But, for this decorated Army veteran with 30 years in the IT development, who has been singled out and awarded for his leadership numerous times as one of the top CEOs in the Washington area, it all hinges on a simple truism: Treat others as you want to be treated.
Outside the boardroom, Jimenez is a leader on an issue dear to his heart – taking care of the nation’s wounded warriors – those who “have paid the price … gone and served, those who are coming back wounded,” he said.
Jimenez talked to ExecutiveBiz about the springboard moments in his career and shared his perspective on recent defense and federal IT acquisition reform efforts.
ExecutiveBiz: Could you start out by talking a little bit about your background and that springboard moment that propelled you into your current position: an event or an experience that brought you to where you are now.
Tony Jimenez: There are two different springboard moments. I think for anybody who has started their own company there are two springboard moments. There’s the springboard moment when you say I’m going to do this and then there’s the springboard moment when you say, ‘Wow, I think I’m actually going to pull it off.’
For me, the springboard moment when I knew I needed to do it was when I was heavily involved with a large company, Unisys, and I was doing some of the work helping them find some small businesses to have as part of the team. As I interviewed companies and talked to them and figured out why they had started their company and what made them feel like they should be a part of this outstanding team, the more clarity I got. The more I talked to them the more I started to think that they are an awful lot like me. I think that they may actually be successful, and, based on my experiences and what I’m bringing to the table, I think I could be successful also.
I think the big moment came when I actually had a government organization that wanted me to bid because they thought that I had built the kind of team that could solve their problem. We had been in to talk to them in hopes that we could land some subcontracting opportunity. We finally went in and met with them, and they liked us so much that they wanted us to come in as a prime. That opened the door and allowed us to leverage that relationship and that connection and get more civil contract work until eventually we landed another prime contract and another one and another one until, eventually, now 90 percent of our work is prime contract work. Only 10 percent of it is working as a subcontractor for other organizations.
ExecutiveBiz: You have a great back story in the military and I wondered if any of that played into making you into a good president, CEO and founder of a company.
Tony Jimenez: Everybody who is working with me has read this story or knows a little bit about this story and I find that a lot of them immediately say, ‘I think the reason you are successful is because of your military background.’ This is very important and it has a lot to do with my success but it’s not the only reason I’m successful.
I think people who strive for excellence have one thing in common and that is when they are not the very best they want to know why. They sit down, they review what they did, they try to figure out how to make their game better — whether they are in sports or whether they are in business or whether they are in the entertainment business, it really doesn’t matter. What is it that made them good and how is it that somebody came along and was better? What’s the formula and how do you make yourself better? I really love sports for that reason. I love to watch an athlete mature and watch how they are able to say ‘I didn’t win the first time, I didn’t win the second time, but this time around I’ve taken all of the things that helped the first guy win and all of the things that helped the second guy win and I have leveraged those and made myself better through the victories of others or through the successes of others’.
ExecutiveBiz: What is a day in your life like?
Tony Jimenez: My folks laugh all the time — they are convinced that I do not sleep. It probably seems that way because I am not a very heavy sleeper. I think I get plenty of sleep, but I don’t need fourteen hours a day in order to function. I find that when I wake up my head is full and I have to immediately get somewhere where I can write down the things because I feel like I solve a lot of problems when I’m relaxing or sleeping or in my gear-down mode.
My day starts every day at 5 a.m. I immediately grab a cup of coffee and get on the computer answering my emails. I have a gym, and I go in and work out. I then head into the office where, once again, I’m on the computer.
I reach out and manage the people that work for me so they know that they are not alone, that they are not out there battling the things they have to battle by themselves. I am there to help them and to be their sounding board and to provide the experience that I’ve got in the business so that when you combine my experience with their experience and everybody else on the team, we’re bringing 500 years of experience versus my 20 years. I think that’s important. When I get into the office the first thing that I do is of course look at my schedule and make absolutely sure that I’m maximizing it and that I’m not spending time doing things that don’t make any sense or going to meetings that don’t make sense.
I love to leverage my team. I’ve built an amazing team and there’s no one person in this company that couldn’t step in and do the job above them and that includes my job. I have a great C staff and my C staff, any one of them could step in and make MicroTech run just as efficiently as I do and I think that that is probably the most important thing that we’ve done. I’d love to sit here and tell you that it is all about me and that nobody else could do this but I think the true success of a successful entrepreneur is building a company and making the vision so clear that people get it and they want to be a part of it and they know what they need to do in order to get you where you are trying to go. Everybody here is willing to grab an oar and row.
ExecutiveBiz: You mentioned the importance of building the team. Is that the secret to being a successful leader? Is there even a secret to being a successful leader?
Tony Jimenez: I think there is a secret and I think the secret is to treat people the way you would want to be treated. It sounds kind of basic, but I’ve worked for some amazing bosses. I’ve been so fortunate and every chance I get to talk about them I do because they have helped to make me who I am. What I love about it is they put a lot of effort into it. It wasn’t a drive-by. They saw potential and they molded it. They helped to make me the kind of leader that they could be proud of and that they could say ‘Hey, I remember Tony back when he was a young, (whatever I was) a commander, an executive, program manager – it didn’t matter. They treated me with respect, with dignity and they always made me feel like I was an important part of their team. They did everything they could to make me feel valuable.
My feeling is is that when people who work for me understand how important it is to treat their people the way they would want to be treated and knowing that I am going to treat them the way I would hope they would treat me if the roles were reversed makes it very easy. I have a lot of people that work for me that I worked for along the way.
ExecutiveBiz: You have extensive experience working in the federal government as well. There is a lot going on: IT reform, DoD acquisition reform so I was just wondering if I could maybe pick your brain for a few minutes on what you think we should be looking for out of these efforts.
Tony Jimenez: The federal government is a complicated organization and is difficult to support. It’s gigantic and it’s very hard to make change that works. I had a great boss who often said, ‘Nobody likes change except a wet baby.’ There is an amazing amount of truth to that. Change for the sake of change is never good. Change where we made something better is always good.
Sometimes, I wonder if some of these decisions have really been thought out and not in the sense that they affect me directly, but I don’t know if sometimes they make the government a better place or they make what the government is trying to do better or that they are more cost efficient. That’s my frustration with a lot of the changes.
I see a lot of developments in DoD and IT acquisition reform, and it’s hard for me many times to figure out what it is we are trying to reform because I think of reform as improve, not reform as make worse. Sometimes the three things that it improves are significant but the ten things that it doesn’t improve are more significant or that it creates inefficiency. A lot of things done around small business oftentimes are supposed to be intended to help small business but unfortunately don’t. Sometimes that question never gets asked or it gets asked and the answer is ignored. Does it create more opportunity for small business? Does it create more opportunity for big business?
When people talk about reducing budgets or changing IT requirements or reforming IT or the Department of Defense’s IT initiatives, oftentimes it’s a one-sided question and that’s ‘What’s in it for us the government,’ not ‘How do we get there without breaking the bank? How do we do it without causing companies great pain and inefficiency ultimately leads to the government being inefficient?’
I think that a lot of the reform needs to come about as a result of dialogue with all parties instead of just internal dialogue within the federal government to figure out what’s good for the federal government and not figure out what the impact might be on an economy that desperately needs a boost not a kick.
Naturally, it’s easy for me to Monday-morning-quarterback and that’s not what I’m doing. I love my government. I spent 24 years working in the government and loved every second of it, but it pains me to see the changes that are being implemented from this angle and the fact that being able to make people aware of that is difficult.
ExecutiveBiz: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Tony Jimenez: My major concern right now is how are we transitioning those that have paid the price, those that have gone and served, those who are coming back wounded, those who are leaving the military now? What plans are in place to ensure that they have the kind of opportunity that they thought they were going to have when they joined the military? I get very concerned about the fact that we’ve got a lot of money going to VA — and I think Secretary Shinseki is doing an amazing job with Veteran Affairs — but I wonder about the rest of it. I wonder what kind of programs are in place to take care of our veterans if they don’t want to go to work for the federal government and what kind of reforms are in place to ensure that our veterans who have all of this amazing capabilities and skills that we, the taxpayer, have paid for?
I’m not just saying it. I put my money where my mouth is. I think that it’s important that all businesses, big or small, understand how critically important it is to take care of those people who have served and are coming back and are desperately in need of our help right now.