Bill McMullen, president and CEO of Reston, Va.-based services contractor WBB, joined the company in 1994 after a 27-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps that included service as a commanding officer and at headquarters.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, McMullen discusses the company’s pursuits of vehicles such as those and how it has adapted to changes in the government services market. He also overviews how the company mentors other emerging GovCon firms.
Bill McMullen: There has been quite a few changes in our overall market environment in the last four or five years. WBB has transitioned and transformed its entire business model during that period. Up until 2008 or 2009, we were primarily, for lack of a better term, a boutique consulting company.
We did most of our work from our offices on short term task orders with firm fixed priced deliverables. We normally did not compete for contracts. More often WBB was a directed sub on prime contracts and that constituted most of our revenue stream. Over time the business model has changed in many ways. Beginning in 2001, we began a transfer of ownership from a private partnership to a 100% ESOP. We were subsequently acquired by Lake Capital in early 2012.
Along with the change in ownership, WBB’s overall business model evolved. The company is now competing headtohead with large companies in our space along with a growing number of small set aside businesses for prime multi-year contracts, primarily at client sites. So the competitive landscape has changed significantly for us, and we’ve had to modify and change the business model in order to remain competitive.
Bill McMullen: I’ve been here since late 1994 and back in those early days we were a total of 16 or 17 employees. Nearly all of us had come directly out of the military and WBB represented our first exposure to the private sector. I knew one of the original partners and he essentially recruited me.
At that time getting hired by WBB was mostly word of mouth. In looking back several things made WBB an attractive place to work. WBB’s culture was very similar to what we experienced on active duty.
In addition we were working on and supporting projects and programs for both our government and industry customers that had the potential to enhance the US’s war fighting capabilities. In other words we had a passion for those who still wore their service uniforms.
So it was a culture that was very similar to the military, and it was probably the easiest transition that someone coming out of that environment could make.
Bill McMullen: They’re significant. It ties back to some of my earlier comments. We competed headtohead with a large number of great companies and winning enables us to increase the percentage of prime awards that we have.
Going into the competition we felt EAGLE II and OASIS were two “must wins” for WBB. Beyond their scope, we believed several key customer agencies would soon be using them as their primary contracting vehicle.
We are already seeing task orders on OASIS. Simply stated, these two awards were critical to our overall growth strategy.
ExecutiveBiz: Your company is also involved in some of the mentor protege programs with different agencies, how does WBB participate and use those programs to both help the company that’s being mentored and WBB?
Bill McMullen: In many ways each mentor protege arrangement is slightly different. No two proteges are alike in terms of business maturity, breadth and depth of internal operations support, resourcing limitations, market presence, etc. You have to approach each one in a slightly different way.
Generally speaking, WBB’s looks for a protege who we believe has growth potential and who simply needs some level of support to realize their full potential. It might mean proposal support, contracting support, and in some cases, maybe even funding support. Ideally, we are looking for a partner that brings a capability or network that optimizes our combined synergies and helps us both grow.
Bill McMullen: In short there are a lot of similarities. In many ways the government services market is like a war. There are winners and losers, and there’s nothing in between. But of course, it’s not life or death either. The biggest similarity is an organization’s success is highly dependent on its people.
Despite technologies and everything that you see in the military and industry today, it really does come down to the people and successful leaders surround themselves with the best and the brightest.
You want people who are good listeners, but who aren’t afraid to stand behind their input. Over the last 20 years at WBB, I have learned many new things but some things never change; hire the right people, have a team approach, be willing to listen, and if something isn’t working, be willing to change. One final thought on the topic, be willing to act with imperfect intelligence.
Acting in a timely way with less than perfect intelligence is always better than acting one minute late with perfect knowledge of the situation.
Bill McMullen: As everyone in our sector knows, the government services market is undergoing several real challenges. The market is ultracompetitive and has become less predictable. I believe there is a growing lack of confidence in the future.
Right now, we are seeing delayed RFP releases, delayed award notifications, and a significant number of solicitations being canceled outright. This is causing the entire industry to take a step back to figure out where we are going.
With the 2014 budget and a planned budget for 2015, we should begin to see some leveling of the bumps in the road. I’m hopeful that the dust will begin to settle over the next couple of years and we will have a clearer path forward.