As senior vice president for corporate development at Alion Science and Technology, a McLean, Va.- based technology solutions company, Steve Kimmel is responsible for overseeing the company’s organic growth, strategic planning and acquisitions. In the following Q&A, Kimmel shares his top priorities for the coming year and his take on what’s needed to be a successful business development executive.
What are your top priorities for the coming year?
Steve Kimmel: Planning for and adjusting to the change in administration’s national security priorities followed by remaining competitive in our current market space and lastly penetrating one to two new markets.
What’s the greatest challenge you face in either the short and long term?
Steve Kimmel: My personal challenge is to maintain an objective understanding of the priorities associated with Alion’s primary customer — the federal government — especially since such priorities effect Alion’s ability to provide operationally effective, technology-based solutions.
Any trends you’re noticing in M&A activity in the government contracting space?
Steve Kimmel: While there does not appear to be any significant M&A change on the horizon, I do see major challenges coming due to the increased emphasis on competition in contracting and organizational conflict of interest. But we’re up for the challenge.
What does it take to be a successful business development executive in your space?
Steve Kimmel: First, you have to be a good businessperson. Second, you have to understand your customer space and what motivates the customers to achieve their own objectives. Third is an appreciation for what the employees of your company have to offer so you can deliver realistically priced and operationally effective solutions to your customers.
What advice would you give a CEO of a small business wanting to team up with you?
Steve Kimmel: Obviously, partners need to bring something unique to the table, such as a skill, a technology, or a relationship. I like to start my teaming discussions either as a prime or a sub by breaking bread with the other party; I want to understand what motivates the person. Initially I’m not particularly worried about the terms and size or the depth of the nondisclosure agreements or teaming agreements. I’m more interested in the person I’m doing business with: Do they have the integrity? Do they have the same motives for doing business that would inspire us to want to work together? So if that common ground is in place, the rest of it is much more likely to succeed.
How much of your business is sub versus prime?
Steve Kimmel: While Alion is a large company with 3,300 employees and $738 million in sales last fiscal year — we often sub and/or seek sub partnerships especially with small businesses or academic institutions whenever it makes sense to penetrate a new market, provide unique competencies or to deliver specific products and services required by the customer.
What is something most people don’t know about you personally?
Steve Kimmel: I retired from the government after 30 years … I had worked for the Defense Department. I started out as an Army civilian mechanical engineer designing fuzes for rockets, bombs and mortars, then spent several years on the Army staff managing the Army’s electronics tech base. I spent a year in the White House on a fellowship and then worked in the Office of Secretary of Defense where as a Senior Executive for the last eight years of my federal service, I held a variety of positions in Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and finally as Deputy Director of Defense Research Engineering. Then after 15 years in the Pentagon, I stepped out and went to work for the private sector.
What was the biggest transition challenge you faced?
Steve Kimmel: Learning what I didn’t know having been inside the government for so long. I was astonished at how many folks inside the government are afraid to talk to contractors for fear they are violating some sort of ethics law. That reticence makes it more difficult for industry to understand what the customer really wants. It is indeed a competitive world that is made more difficult by such silence.
Interview with Steve Kimmel was conducted by JD Kathuria
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