The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 11, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person Nov. 30.
Next is Contracts Industry Executive of the Year (Private Company) finalist Szu Yang, who’s chief contracts officer at Peraton. Here, she talks success in her current role, overcoming career struggles, career advice and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Being nimble and prioritizing the delivery of outcomes pivotal to the heart-center of the enterprise’s goals. One thing that’s helped me succeed as chief contracts officer is my motto, “Keep your nose to the grindstone and charge forward for the greater mission.” Regardless of my leadership level, being vigilant about not getting encumbered by atmospherics and keeping emotions in check has served me well time and time again.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
There is so much to be proud of within my current organization; however, the opportunity to truly own what I build has been the most personally fulfilling. Having been with Peraton since its beginning, I haven’t taken the empowerment and trust instilled in me lightly nor for granted.
In only five years, I have built, led, nurtured, and continuously improved the Peraton contracts department by infusing modern technology, evolving processes, developing new leaders, and focusing on human capital talent. I look forward to continuing to advance our department in support of the enterprise and, more importantly, our nation’s imperative missions.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
I tend to look for the hidden gems; the people who, with positive coaching and being placed in the right opportunities, could truly shine and thrive. I take a tacit approach and place them in situations that allow them to showcase their best characteristics and strengths. Hidden gems found in places people rarely look have so much unique and untapped value.
Letting people know they’re seen and investing in their potential is my way of paying it forward to create the next generation of leaders.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
I think we all struggle with the balancing act between professional and personal lives. Knowing that I would be going on maternity leave to embark on one of the greatest experiences of my life to be a mother should not and could not come at the cost of a career I had built.
Thankfully, my organization understood that people bring their best selves to the workplace when they are encouraged to take time off and I had the support of a capable team to carry the torch in my absence.
For those who don’t have this mutual trust and support of a work/life coexistence, be sober knowing it’s not worth wasting time or emotions on these organizations and have confidence in your ability to land in a better place.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Contracts as a profession warrants acclaim and prestige, similar to doctors and scientists, but that only comes from dedicating the time and energy to really know the tradecraft. Contracts touches on every aspect of the business and wears many hats, which means the people behind the paper bring cross-departmental skills to the table.
Towards this end, don’t be afraid to take on any projects that could help you acquire experience on proposal development, customer relations, legal theory, and overall business acumen. The worker of the future is one who understands how all facets of the business work together in pursuit of one common goal.