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 Government Executive of the Year finalist Mike Derrios, who’s senior procurement executive with the State Department. Here, he talks career turning points, learning from failures, proud career moments and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/2021?
I led an amazing organization that obligated $10 billion through approximately 28,000 transactions while also supporting major surge efforts across the interagency in support of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and the subsequent humanitarian mission.
We revitalized industry engagement by launching the first-ever Reverse Industry Day for the State Department focused on conducting effective market research and gaining industry perspectives on doing business with the State Department across the procurement lifecycle.
We established a social media presence for the Office of the Procurement Executive to communicate with the broader GovCon community through a dedicated LinkedIn page. And we created a new electronic portal to increase communication flow and transparency for the most critical information that needed to be shared across OPE, increasing visibility across all levels of the information chain-of-custody and a tool for better portfolio management designed to reduce bottlenecks and assist senior managers with problem resolution.
We also partnered across other lines of business to explore opportunities to optimize procurement service delivery at our posts overseas and developed several actionable recommendations for possible implementation this year. And we reacted quickly to address various executive orders that have direct impacts on procurement for the State Department through expert policy support.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Authentic leadership — what you see is what you get. Being people-first and showing up for my folks. Empowering them to do their jobs and then treating them like professionals by holding them accountable for results.
Communicating early and often, up, down and across the organization. Making timely decisions with the best-available information. Encouraging my people to have integrity, be solutions-oriented, determined, high-performing and pay attention to details. And a little intestinal fortitude to do the right thing even when it’s inconvenient.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Serving as program manager for the expansion of TSA PreCheck and as a program director for the agency’s Passenger Screening Program. Doing a stint on the program side of federal acquisition really offered me incredible insight about how to work across boundaries to leverage the contracting function as a mission enabler.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
Shortly after joining State Department as the new senior procurement executive, I galvanized my front office around a new vision for leading procurement at the State Department and together we developed a 5-year strategic framework designed to evolve our line of business.
Our framework addresses four key pillars for organizational excellence to include people, culture, process, and technology. It is founded on the ethos of something we call acquisition experience, which is the holistic perception that our procurement professionals, customers and stakeholders have of our brand, representing the totality and quality of the collective interactions that any of these group have with the contracting line of business across our experience ecosystem.
Through the framework, we have charted a course that will elevate Acq-X for the State Department through a variety of strategic initiatives designed to improve process touch points and accomplish better outcomes. To demonstrate commitment to our strategic approach, I established the Center for Acquisition Experience at the State Department, comprised of a team of change experts that are leading implementation of our strategic framework and overall acquisition experience program.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
I just received approval to launch an Enterprise Acquisition Review Council for the State Department that will institute much-needed governance for our major acquisition activity and provide stakeholders with shared equities a chance to inform requirements development and steer contract administration on our most significant procurement actions to drive optimal contracting outcomes for program success. That will be a major focus area for me in FY22.
Also, I am focusing on building a next-generation industry liaison program based on an integrated approach for procurement planning that offers real transparency and creates a data-rich environment that leverages cognitive tools in new ways to promote dialogue between industry and government and promotes actionable thought leadership for procurement at the execution level.
Also, I will continue working with our CIO on the State Department’s largest acquisition program, EVOLVE, to ensure that we achieve maximum competition and structure the contract in a way that is mutually beneficial for the State Department and our industry partners to achieve our goal of advancing the diplomatic mission with a centralized IT services vehicle for the department.
The need for strong diplomatic ties between Americans and our international partners has never been so great and helping the State Department maximize return on investment for its procurement spend and collaborate effectively with Industry will advance both our domestic and foreign policy interests.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
I try to model the behavior and competencies they will need through leadership by example. Then I challenge them to adopt a growth mindset and go beyond their own perceived limitations. I mentor people by investing in them through genuine interest in their success and I encourage them to engage in continuous self-development.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
Well, I believe that if you fall down seven times, you stand up eight. Resilience is a necessity. My biggest failure taught me to never underestimate the power that culture has in an organization. You have to align culture with strategy and also connect it with accountability.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
I think there is a myth that change is too hard to accomplish in the federal sector and that we should just be content with incremental progress or small improvements to status quo. The rule that tells us to only do what we “have to do” versus what we “should do” is one that I break all the time.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
Leaving the U.S Air Force as a single parent with a young child. Trading the stability of military service for the chance to stretch myself professionally in an unknown environment was hard but it was the best decision I ever made. We stop growing when we’re too comfortable.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
Helping to save the Offshore Patrol Cutter program for the U.S. Coast Guard by leveraging contracting flexibilities that had never been used by USCG or DHS, much less any other federal department since the 1970s, to provide extraordinary contracting relief to a shipyard that had been decimated by a level 5 hurricane immediately after it had been approved to begin production on the first hull of a 25-ship program of record.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
I can be impatient when it comes to seeing results. I have to constantly remind myself that life is a marathon and not a sprint.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Be a steward of your own career. Don’t wait for others to open the door for you. Take the initiative to create your own opportunities. Run to the problem rather than away from it. Be courageous and willing to speak truth to power — even when it seems like they’re not listening.