Jake Zimmerman grew up around the GovCon industry and despite his ripe age, he has positioned himself to expand STG Inc.’s federal footprint as the company’s director of business development for civilian agencies.
After graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2009, the 24-year-old joined Command and Control Systems as a business development executive. There, he was responsible for building market strategy for the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Command (SPAWAR) and led subcontractor captures on the Air Force’s NetCentsII and the Navy’s IAES awards.
Zimmerman then helped grow Integrated Communication Solutions‘ customer footprint by 15 percent as the SPAWAR account manager, leading the prime capture effort for SBSA Spawar Pillar opportunities: Cyber Security Operations.
GovCon Executive recently sat down with Zimmerman to discuss how he plans to leverage his previous experience to grow STG’s business and his reputation within the beltway, how the industry fares for younger participants and the power of persistence in business development.
What are your current responsibilities?
My current responsibilities revolve around identifying, qualifying and taking ownership of strategic opportunities that will help grow STG’s footprint in ’12, ’13 and ‘14. A major component of business development includes creating and maintaining strategic relationships with both government customers and industry partners.
Although you are fresh in the industry, you’ve held a few positions before. Do you feel as though your previous experience has given you any particular advantages when approaching new business your company hasn’t traditionally worked with?
First and foremost, confidence. Confidence to trust my instincts, as well as to trust my mentors and teammates. Being fresh to industry, you have to rely on your team for constructive criticisms and advice, which isn’t always easy to take
Were you able to use relationships you developed in your previous position of account manager of SPAWAR for ICS now, or was it more the working experience that you’ve found to be beneficial?
The foundational relationships I formed in Charleston will last forever. It’s clear that people move around a lot in this industry! Every relationship you form grows over time and you never know who will be your customer next year.
Having grown up around the industry, particularly in a DoD environment, what made you really want to pursue a career in the contracting industry?
This industry has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I feel like its my chance to really give back to the country and try to have a lasting impact on the safety of those putting themselves in harms way overseas.
I work a lot with the Wounded Warrior program and I’m constantly at events with young guys coming back from engagements overseas and they thank me for our products and services. I think ‘you’re out there on front lines risking your life and you’re thanking me for the technology that we can provide you’? I know I could never be out there fighting on the front lines, so anything I can do to make their lives easier, safer, it’s just the ultimate responsibility and it’s the ultimate thanks I can give.
I wouldn’t say that it’s a rivalry, but there are definitely high expectations that I plan to overcome in the near future.
Where would you like to go with your career? You’ve said you have high expectations for yourself – what are those expectations? What would you like to do in the industry?
There is certainly a finesse that comes with years of experience that I hope to attain in the future. I truly believe there is an art behind successful business development. It’s all about creating meaningful connections rooted in trust between people. I’d like to cultivate that level of trust at all levels of industry.
What about business development in particular do you think you find so attractive? Is it something about your personality that matches up with the work that you do?
It’s a lifestyle. It’s 24/7. I truly believe people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Growing up with the business development mindset has shown me the value in creating meaningful relationships that allow you to work as a team to make the best out of any situation. Bringing that positive energy forward helps drive the creative mentality and sets the team up for initial success.
You’ve worked on contract capture, some subcontracting, is there anything that you’ve accomplished to this point in your career that you’ve found to be the most personally rewarding?
The quality of the relationships I’ve built so far have been extremely rewarding. Working with such great people in such a short time has really given me the opportunity to really find myself as a young professional. When people expect me to have a certain level of professionalism, it really pushes me to exceed their expectations, show my dedication, and earn their trust.
You’ve worked and studied outside of the DC area and now you’re back. How have your experiences outside of DC enabled you to be a better professional in the area?
It’s taught me that there is a lot of action going on behind the scenes that most people will never know about. You have to cautious not to take information at face value. It takes a lot focus to make informed decisions, while keeping that mind.
What advice do you have for younger professionals who are trying to crack into the government contracting industry?
Young AFCEA; no question about it. Not only being a part of it, but being involved with it. Currently, I co-chair the YAFCEA DC professional development series as well as support the DC and NoVa events committee. Working with YAFCEA provides an avenue to work and socialize with many of my industry and gov peers and in a non-business, low stress environment.
Government contracting may seem like a closed off industry for young professionals with looming budget cuts and the search for greater efficiencies. But to me, that’s not the case. In my opinion, efficiencies are grown and matured over time. Articles like this show the need for increased mentor protégé involvement across our industry. You have to cultivate, grow and mature talent before you start to see results.