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 Healthcare Industry Executive of the Year, Public Company finalist Jennifer Welham, who’s senior vice president of public health and social programs at ICF. Here, she talks key achievements, shaping the next generation of industry leaders, proud career moments and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/2021?
I believe that health and its social determinants are inextricably linked — that the well-being of individuals and communities are affected by conditions in the environments where they live, learn, work and play. The work of my 1,700+ person team sits at the nexus of these two areas.
Over the last 18 months, my team reached new levels of ingenuity in how we worked with clients to address both, and we booked record sales and revenue doing it. We’ve provided critical support to clients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the U.S. and abroad. And we’re supporting multiple health and social programs across the federal government through new and recompete contracts.
Some recent examples include:
- Working with HHS’ Administration for Children and Families to strengthen the response to human trafficking, implement rigorous child care standards, and assist low-income families with utility costs.
- Helping HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement protect unaccompanied minors by monitoring compliance of and providing training and technical assistance to care providers.
- Providing digital transformation, data management, health surveillance and communications services to the CDC to help monitor and address critical public health threats such as HIV, cancer and tobacco control.
- Providing development, operations and maintenance support to CDC’s nationwide syndromic surveillance platform, BioSense, to help monitor infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and other health impacts.
- Bringing our expertise in bioinformatics, health research and health IT to NCI to help optimize its national research infrastructure and provide biomedical health research support services.
- Bringing our expertise in criminal justice, crime prevention, and victim services to support DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and its partners in their efforts to reduce crime, recidivism and unnecessary confinement, and bring overall improvements to the criminal justice system.
I also helped lead the acquisition of Rockville-based ESAC, which closed on Nov. 1. ESAC is one of the leading specialized providers of advanced health analytics, research data management, and bioinformatics solutions to federal health agencies.
I’m so excited to combine ICF’s longstanding expertise in health and social programs with ESAC’s complex health technology solutions and applied understanding of genomics, proteomics and physical sciences to bring advanced digital health solutions to our federal clients.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Throughout my career, I’ve surrounded myself with amazing talent. And my current team is no exception. I’ve also learned to be ruthless about delegation. A wise mentor once told me, “Ask yourself every day if you’re doing the things only you can do.”
This allows me to focus on growth and the future of the business, rather than putting out daily fires. Which brings me to another mentor’s advice, “Don’t let the urgent get in front of the important.” I’m also always on the lookout for opportunities to grow and stretch. I believe that’s the biggest key to achieving success.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Like many at ICF, I’ve been with the company my entire career — 30+ years! I started as a research assistant fresh out of college. Over the years, I evolved my technical and managerial skills by taking on increasing levels of responsibility.
One major inflection point was in 2000 when I moved from being a subject matter expert in environmental health to a project manager for ICF’s growing body of health programs which were continually increasing in scale.
I held that position until 2010 when I was promoted to line of business then division lead for additional, larger health business units. Then in 2018, I also assumed leadership of our social programs business. Today, my division focuses on both.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Over the past 18 months, the global public health community has been hyper-focused on COVID-19. But there’s much to be done outside the realm of infectious disease. We have the opportunity to make a meaningful and lasting impact on society as we emerge from the pandemic, address recovery challenges and assess lessons learned to improve our public health infrastructure.
There’s an urgent need to address the social determinants of health and health disparities that face vulnerable and underserved populations. This includes the health impacts of climate change in these populations and others in areas affected by climate-related events. For example, extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest in summer 2021 resulted in a corresponding uptick in heat-related emergency room visits and deaths in that region.
We’ll continue to align our social programs services — child welfare, childcare, education, workforce development and housing — to support economic recovery coming out of the pandemic. We’ll continue to find innovative ways of combining our deep domain expertise in health and social programs with cutting-edge technology capabilities to help clients modernize their outdated public health systems.
And with the addition of the ESAC team, we’ll help clients fill the gap between health science and technology so they can better track, predict, and improve health trends and outcomes.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
Many mentors have guided me through my career journey. And I think it’s incredibly important to pay this forward to the next generation. I’m heavily involved in ICF’s Mentor Connect program, an annual one-on-one mentoring program that pairs mentors and mentees from across the company. I also encourage my staff to participate in the program.
I recently joined the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business Management Consulting Advisory Board, where I’ll soon mentor students interested in a career in consulting. I’m also an active member of the Professional Services Council and chaired a panel on National Health Priorities at its 2020 Federal Health Conference.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my role in leading the growth of ICF’s health and social programs business and bridging the two to better serve the needs of our clients and the communities they serve. And the success my collective team has achieved in doing so.
In 2020, we booked $334M in revenue and had a record $527 million in contract awards, with $26 million million in COVID-related work alone.
And we’ve continued our steady growth trajectory in the first three quarters of 2021. Along with growth comes opportunity. ICF has afforded me numerous opportunities to stretch and grow personally. My mentors, coaches, advisers and cheerleaders, both within ICF and externally, all helped me navigate my amazing career path, from research assistant to leading the largest division in the company today.
It’s an exciting time to be in public health. I’m glad I chose the career path I did. And I’m incredibly proud of the work we do every day.