Brett Mason serves as vice president of the intelligence community for AC4S, a veteran-owned information technology, telecommunications, mission support services and cyber company.
Prior to his current role, the 27-year industry veteran was VP and general manager for Mission Essential Personnel’s intelligence solutions group where he grew the organization to more than 250 employees.
Mason also served as senior program manager at L-3 Communications where he worked with the National Reconnaissance Office and the U.S. Army.
The Air Force veteran caught up with ExecutiveBiz and spoke about his strategy to take advantage of the IDIQ-rich contract environment, how his 21-year military experience helps him in private sector leadership roles and some background on the Tampa, Fl.-based firm.
ExecutiveBiz: What have your primary priorities been since joining AC4S?
Brett Mason: I joined AC4S in February of 2013 and the primary objective and purpose of my role in the company is to expand our contributions to the intelligence community and to our customers that currently serve the intelligence community. I’ve worked to make AC4S a little more deliberate in how we apply our skills and past experience to the community.
ExecutiveBiz: How are you positioning the company to grow in the uncertain budget environment?
Brett Mason: There are a couple of different elements to our strategy. First of all, we’re an emerging small business. We’ve been in existence going on 12 years and just graduated from the 8a program in early 2013. The first objective, is to continue to do the good work that we’ve built our reputation on over the last decade‑plus. The most important element of growth is being a reliable vendor and to deliver service and capability.
Secondly, in this changing market, it’s important to work with good people. That’s good employees and collaborative members of industry who are looking for new work to do. I believe that companies like AC4S are actually in an advantageous position when it comes to a stressful market like this, because we don’t have quite as many challenges that very-large businesses have to deal with, with respect to decisions related to property holdings or obligations that are overhanging the operation. So, we get to focus on providing a good service, providing a good product, and working with not only our employees, but also companies that are focused on the same things we are.
Difficult markets or tough markets are also markets in which decisive, creative people have an opportunity to make things happen. When industry is in a status quo and is very predictable, quite often, innovators or creative personalities and teams are somewhat inhibited by protectors of the status quo saying, ‘Oh, we don’t do it that way; we’ve never done it that way.’ When you enter uncertain times or challenging times, people start looking for smart ways to do things better.
I’m inspired by the vision of the leadership of AC4S, the willingness of its personnel to solve problems and not sit on the sideline; and working somewhere with a bedrock attitude of, ‘What can we do to help? What can we do better? How do we solve the problem?’ Those are traits that are going to serve this corporation well.
I also believe, these attitudes will ultimately allow AC4S to adapt to the many changing circumstances and uncertainties of today’s marketplace. After all, none of us really knows what’s going to happen next. We just need to keep our hands on the oars and keep rowing in a direction that is productive and professional.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some unique offerings or capabilities that veteran‑owned businesses such as AC4S bring government customers?
Brett Mason: I think it’s centered in a couple of key traits. The founders and owners of AC4S grew out of a tactical communications joint environment. And in that environment, when you’re out there trying to deliver the mission, you have to have a mindset of, ‘How do we solve the problem?’ It can’t be a mindset of, ‘Gee, I don’t have that in my kit bag; what do I do?’ So, at its foundation, the company really focuses on what it takes to solve problems and deliver capabilities.
I’d say there’s a tenacity we veterans have developed over our professional lives that failure is not an option, or at least you have to have something to offer. You can’t just throw your hands in the air. That’s one key trait of the company.
The other key trait that I think has been something that has proven out, both in our mainline customer set as well as our emerging new client base, is this idea that if we don’t know it, we can learn it. We’re not scared off by having to explore and learn something new.
As I mentioned earlier, we want to work with good people. Employees or perspective future employees want to work with good companies. So, we may not be doing that work today, but we believe that we can work with top‑notch people and we can deliver capabilities that may not seem like they’re the obvious services or capabilities or products that we would provide.
An example is we’re currently delivering services to the State Department. It wouldn’t be commonly anticipated for a bunch of retired and former military members to naturally fall into providing contingency support to the State Department. But in recent years, we’ve had some great success in providing exactly those capabilities and solving problems for our client in the field.
ExecutiveBiz: What roles do IDIQs and contract vehicles play in your business?
Brett Mason: IDIQs are a fact of life today. I’ve seen the ebb and the flow of vehicle types over the last nearly 30 years. Today, we’re in a mode where direct awards or single awards are few and far between. So, first of all, you have to get good at telling the story about how you can deliver multiple delivery order capability. You have to develop those good program management skills and keen management skills in order to operate in this environment. It’s a fact of life and it’s a skill that you have to maintain.
The second part is that the government’s looking for ways to consolidate things, as well as have predictable manners in which they procure things or operate things. So, as a vendor, whether we’re a teammate or a prime, we have to get talented at knowing when to play in those task orders and knowing when to refrain from playing in those task orders.
I believe that our strategy of delivering what best supports the client is best served in such an environment, because we have the opportunity to be less concerned about how many RFPs are on the street and more concerned about how many statements of work or PWSs are coming out on a particular vehicle. And it’s a little bit less torturous to do a task order as opposed to a full‑blown RFP.
There are similarities and some key differences when you’re already part of a vendor team that has the ability to deliver capability, as opposed to working all of the pre‑RFP type activities. Task orders tend to come out much faster and they get closed much faster, which allows us to be efficient. So, I think the task order environment is a good one for a company like AC4S, because it’s focused on point‑of‑delivery type activities.
ExecutiveBiz: What were your areas of responsibility when you served in the Air Force and how do you tap into that experience in your current role?
Brett Mason: When I got started in the Air Force in the mid 1980s, they were hiring a lot of electrical engineers and engineers in general. The government and the Air Force were figuring out what to do with all these new‑fangled technologies and computers and software.
I was fortunate that I was able work in the technical domain, to support the operations and intelligence community, and to be in the acquisition community, which was a little odd for a communications officer. I have a number of friends who never touched acquisitions, so they didn’t even know what a statement of work was or a PWS or an RFP, for that matter. So, I had the luxury of being exposed to three different professions nearly simultaneously, communication, intelligence, and acquisition.
Over my active duty and reserve career, I’ve worked in Strategic Air Command (SAC), which now is U.S. STRATCOM, and heavy support in the national intelligence community with work in the top five organizations; NRO, NSA, CIA, DIA, and a little bit with what we now call NGA. Lastly, I had the opportunity to work in the advanced systems acquisition community as part of the Space and Missile Systems Center, which now belongs to the U.S. Space Command.
Spending time in the Strategic Air Forces, in the acquisition Air Force, and in the intelligence community, as well as a brief stint overseas as part of USAFE, where I deployed to Bosnia, I’ve had the benefit of a broad brush of experience. If you’d asked me when I was a 22year-old graduate electrical engineer, I probably would have wanted to spend most of my time either building radios, antennas, or writing software.
And while I got to do all those things, it was wrapped in a whole lot of interesting and nationally significant activities inside the acquisition, intelligence, and the strategic components of the Air Force. Over my 21 year Air Force career, I was exposed to an awful lot of great programs and worked with some superlative professionals.