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John O’Neill of Attain on Building a High Performing Organization

John O'Neill of Attain on Building a High Performing Organization - top government contractors - best government contracting event

John_ONeillJohn O'Neill is the Vice Chairman and Chief Administrative Officer of Attain. We had the opportunity to discuss with O'Neill some of the top priorities for Attain and how they are planning on bringing their new company to key industry player status. We also learned how workforce development is a high priority for O'Neill at this time and what factors he believes can help build a high performing organization.

ExecutiveBiz: Tell us about your relationship with Greg Baroni.

O'Neill: Greg and I met about 30 years ago when Dan Hamlin, who was with KPMG and is now a partner at Attain, and I went to the University of Southern California to recruit him. Greg joined KPMG, and we began building a practice together, working long hours for 20 plus years. Then we went to Unisys, where Greg led the global public sector business and then the Federal business. During that time, I worked on several key initiatives with Greg so we've built a lot of trust and respect for each other's capabilities over the years, and in early 2009, we started this organization.

What makes our relationship a successful business partnership is our complimentary backgrounds and skills ““ Greg's vision and my execution. One of the great assets Greg brings to the table is his visionary perspective and experience building organizations, and I certainly can relate to that. But from his vision, my experience has been building various critical components and key operating structures within those organizations. It's there that our skills and our backgrounds dovetail to achieve outcomes. That said, in many areas such as client service and human resource development we are wholly aligned and approach situations the same way.


“Because of the depth of our people's experience and the long-term clients that they serve, we say that Attain is a small company, but it's not a small business.” – John O’Neill


ExecutiveBiz: What are your top priorities right now at Attain and how you are going to become a key industry player?

O'Neill: My priorities as vice chairman and chief administrative officer of the company focus on operational excellence as a platform to support profitable revenue growth. This reflects the company's primary thrust and, in my case fits into the wheelhouse of my strengths and personal interests as CAO. We've done a great job in getting through the purchase of BearingPoint assets, including the transition of nearly 200 former BearingPoint team members and approximately 100 contracts, all of which took a significant investment and a tremendous effort to pull together. Now, we are focused on enhancing our operating platform to support ongoing business activities and growth.

That involves building a world class infrastructure for running our business and strategically outsourcing where we can. It also means implementing workforce initiatives to deliver benefits programs information, and operations initiatives to drive outcomes across the organization. We've already engaged and are working closely with NeoSystems Corp. to handle our accounting function and retained human resources services company, Administaff, to handle the company's HR function. We also have put in place training and benefits programs to attract and retain key talent.

Beyond operational excellence, we're concentrating on growing the business by expanding our teams with strategic hires to support our Federal client base and other target areas of our business, which requires support from me and my team. Additionally, we are going to actively seek acquisitions as part of our growth strategy, which means managing business integration and internal transitions related to such activities.

ExecutiveBiz: What's the dynamic of working for a smaller company and within its culture? What tips do you have for those who make that switch?

O'Neill: When it comes to our culture and capabilities, there isn't much difference. Because of the depth of our people's experience and the long-term clients that they serve, we say that Attain is a small company, but it's not a small business.  Nevertheless, we are a new organization so it's been a learning process. When you work for a big company, the focus is on doing your job and doing it well, whatever that job may be. It is very much about being part of a larger structure. But when you get into building a new company, as we have, it's a totally different ball game in terms of making things work, getting the financing structures and other infrastructure in place. One thing we have done, as I mentioned, is leverage outsourcing as part of building our organization and getting things up and running quickly.

I would advise people embarking on this type of endeavor to network, network, network.  Reach out to the contacts they have in the marketplace and with various associations and organizations they may belong to as a way to identify the best resources available to build out an infrastructure and obtain financing that is right for the nature and size of their business.

ExecutiveBiz: Work force development is critical. How do you develop a high performing organization?

O'Neill: To create a high-performing work force, we focus on the “leadership engine“. There are many aspects of that engine that drive performance, including a compensation program that yields the right kind of raise, bonus and promotion structures and is closely aligned with the performance management framework. At Attain, we've spent a lot of time putting together a plan that will enable our people to set goals and be evaluated accordingly so that not only are they rewarded for their contributions to our business outcomes, but also for proactively driving their own career path development“”moving through the organization and optimizing their own interests as employees. In addition, we have made available training programs that are key to the leadership engine in terms of specific job skills and leadership development.

ExecutiveBiz: What do you like to do in your free time?

O'Neill: Free time is really hard to come by these days, which is consistent with starting a business. When free time does come about, I spend time with my wife, Joyce, and daughter, Maggie. We are from the New England area, and enjoy heading north and spending time on the shore during the summer.

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