Michael Fink is corporate vice president and director of contracts and procurement at Alion Science and Technology.
The 30-year federal and commercial contracting veteran joined Alion in August 2011 and previously held executive positions at Global Linguists Solutions LLC and SAIC Inc.
At SAIC, he most recently served as vice president and director of contracts and procurement for the network solutions and information technology group.
Fink recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about the company’s plans for continued growth within the federal sector with uncertain budgets and intensifying competition.
ExecutiveBiz: Can give our readers a basic overview of what it is you do on a daily basis?
Michael Fink: I am responsible for the overall performance of the contracts and procurement organizations. This would include all contracts and procurement process, procedure, policy, staffing and compliance, among other things, for Alion as a whole. As many of my peers would acknowledge, this is not a role where you do a routine set of job functions on a daily basis.
Each day brings a new set of challenges that may span any number of areas across the enterprise to include things such as executive planning, steering committee meetings, interfacing with the CACO, audit support, bid reviews, risk reviews, contracts performance issues, budget issues, policy updates, cash flow challenges, staff training and it goes on.
It’s safe to say that I apply my experience and knowledge of contracts management and administration to any issue that may rise to the corporate level on a daily basis.
ExecutiveBiz: We see more than 90 percent of the company’s business is with the Defense Department. In what areas does Alion see potential growth within the federal sector?
Fink: Alion has a fairly diverse set of capabilities and we see opportunities in a number of areas in both the DoD and civilian agencies.
Our longtime customers still count on us for our engineering and R&D experience. For example providing ship design and engineering services to the Navy to help modernize the U.S. fleet or assessing the performance of Army systems to ensure warfighters can quickly get the technology they need to survive and succeed. In addition, our Homeland Security related work is expanding, especially with the Coast Guard.
We are seeing opportunities for growth in virtual training systems, geospatial data solutions and the rapid engineering and prototyping of systems and components used by the military. Other key areas for us include engineering for energy production, distribution and conservation, which are essential to the DoD and national security, and of course cyber defense and risk assessments.
These are all key areas of growth for the company.
ExecutiveBiz: Is Alion working on any new technologies or products that you feel will have a major impact on the market?
Fink: There are dozens of innovations being developed at any given time here at Alion. Three that come to mind are related to decision support, military training and offshore oil industry safety.
Our SmartMoves™ software uses an Alion-developed algorithm to create elegant, easy to use tools that help decision makers make better choices for resource allocation. With the SmartMoves™ based tool you could see, for example, how to spread your budget between people, vehicles, facilities and other assets to get the biggest bang for the buck. We do a lot of virtual training systems, including what is called Serious Games.
These are tools that use video game technologies to create an immersive experience, which studies show can result in better understanding and retention of task oriented learning. Our teams are constantly improving and updating what we can do with these tools.
For example we can teach sailors how to react in a flooding emergency. We’ve also recently adapted another Alion developed technology called MOTISS™ specifically for the offshore oil industry
Initially, MOTISS™ was designed to help engineers make design changes that would allow navy ships to survive explosions or attacks. Using that same technology, we’ve re-purposed MOTISS™ to help make oil rig operations safer, which can protect the crew, the rig itself and the environment.
ExecutiveBiz: How is the company adjusting to changes in federal procurement strategy?
Fink: You mentioned multiple award indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts. These have been out there for some time.
Those types of arrangements allow the government great flexibility in reaching out to the resources and skill-sets they need across the industry. They also allow the government great efficiency and reduce administrative cost.
At Alion, we are very careful to ensure that we are have a wide variety of contract vehicles in place and available to allow our customers to reach out and access our skills and our talent.
ExecutiveBiz: Is Alion taking any specific measures to combat recent budget cut announcements?
Fink: We’re trying to ensure that we are well positioned with our existing clients and have the highest degree of success in retaining our core business revenues. None of us know what’s going to happen with budget cuts or where they may occur.
We like to think that our core business areas are pretty solid and are mission essential. Simply being very active in our marketing, in our communications with our customers, evaluating the budget possibilities and constantly looking at ourselves internally for efficiencies and savings, those are the types of things that we’re doing as a company to prepare.
ExecutiveBiz: What types of contracts is the company currently locked into?
Fink: We have over 600 active contracts and task orders with varying degrees of value and periods of performance. We have a significant backlog so we are not in a position to be significantly hurt, or affected is a better word, by one major cut of a program or a number of programs.
I think we’re fairly well diversified if you want to compare us to, say, someone’s financial portfolio, but no company can really feel good about the prospect of losing any business or revenue at this point. The markets we compete in are going to become much more competitive, and the revenues out there are going to become more valuable.
Companies that may be greatly affected by large budget cuts will be more likely to reach out into other markets making them even more competitive.
ExecutiveBiz: How has your previous experience including time spent at Global Linguistics Solutions and SAIC helped you transition into your current executive role?
Fink: Throughout the past 30 years I’ve had a great opportunity to work in many challenging areas dealing with some very complex and difficult issues in contracts and procurement.
While they were not so pleasant at the time, I was getting an excellent education in preparation for a senior leadership role in a large company. Dealing with these tough challenges has enabled me to develop the knowledge and skills needed to advance in my career. I was also very fortunate to work with and learn from some of the most outstanding contract leaders and professionals in the business.
Working with these folks, developing relationships with peers and clients, operating in a fast pace and demanding environment has given me the confidence to perform at a high level and to lead. The most important things I’ve learned along the way are that there’s a right way to conduct business and to treat your fellow employees and customers.
Ethics and integrity are not options. To be successful in this profession you really need to put in the effort to learn and grow. There are no shortcuts to success.
It takes a lot of time to learn and grow into these senior positions, and you’ll probably find that most of the senior leaders around this area have spent well over 20 some years in the industry to achieve that success.