Neil Albert serves as vice chairman of MCR‘s board of directors where he oversees strategic growth, business development, community outreach and a number of other company functions.
The 26-year company veteran is the former president and CEO and has served in many leadership roles at the McLean,Va.- based firm including VP and director.
Albert caught up with ExecutiveBiz and discussed how the company has grown during his tenure, the dramatic change occurring in government contracting and the company’s BD and acquisition plans.
ExecutiveBiz: What are your responsibilities as vice chairman at MCR and how are they different from your time as CEO?
Neil Albert: I have spent almost 26 years with MCR. I have enjoyed being part of a company that I have watched and helped grow from a its early years as a niche firm providing cost and financial analysis to a broad based integrated program management services firm – providing a wide variety of support to the Defense, civil agencies, intelligence communities and internationally.
My roles in the company have run the entire spectrum starting as a Director to becoming a Vice President, to eventually taking on the role of leading the company in 1999 when its owner, Dr. Gerald McNichols sold it to General Research Corporation International (GRCI). Shortly after GRCI was sold to AT&T and for the next five years MCR was a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T. As its leader, I understood that this was not particularly good as MCR was considered a small business prior to this sale and most of our business was small business set aside. In 2004 AT&T sold MCR to an equity owner which allowed us to keep our small business classification but also, provide the company a new start. With its sale, I was officially the President and CEO of MCR and we started a new journey which, in my opinion has proved to be very successful.
My responsibilities were to guide our company through a growing phase, one which meant building new competencies at the same time we were escalating our business base through both organic growth and acquisition opportunities. It was important for me to reposition the company as a platform for Integrated Program Management (IPM) services and create demand in markets we had never supported in the past. It was rough at first but overall it has worked well. In the last 10 years, MCR has grown to well over $100M with a reputation of providing quality services with outstanding employees who care about our government customers.
Even though I have moved to the role of Vice Chairman, I essentially have had the same responsibility, but I am more focused on strategic growth, business development, community outreach, as well as working to strengthen our company’s core competencies of strategic planning, cost/schedule analysis, acquisition and engineering services, and performance assessment. With over 50 customers globally, MCR is considered a company of innovation, critical thinking, and proven results. This cannot be accomplished without building and maintaining strong strategic relationships all of which I was not effectively able to do when I was both President and CEO. It isn’t the typical role of a Vice Chairman, but I believe my experience, knowledge, and longevity with the company and the community has served MCR well.
ExecutiveBiz: How has MCR evolved over your time there?
Neil Albert: MCR was founded in 1977. As a cost and financial analysis firm, our primary customers were the Navy and the Air Force. When the company was sold 22 years later, the expectation was that MCR would provide that same cost and financial capability to GRCI whose engineering and software skills were considered tops in the market. This was an opportunity for us to create a broader customer base and a more diverse set of offerings for GRCI. However with the sale of GRCI to AT&T, that expectation ended. AT&T had different plans for GRCI and MCR was clearly not part of them. AT&T was being hit hard by the dot.com collapse in the early 2000 timeframe and this indirectly hurt MCR professionally and financially. We realized that unless we were back on our own, we would not be able to provide our customers with what they had become accustom to – high quality cost estimating and analysis and financial management support. However the future of a cost and financial analysis company was limited. Numerous contract opportunities were available to bid, but the competition was increasing and the market was shrinking.
We needed to do something different and focus on where we believed the market would be going. So we developed the IPM concept. With the increase of contract bundling, our competency was just one of many functions being swallowed up by these large contracts. We knew that we had to transcend beyond a cost and financial analysis firm. Government programs were also faced with issues. Over the years Government PMs had fewer and fewer technical skills available to them in Government. Systems engineers were few and far between making it difficult to ensure government program offices were able approve and technically evaluate industry’s products and processes. Cost, schedule and performance oversight was lacking, performance measures were ignored and the government program manager was not held accountable for their actions. My work on the Defense Business Board, the National Defense Industrial Association and other industry-government forums, reinforced that these issues were prevalent in Government and more needed to be done to solve them. We created a solution which would focus on integrating these needs to ensure Program Management had the knowledge, experience, and tools to warrant program success. Most companies see themselves as service providers – engineering, logistics, training, test, etc. MCR focuses on being a solutions provider. Create the means by which we help make our customer successful.
It is at this point it turned out being a part of AT&T was not all that bad; it allowed us to envision our future of expanding our niche set of services to more diverse, integrated but stronger set of skills to help make our customers successful. We tested our new approach on A&T to see if our solution based concept worked. Their management team liked what we offered and even though we were no longer a part of their company, they came back to us for our support on both internal and external projects. The term Integrated Program Management has now been used on a regular basis within the DoD and other agencies. Contracts have been released with the concept in mind and agencies are creating organizations which mimic our blueprint – bringing the acquisition workforce under a single organization where it can be easily integrated and managed.
For example the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and others have or are creating operations focused on integrating their key disciplines for better management of resources, accountability, and results. The Air Force has been considering bringing back the Program Control function which performed essentially the same integrating activities years ago before it was changed due to Acquisition Reform. This move toward integration has helped our brand and ultimately shows MCR has established the appropriate approach for gaining more opportunities.
ExecutiveBiz: What’s your growth model moving forward?
Neil Albert: From its founding throughout the ’90s, MCR was a business that grew and survived on strong customer loyalty, employee excellence, and the right tools and resources to get the job done. Our growth was not staggering but it was consistent and measured. Our vision of becoming the premier IPM provider was ambitious and not easily attainable. We needed to expand our competencies beyond a cost and financial analysis firm. This meant we needed more breadth and depth of capability to truly achieve the expected IPM outcome. Restarting MCR with new ownership and a strong dedicated leadership team allowed us to start filling the gaps in our IPM model. Over the next seven years we acquired four companies and two key contracts (from organizations that had an OCI problem holding these contracts). These acquisitions moved us closer to achieving our goal, and created the base we needed to not only provide our founding core competencies but also engineering, test, logistics, programmatic, intelligence, and other disciplines.
But over the last few years, the Federal government has looked hard at cost reduction. We made the decision to focus our efforts inward. MCR’s growth had been very strong but we needed to take advantage of our acquisition success and create more organic growth to increase the backlog and opportunity pipeline in the company. It was time to revamp our business development approach and strictly focus on gaining more prime work and broaden our customer base using the services we built and acquired. Faced with the pressures of low price, technically acceptable, competitions moving to more small business set‑asides, IDIQs with a heavy amount of bundling of services, and sequestration – I believed very strongly that being heavily focused on organic growth was the only way we were going to survive the ‘too small to be large, too large to be small’ mid-tier company challenge.
We need to gain market share without impacting our current customer base. Our BD focus is very controlled. Acquisitions are still on the radar, but you have to be careful of what you buy. What may be perceived a strong acquisition with strong market position today could be gone quickly -taken over by LPTA competition or changed to a small business set-aside. With organic growth, you know what you have gained and are able to move forward to generate a stronger position in the marketplace.
More than two years ago, we hired a new but proven business development Vice President and a whole new team of business development managers. Today in terms of opportunities, our pipeline is more robust than it has been in years, focused on government priorities, with more prime prospects available. Our IPM offerings provide a means to collapse those “silos of excellence” where engineering tends to work with engineering, finance works with finance, test works with test, etc. It’s not a team working across multiple disciplines but one who works within their comfort zone. We bring back the integrated product team concepts, which have lost a lot of their structure in today’s environment. It’s all geared to helping the program manager be more aware to what is happening in their organization and be able to successfully avoid the pitfalls of poor communication and coordination. We strive to get the best out of each organization we support.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you characterize the industry right now and how does it compare to market forces during other notable periods of your career?
Neil Albert: There is no question that the most dramatic change I’ve seen is what is happening now and over the last few years. I have been through downsizing, outsourcing, insourcing, huge growth spurts due to 9/11, but nothing compares to the situation we find ourselves in today. The lack of collaboration and compromise is unprecedented. It is also a first in that we are drawing down our forces, and yet we are still at war from numerous enemies – many we cannot see or touch. Whether it’s cyber or from the Asia Pacific regions, or the Middle East, we need to have awareness and understanding that we still have a war to fight.
The desire and need to reduce cost in government is also important and I agree that something needs to done. But we need a delicate balance between how we plan our budgets and setting the priorities to ensure a strong and prosperous future. This goes to the point of being more efficient and more effective, which, of course, is something that’s on the minds of many in government today. What it should mean however, is looking at the human capital aspect of government and trying to improve their capabilities and performance, recognizing that industry, whether providing products or services, and government must collaborate to achieve the performance to meet operational goals. It is about not stifling innovation in both industry and government with cost cutting measures that might bring savings but lose effectiveness in their implementation. It is rewarding those whose initiatives which ultimately embrace the expectations of mission and the desired results. Like it or not, it is the right time to reduce, but we must do it smartly and with forethought.
MCR is doing its part. Even in times of uncertainty we cannot afford to wait for decisions to be made for us. We have set our priorities as to where we believe government will be and where the future is taking us. We’re supporting programs like unmanned systems; C4ISR, cyber, homeland security, missile defense, energy’s environment and nuclear challenges, and assisting our international partners with their acquisition and development efforts.
Others in industry need to make their own decisions. I know for us, it has helped us mitigate a difficult situation. We’ve set our own priorities that we believe will lead us through the next few years and help us come out ahead of the game when the day is done.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about moving forward?
Neil Albert: The key to moving forward is being aware of the environment you are in. MCR is a company whose strength comes from its employees. Their support and dedication to the job and their customer is outstanding. We have leadership in the company who has helped it grow, build its reputation, and create an atmosphere where people matter. Our customers are often advocates for our services and see us as part of their team, meeting their expectations by driving excellence into their processes. MCR’s leadership team has a good understanding of the transitions necessary to navigate our market, and is preparing us to meet these challenges and diversify our business to become even stronger. We may in the mid-tier “crunch”, but it does not stop us from working like a family, one that brings people in, makes them feel comfortable and individually identified on how they can contribute to make MCR and their customer a success.
I was fortunate to be a part of the Professional Services Council’s Commission Report titled “From Crisis to Opportunity: Creating a New Era of Government Efficiency, Innovation and Performance,” The report calls on the government and industry to join forces in pursuing fundamental changes to turn the current fiscal and human capital crises into significant opportunities. It has worked its way up to Capitol Hill, and across the federal government to many of the CIOs, CAOs, Human Capital professionals and program managers within all the major agencies and the armed services. By bringing awareness to the issues that drive divisiveness across our market, you have the opportunity to find ways to change. This report provides recommendations about new approaches to workforce development, incentivizing innovation, developing smart business and acquisition strategies, and enhancing collaboration within government and between government and its industry partners.
I wanted to participate in this report because I feel that it is important to have a better appreciation of how we can bring industry and government together to be able to work as a team and to work in a way that can reduces risk. It’s important that we can talk about how contractors and government can interact and exercise the common sense that’s necessary to manage both government and industry, and to ensure that we’re not minimizing innovation in today’s environment. So I am excited about more of this kind of thinking and talking as we go forward in the next few years, in terms of bringing both government and industry together to really create an era of efficiency, innovation, and better performance for all.