Jonna Ward, CEO at Visionary Integration Professionals, on the Company’s Founding and Growth Strategy

Ward 2Jonna Ward is the founder and CEO of Visionary Integration Professionals, a government contracting firm with more than 700 staff members.

She most recently served as a partner at Accenture before starting VIP in 1996 and previously worked for Andersen Consulting.

In her conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Ward discussed the beginnings of the firm, the importance of STEM education and mobility offerings.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Why did you decide to start Visionary Integration Professionals and what brought you to that stage?

Jonna Ward: I was inspired by my customers to launch VIP. Since I worked for a global market leader, prior to resigning from what’s now Accenture, or at the time was Andersen Consulting, I knew I only had two choices: to stay with Accenture and become a partner or to start my own business. I obviously chose the latter. The inspiration and goal in founding VIP was the belief and decision to find a way to effectively merge experience with a partnered client approach and a “One Master” philosophy with the customer being the master. From our beginning 18 years ago up to this day, we have no tolerance for gamesmanship or internal politics.

Creating long-term partnerships is the core of our business. Our proudest achievement will always be client satisfaction and the best measure of success is the knowledge that our customers always want us back. Our repeat business statistics are the best evidence of our commitment to all we undertake. Since I launched VIP from my living room in 1996, we’ve grown into a mid-tier company with about 1,100 government and commercial customer partners, 700 staff, 9 digits of annual revenue, and 9 digits of backlog revenue. While we are certainly larger than our humble beginnings, our philosophy remains the same: we provide the reach and experience of a larger firm yet maintain the nimble, personal hands-on approach of a small company.

 

ExecutiveBiz: What is your growth strategy for the local and federal government work and your commercial business?

Jonna Ward: In the public sector, VIP targets areas where we make the most impact as a solutions provider. We typically deliver a select technology solution, which is tightly woven with our own experienced systems integration team. For example, last fall we won a 95 million-dollar single award BPA with the Department of Homeland Security to deliver the first fully-integrated learning and performance management system within a FedRAMP-certified infrastructure that ties together all nine DHS component agencies.

Through our subsidiary Meridian Knowledge Solutions, we delivered our own software solution coupled with the system integration capabilities under one roof. We will also continue to leverage the depth of our expertise in strong offerings around personnel security management, tax and licensing registration, as well as independent verification and validation. In the federal space, one of our recent additions was the Eagle II contract, which we will use to expand our presence at DHS. We also anticipate expanding our presence on other key government vehicles focused on systems integration and cloud brokerage.

In the commercial sector, we take a similar approach. For example, we are an HP Gold Partner delivering offerings that combine software solutions and services to a vast array of commercial businesses – which include many blue chip logos. We plan to grow our private sector by continuing to diversify our offerings.

About 90% of our revenue comes from repeat business or customers from the prior year. As we turn the corner from a mid-tier company into a larger firm, our growth strategy includes a focus on highly-strategic partnerships, expansion of our sales and marketing programs, further development of delivery solutions, and inorganic growth alternatives to acquire other companies that offer complementary services, solutions, and capabilities

 

ExecutiveBiz: How did your Accenture background prepare you for your current role? What brought you to Accenture in the first place?

Jonna Ward: Accenture has strong brand identity and a world-class ability to transform global enterprises. They do a great job in identifying and recruiting raw talent from universities around the globe and providing them with opportunities that shape them into business and technology leaders. Accenture prepared me to be the founder and CEO that I am today. I attribute that to them in two ways:

First, I learned the art of survival – that one had to take risks, step outside of one’s comfort zone, and put one’s passion to work. Second, I learned to create innovative business models that aren’t done by everybody. I experienced this as the Program Manager for an eight-digit-sized engagement with a zero-dollar budget. It was the first benefits-based procurement for the state of California with Accenture being paid out of the revenue enhancements and cost savings from the implementation of the new system. I’m very grateful to have had the experiences Accenture afforded me.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Could you talk about anything your company has introduced concerning mobility?

Jonna Ward: We are launching a handful of initiatives specifically focused around mobility in integrated learning and performance management. We also bring advanced solutions that started in the commercial space to our government clients to help them leverage the latest discoveries and best practices. In addition, we do a lot of strategic planning and road-mapping for customers such as helping them to define mobile solutions, setting up centers of excellence, and testing those solutions.  We have some great success stories that showcase the power of the newest and most promising mobile offerings in the market.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Could you provide an example of a time VIP went over and above to provide the best service to a customer, preferably in the government space?

Jonna Ward: The one that I like best is the engagement that brings together nine component agencies under the Department of Homeland Security including Headquarters, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, TSA, and Coast Guard; and deploys a business-shared services model whereby all nine components leverage their joint buying power and implement a single solution for the entire DHS umbrella. The pricing structure for that engagement is such that as DHS ramps up the solution with more users, the price per user goes down. Once the engagement is fully implemented, 330,000 users are expected.

 

ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about moving forward?

Jonna Ward: I am really excited about being a mid-tier technology solutions company. There is an abundance of small companies that have great technical expertise but no long-term stability and a large number of multi-billion-dollar-sized organizations. There is a real scarcity of companies with the ability to maintain their focus on client success while bringing the needed skills and capabilities; and while being a big company that maintains nimbleness and personal touch. I love the critical role that technology plays in the CXO suite to enable business success. It is always about aligning strategy, people, and process with technology as the enabler, not the driver. I am excited by all the opportunities that we see and by where VIP is now in its growth cycle.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Could you talk about your company’s involvement in STEM initiatives and women in technology?

Jonna Ward: We make sure we give back to the communities where we live and where we serve our customers. One example of our involvement in STEM initiatives is our seventh annual Women in Technology Scholarship (WITS) program. The national scholarship competition supports women seeking a career in computer science, information technology, management information systems, and other related technical fields. This year we received over 250 applications and awarded 12 scholarships to highly qualified women.

The women write essays, submit resumes and applications, and each year we break the record of number of applications received. We really love the national exposure that we are getting as a result of our commitment to WITS. In addition to WITS and our involvement in STEM initiatives, VIP and I personally are involved with a variety of other charity and community-service based organizations. We are big supporters and advocates of doing things that have a real and purposeful impact on the future of our youth, our communities, and the tech sector as a whole.

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