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The Top GovCon Executive Recruiters: Mark HuYoung, NorthWind Partners

ExecutiveBiz spoke to senior leaders at some of government contracting's most powerful firms to find out whom they turn to when they need an executive position filled, and compiled the 10 recruiters you need to know.

To get a sense of their positions on government contracting, we asked the recruiters for their take on the current state of the industry and where they see it going in the future.

What is your take on the current state of the government-contracting field?
The Top GovCon Executive Recruiters: Mark HuYoung, NorthWind Partners - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Mark HuYoung

“I think there are certainly some challenges and issues that exist across the current landscape such as the probability of downward-trending defense budgets, tedious procurement cycles, protests, insourcing, and fixed-price contracts to name a few. Withstanding all these, from a human-capital perspective, it has been my experience that competitive companies are always looking to secure the strongest talent in the market to help them lead, grow, and transform organizations. I believe this is especially true during tougher seasons in the market where business isn’t falling out of the sky. As evidence, our firm is having its best year ever and continues to grow.  Also, with a smaller pie and more players who want a piece, I do believe that the continued consolidation of contractors is inevitable given the need to satisfy shareholders and the aforementioned factors currently affecting the market.”

Do you have any predictions for the future of the business?

“I believe government contracting will continue to be strong over the next five to 10 years. However, if there’s one thing that always stays the same in our market, it is that change is always around the corner and the corners are coming up faster. Companies that will survive and thrive are the ones that figure out how to adapt in order to respond to those changes. Improved collaboration and communication between government and industry will be absolutely necessary for continued success, and, as a realist, I know this is significantly easier said than done.  From the human-capital standpoint, this market is still moving along, but there are some issues business leaders should pay attention to.  While the field of executive talent in the market is at sufficient levels now, I worry about whether this will continue to be the case. I am uncertain that the number of new professionals entering our market is enough to keep pace with future demand, especially in mission-critical areas. Also, broadly speaking, there appears to be a conspicuous gap between current enterprise leadership and the next generation that will replace them. The economic downturn of the past few years has kept many executives in the market, and my hope is that this unintended scenario will give companies time to be genuinely intentional about and proactive in succession planning and strategic mentoring of high-potential executives.”

What sets your practice apart in the field?

“NorthWind’s core practice is to deliver successful leadership solutions to select government contractors and aerospace/defense companies. We rarely accept assignments in the commercial arena (outside of aerospace). Consequently, this focus gives us tremendous insight into and deep networks in a very unique market. Also, the manner in which members are compensated at our firm promotes an extremely collaborative internal environment. The partners divide the profit pool of the firm equally rather than based on performance. This structure compels us to deeply scrutinize potential members upfront and then hire those who have a very collaborative nature and don’t struggle with egoism or egotism. Our members proactively and openly share information on clients and executives with the entire firm. With each team member having a direct stake in every project, clients get the immediate benefit of the entire firm’s domain expertise and experience for every engagement. NorthWind benefits from the wisdom of the collective partnership in accepting the right projects and evaluating the right executives, which has helped us achieve a successful win rate of 97 percent and a better than 90 percent three-year retention rate for the last five years cumulatively.”

Are there any recommendations you can make to executives looking to enhance their personal brand?

“The intransigent rise of social-networking sites over the past decade is strong evidence of how branding has moved from the marketplace of products and services directly into the personal realm. Executives should be aware of their presence on the Internet and what the market perception of them is through that particular filter. If an executive doesn’t have a presence on the Internet, or isn’t leveraging online mediums to their advantage, it should seriously be considered as a viable means of personal branding. Also, the proliferation of organizational changes and restructuring being driven by globalization and growing competition is increasing the mobility and uncertainty of executives in the marketplace. The best way to be prepared is for executives to be diligent in building relationships with peers, senior leaders, search consultants, and other executives who are ‘known and well-regarded brands’ in their market. Executives often wait until they are at the juncture of making a change or scenarios occur outside of their control. That’s way too late to start building those connections.  Society has become more competitive across every facet of life, the business arena being a prime example. It is vitally important to learn how to stand out from the crowd in order to secure better opportunities.  Executives need to know it’s okay to proactively manage their careers. Rarely will anyone else do it for them.”

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