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 DOD Industry Executive of the Year (Private Company) finalist William Vantine, who’s president and CEO of Systems Planning and Analysis. Here, he talks learning from failure, proud career moments, career advice and more.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
At Systems Planning and Analysis, our focus has always been taking care of our people, ensuring the highest quality in everything we do and maintaining a forward-looking strategy as a pure play, trusted adviser to our U.S. government and allied nation customers.
We are proud of our nearly 50-year history and reputation as a premier, knowledge-based services firm providing objective and independent analysis and advice to our clients, free of any real or perceived conflict of interest.
Staying focused on pure services helps attract the best and brightest employees, which enables us to bring our exceptional analytic tools and unique blend of technical and former government and military experience to helping national security customers solve their most challenging problems.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
We help shape the next generation of industry leaders by challenging our people and providing opportunities to grow beyond what they think they might be capable of doing. I’m a huge proponent of moving young people up or around the organization quickly so they can continue to excel rather than become too comfortable in a position. I don’t believe most people need 30 years to prove themselves. They can succeed much earlier if we open up opportunities and pathways for them and encourage them.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
A favorite saying of mine is that if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried. Leaning forward, taking on big challenges and learning new skills are all part of growing. Even if the attempt doesn’t work out perfectly, we learn a great deal from the experience.
For example, we submit proposals on business opportunities on a regular basis. Sometimes, we don’t win. But we learn from every failure — we assess the reasons and write a better proposal next time.
As with anything in life or business, after a failure, if we get back up on the horse and resume riding, we develop resilience and self-confidence.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I would say I’m most proud of being able to mentor people, promote from within and help others get ahead. Over the years, wherever I’ve been, I’ve had the good fortune to work with really great people. Being able to help them see the best in themselves and bring out their full potential is an honor — and a thrill. I look forward to it every day.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
I have three pieces of advice that can be stated in six words:
- Work hard
- No whining
- Take chances
The first two are self-explanatory. The third one, take chances, is related to what I said earlier about learning from failure. I would expand on that by saying learn to play without a net, scary as it might be at first. Be the first to put up your hand when an opportunity arises. Maintain a long-term, broad perspective on how a decision might affect you.
For example, if a growth-enhancing opportunity comes your way but you’re reluctant to move across the country for a couple of years, think where you’ll be in 5 or 10 years if you do this. What’s a couple of years or a couple of moves if you’re going to be super challenged and far more successful than if you stayed put? I say go for it. Take off the blinders and just go for it.