in my growth. During that season, I confronted the issue head on and rather than shame myself along with my leaders and peers, I decided to own who I truly was which translated into being open and unapologetically a mother of two wonderful children, a wife but also an outstanding, results oriented contracts professional.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Commit. Commit to gaining the knowledge, building the relationships and most importantly, getting better. Pursue a better you aggressively. You can’t grow if you never ask, “How can I be better?”
Rather than finding feedback as a negative, consider it an honor for someone to take time to provide you constructive feedback. Then, take the feedback and do something about it! You hold the cards to getting better at every stage of your career. Pay raises and titles don’t always mean that you’ve grown or you’re getting better. If you focus on getting better daily, the rest will take care of itself.