USIS recently announced the creation of an advisory board made up of senior leaders in government and industry to help develop business opportunities and to provide guidance on how best to navigate the shifting landscape of opportunity in the federal sector.
USIS CEO Bill Mixon told ExecutiveBiz the creation of the board, which he called “the next logical step“ in the company's evolution, was presaged by careful planning. Before reaching out to former senior leaders inside government and out, the company first had to reach back in to discover those business areas an advisory board could expand on, he said.
Just two weeks ago, USIS first sat down with the new board, including luminaries such as former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of U.S. Central Command.
But already, Mixon said, the firm is seeing positive results, something he highlighted in a recent interview with ExecutiveBiz. In the conversation , Mixon answered the “Why Now?” question about the board and shared advice for other companies looking to leverage outside expertise.
ExecutiveBiz: What decisions led to the creation of the advisory board?
Bill Mixon: The formation of the board was a USIS-driven initiative. We view the advisory board as an extension of our growth strategy, so having a group of former senior government officials provide advice and counsel to the business seemed to us to be the next logical step in the evolution of the company and the evolution of our market base strategy.
ExecutiveBiz: Why an advisory board now? Was there a particular moment or inflection point that led to its creation?
Bill Mixon: USIS believes that today in Washington and, perhaps across the nation, it's not enough anymore just to have a skilled and professional workforce and a great set of products and services and a terrific relationship with the customer.
It's also important to draw upon outside expertise — people who have been senior decision-makers within the executive branch — to guide us through some of these turbulent waters — all the demands that are being put on our customers, the budget issues that they face, the flatness of the economy. The limited growth we're seeing in the market has driven us to reach outside to others who have been in those decision-making positions and ask them for their advice and counsel.
Given that there are a number of economic challenges that government is facing today, USIS believed that it was the right time to reach out and ask for help from those who have been in those decision-making positions.
There was not one single event that prompted us to make this decision, but rather our perspective on how government is changing and the challenges for government that lie ahead.
The idea of having an advisory board is also an industry best practice. And, USIS is going to make the kinds of investments to make sure we're doing everything we can to understand the framework of government and, specifically, where government is going in a couple of years.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you talk a little bit about how the board members were selected and a little about the composition of the board?
Bill Mixon: I'll talk about a few of them. Tom Ridge is a member of the board. We have a platform within DHS, where we provide a number of security-related services, and we are in the process of expanding those relationships and those business lines. So, obviously with the governor's background as the former secretary of DHS, it makes sense that he is a member of the board. Also, USIS has its roots in Pennsylvania — outside of Pittsburgh — and we have about 1,800 employees in Western Pennsylvania. There's obviously that tie with former Gov. Ridge.
Gen. John Abizaid, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, and Jacques Gansler, the former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, both have depth of knowledge about DoD as it relates to training, rule-of-law and nation building, areas where USIS is planning growth. John Abizaid is a subject-matter expert on that space relative to DoD strategy in that area, as well as Jacques Gansler.
Those gentlemen will provide a lot of advice and counsel in our training business. Those are some good examples of the thought process that we went through as we selected our board members.
ExecutiveBiz: Do you have any advice you would offer other companies considering setting up advisory boards?
Bill Mixon: I think the important thing is that the business try to align those people, who they are recruiting for their advisory board, with those business areas that really offer opportunity for success in the future.
If I were giving an advice to a company about starting up an advisory board, I would say the first thing to do is to reach back into the business to really find out what's important. Then, once the business really understands what will help to move that business forward, it is time to reach out and survey the market to align those business needs with the many, many qualified individuals who are out there today, who might be able to help the business grow.
That process has paid dividends for us because, as we engaged with essential advisory board members, we could get beyond the small talk very quickly and start to focus in on the needs that USIS had — those needs that were generated by the people who were actually doing the work and facing the challenges.
ExecutiveBiz: Could you talk a little bit about how USIS sees the government-contracting market shaping up and what role you would like to see the firm take in that market in the future?
Bill Mixon: The market will be one where growth will be in selective areas. Growth will be a function of decisions that the federal government makes relative to priorities and mission priorities that it has. An example of that is post-conflict sustainment that we all know about as it relates to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. That would be an example where we see growth in the marketplace. I think what we are trying to do is be very focused on areas where we see growth opportunities that are well aligned with the capabilities and solutions we bring to the market.
ExecutiveBiz: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Bill Mixon: We had our first meeting literally two weeks ago and we're already seeing ways to leverage the board members in exactly the areas where we had some concerns and issues, and we think there are very positive outcomes based on their participation.
It really didn't take long for us to demonstrate the value added from this investment.