Prior to his current role, Freeman was chief executive at federal GIS visualization firm Luciad Inc., where he led the establishment and growth of the Belgian firm in the U.S.
In his interview with ExecutiveBiz, Freeman discusses his professional background, his views on what PPC does best, the company’s biggest contracts and the differences between small and large firm contracting.
ExecutiveBiz: What do you consider some of your biggest successes since taking over as CEO at Project Performance?
Michael Freeman: When I was brought on to the company, it was actually in a distressed period and it was kind of needing a “course correction.” We needed to refocus and reposition ourselves to move forward. So I was really brought on to do exactly that, provide the course correction and a more stable, focused approach to the business.
My background lends me to this type of effort because I’m not a traditional CEO that’s come up through the Sales, MBA ranks or the finance ranks. I actually came up through the technology ranks, where I started my career as a field engineer and moved up to being a business leader. I then dropped into the CTO role and moved into running either businesses or large businesses within large companies.
It’s really a different focus. Coming into a technology company, I’m pretty well-suited to take a quick look at the organization. I quickly determine what is the differentiator — in other words, what we do best. The first thing I had to do here at PPC was, to get control of the cost; second, I was able to define what we do best, and once that’s done you can align the organizations for the future.
ExecutiveBiz: How involved is PPC in adjacent and international markets?
Freeman: Well, that’s an interesting question because as I defined what we do best, which is really our open source and knowledge management solutions as well as our budget solutions, then what we did is we scanned the markets and said, “Okay, where best to apply those?” What we do is a little unique in the industry in that we focus both on the commercial and federal I.T. and the energy and environmental (E&E) markets.
So the markets for us are both commercial IT, federal IT and then, of course, commercial and federal E&E. But what we try to do is just focus on those three areas of delivery, open source development, knowledge management and the budget solutions. Since we are a portion of a larger holding company in the U.K., our sister companies are more focused on the E&E side and we’re focused on the I.T. support within that same market. So it’s pretty easy for us to reach out to adjacent markets which is nontraditional for most federal integrators.
ExecutiveBiz: What technologies are you dealing with in your open source? Can you give me an example of a product that you’re very proud of, that you would say you do best?
Freeman: One of our flagship contracts is with the National Archives (NARA) in which we have set up a solution focused SOA Enterprise Service Bus technology. It is unique because the SOA technology or platform is based on open source.
As you know in this environment for us to be successful with the budget decreases we have to provide alternative solutions to the government which both saves them money while at the same time, accomplishes their ever increasing mission.
ExecutiveBiz: What agencies does your company work with the most in the federal government?
Freeman: We primarily focus on the Civilian side but right now, I would say NARA is one of our flagship contracts, the Department of Justice – VNS progam and the USPTO contract. We have a very successful relationship with what we call (COVA) which is the Commonwealth of Virginia.
On our commercial side, we have quite a few flagship contracts with marque companies such as Nike, Best Buy, Home Depot, Marriott, Merck Industries, a very strong portfolio of commercial contracts. This allows the diversification of our solutions across both markets.
ExecutiveBiz: With sequestration looming and possibly taking effect in January, what is your major focus? Since it will take $500 billion from the domestic agencies in the government as well as the defense agencies, would you have to shift your focus more to your commercial side?
Freeman: I would say yes, but we’ve already set off on that diversification path given that we have three of the top taxonomists in the world on staff and given our market presence there, it’s not that hard to refocus because we’re already there. Coupling that with our environmental and energy practice we can easily take those federal solutions into the commercial sector.
Again, both of these focus on either increasing sales or saving costs through alternative energy management. But one of the things that I think is important to mention, is that we knew about sequestration or at least the government reducing its budgets and that’s why we’ve narrowed our focus into those three areas.
Sequestration or not, you’re still going to have a large decrease in the federal budget. As we all know, the commercial side is also suffering from budget restrictions. We are focusing on our solutions and provide alternative solutions to save money for either the government or the commercial side.
ExecutiveBiz: You mentioned some contracts that you are currently involved in. One I found that you were part of was the NIH CIO-SP3 contract. Could you tell me a little about that acquisition?
Freeman: I’m quite proud of that obviously. This is our third consecutive award of that contract. And I think if you look at our peer contract holders you won’t find very many of our size and in that kind of portfolio of awardees. So that as a prime contract holder, it’s going to be one of my primary focuses. But, more importantly, if you look at the way we bid within CIOSP3, it really focuses on those three areas I mentioned.
So, with our teammates that we’ve brought on board, you will see our pursuits of that contract clearly focused on what we do best. (open source development and knowledge management solutions and budget solutions)
ExecutiveBiz: What lessons of business have you learned and brought with you from your I.T. background?
Freeman: As I mentioned earlier starting out as a field engineer and even before that, I was in the Marine Corps and had very stringent technical training and eventually ended up getting the degrees that I have. But, most importantly, I came up through the ranks, kind of boot strapped myself up through the industry as a field engineer, systems engineer, software engineer and then became more oriented to the business.
The contrast between business approach is quite distinct from my period at Northrop Grumman where you look at your costs and your achievements on a quarterly basis, you weren’t measured except on a yearly basis.
You move to a product or a commercially focused company like HP, one of the things I quickly learned is it’s all about the numbers.
What I mean by that is you get trained and more focused on the daily numbers. One of the things that I bring now to the businesses that I work with is a very quick grasp of the numbers and then couple that with a technology company and my CTO background and a master’s degree in technology management, I am able to understand what we bring to the markets.
So I can quickly sit in a room and contribute to a proposal review and understand the solution as well as contribute quite a bit to the pricing of that solution.
ExecutiveBiz: Having come from these big organizations like HP and Northrop Grumman where there are so many resources available, how different is it working at a smaller firm where individuals must wear multiple hats?
Freeman: There’s a couple of contrasts. One is, coming from a big firm, I always smile when somebody says that you usually have more resources, you have more availability, when, in fact, even though you’re a part of a large company, quite frankly, all your resources are located 10,000 miles away and are definitely not available to you. Every company, large or small now limits the amount of staff you have on the bench.
You have to quickly realize being in a smaller company, you don’t have the breadth and depth of the same portfolios that you had and you must focus on what the company does best. In a Northrop Grumman, for example, or in HP there are over 20,000 products or solutions that you could focus on. So it’s really a closer or a more finely tuned approach, but the same skills and the same attributes come to play. It’s just that it’s not as wide or as deep.