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 (Public Company) finalist Stephen Marker, who’s vice president of secure network and voice products, cyber systems, at General Dynamics Mission Systems. Here, he talks career inflection points, career advice and more.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
It was really early in my career when I turned over leadership of NRO programs that I had helped capture and start building business at NGA. It was hard to let go of “sure things” to then compete in a new space which ended up building a whole new thrust of work for the company.
This experience gave me the confidence to step into new areas over and over again in my career to build business and grow professionally. Get comfortable being a bit uncomfortable.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
People find it odd when I say that my goal in any role is to develop the organization to a point that I am not needed anymore. I find it personally freeing to take this approach.
To that end I make people development and succession preparation a top priority within and across my organization. Mentoring has been valuable to me and I pay it forward by supporting, advising and guiding those that are coming up behind me. This means empowering people, expecting and helping them to succeed, and providing them room to grow and take ownership of initiatives.
In addition, outside of work I find it so rewarding to work with the younger generations. I was a Cub Scout pack leader for five years, and also led and fundraised for a FIRST Lego Robotics team of elementary school kids.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Two pieces of advice. First, work in areas of the market that you are passionate about. If you don’t, a lack of passion comes across in your body language with customers in subtle ways that you will not perceive.
And sometimes the slimmest of margins makes the difference; if you are not passionate you won’t even realize that you didn’t go that extra inch to support the customer or win a program and that is why you lost.
Second, throughout your career learn to operate (and be comfortable) in environments of incomplete information. In fact, seek these opportunities out to learn, practice and refine this skill. You cannot let yourself get into “analysis paralysis” because when you don’t move forward, you will not receive new feedback from different voices to inform your decisions.
Make the best decision with the information you have today, and then re-evaluate when new information comes in ⏤ an agile process advancing you forward to improved and informed outcomes.