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 Business Development Executive of the Year (Private Company) finalist John Steckel, vice president of corporate development at AMERICAN SYSTEMS. Here, he talks career inflection points, primary focus areas going forward, proud career moments and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2021/2022?
The obvious answer is the company’s outstanding growth in both 2021 and 2022. In 2021, we set a record for both bookings and win rates. In 2022, we more than doubled that record.
But it’s not just about the numbers; it’s seeing the work we’ve done to continue to embed our culture into our new business efforts (and vice versa) that helped us achieve those records.
On top of that, I feel we’re seeing something that’s enduring and ingrained in how we work together for our customers. We’re not sitting on our laurels… we’re aggressively building on our current results for growth in 2023 and beyond. And that manifests in both the personal and professional growth of people in our BD organization and throughout the company. I love seeing people in our organization take more and more ownership in growing the business and working across the company to make it happen.
What has made you successful in your current role?
There’s no silver bullet to success… just lots of failures intertwined with some successes. The biggest thing for me is learning how to delegate and trust other people and, like Bill Belichick says, to “do your job.” It’s very hard to do. Yes, there’s a “trust but verify” aspect to it and learning how to do that without micromanaging or betraying trust is a very fine line to learn to walk. Another thing is learning and modeling behaviors of others.
In the military and at BAE SYSTEMS, I learned about the power of positivity (accentuating the positive) and, regardless of how things are going, keeping a positive outlook. No matter what you do, things will never go as planned, but keeping a positive outlook on reaching your goal stimulates critical thinking and harnesses the power people have in order to do what they may initially think is impossible.
And that leads into a third thought ⏤ allowing people to be themselves. We all have different ways of doing different things and trying to force people into a cookie cutter is frustrating for everyone and doesn’t create a successful environment.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
I’m very proud to be part of an ESOP where I work with and for our fellow employee-owners. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m personally most successful in very mission-oriented environments. Working to support our customers is one dimension that brought me into the B2G space. Working for my fellow employee-owners adds a whole new dimension. Doing things that make them successful is just a great feeling.
In that light, I’m proud of how the members of our BD team have become evangelists for business development and help carry the message of BD being a team sport throughout the company. That builds upon our culture of personal accountability and manifests in our collaborative environment. That, in turn, has come all together with our company achieving record setting results for 2021 and 2022 both in terms of bookings and win rates.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I’ve had an unusual career, starting with my Naval service, transitioning into marketing for major B2B and B2C brands, and finally landing in the B2G space. Throughout that time, I’m most proud to see people who I worked with become successful, not just in their business dealings, but also in their personal lives. I realize I probably had little influence on their lives, but I’m proud to have known them and feel that in some way I helped them on their journey.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Everyone’s journey is different… a lot depends on where you are and where you want to go. Regardless of where you are or where you want to go, try to learn everything you can about your co-workers, your customers, your business, your competitors, your market… and try to understand things from their point of view.
This includes understanding what they do and why they do it. In doing that, don’t underestimate the power of emotional intelligence and understanding the impact you can have on so many things… be sure to develop that skill in what you do in both your personal and professional life. And like I said, everyone’s journey is different, so don’t follow in anyone’s footsteps. Make your own path!