George Obertubbesing serves as vice president of business development for Harris IT Services where he focuses on Defense Department business.
He most recently served as corporate director of business intelligence at TASC and has also worked in BD director roles for SRA International and CSC.
Obertubbesing started his career at Harris in 1982 working on video teleconferencing projects for intelligence community clients.
In his conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Obertubbesing touched on the GovCon market’s evolution since the end of the Cold War, the focus of his BD team and the effects of low-cost technically acceptable contracts.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your role at Harris IT Services?
George Obertubbesing: Harris IT Services (HITS) is a business within the Integrated Network Services (INS) business segment. At HITS, we divide our BD support into two areas. I lead the Department of Defense area – Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps. The COCOMs and the commands would also be included in my portfolio. My team of professionals pursues business in core and adjacent areas across the organization. Our sweet spot as an entity within Harris is network support-related services—that is, network operations, network engineering, and traditional IT support.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your perspective on current market conditions?
George Obertubbesing: It’s certainly made for a lot of challenges, particularly in terms of predictability. It’s never been a particularly predictable market, but with the number of procurements that have been slipping to the right, it has been a challenge just to try to predict with any level of certainty, when RFPs are going to come out, or to be able to accurately project revenues associated with winning. The move to low-cost technically acceptable has further complicated the situation. If you are an incumbent, you don’t want to lose your follow‑ons to a competitor using LPTA. However, if you’re an outsider and you have the wrap rates and the ability to come up with creative cost‑effective solutions, then you may have the ability to largely neutralize that incumbent’s advantages of customer and domain knowledge. And past performance is certainly less significant in the selection process than it might otherwise be.
This is the toughest market in many years. But the industry has gone through cycles before. After the Cold War there was a comparable dip in budgets that took place. I know that those challenges existed in the past, and Harris survived those times and continued to grow. If you have strong leadership, well-conceived processes, and you pick the right folks to be part of your team, you get through the tough times.
We will adjust our business model and move forward as customer needs change, budgets change, and hopefully there’s an upswing that comes about, not because of some national tragedy, but because the budget situation is better and we are able to reinvest in our capabilities to make sure that we stay first in the world in defense. In the meantime, we try to stay a step ahead of our competitors.
ExecutiveBiz: How are you positioning your organization for growth?
George Obertubbesing: We focus on performance excellence in all of our programs and then look for opportunities to do more of the work we do best. We also seek opportunities with new customers whose requirements are similar and whose missions overlap with our current customers. Overall, we need to understand what the government’s priorities are and where government expenditures are going, and assess where we fit in the market landscape.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the achievements that stick out to you from your career?
George Obertubbesing: One of the things I’m most proud of is the turnaround of an anchor contract here at Harris. Through a lot of hard work to restore customer confidence, that contract survived. Not only did it survive, but here we are 25 years later and Harris still has the work. It’s been a significant program to Harris over the years and I know that my team’s hard work in reestablishing the customer’s confidence was a good part of the program’s success. So that was a big accomplishment.
I’ve also played a role with the DIA DoDIIS customer space, to include the legacy DIESCON contracts as well as the more recent SITE contract. Those are multi billion‑dollar initiatives where my team was a key driver on the winning strategies. I’ve also been involved with a couple of very large single-award acquisitions in my career.
ExecutiveBiz: How has the nature of your BD role changed between the different companies you have worked for?
George Obertubbesing: The level of maturity in terms of how companies look at business development can vary. I’ve worked for large companies, so they generally have robust and mature business development practices. Of course there are companies that think more strategically and there are companies that think tactically. The good ones think strategically when it comes to business development. They don’t look at business development or developers as if they are sales people. I do see confusion on some folks’ parts in terms of the distinction between a sales person and a business development person. In sales they generally operate on the 30, 60, 90 model, which is much more tactical in nature. I have personally shied away from organizations that treat BD as if they were tactical sales organizations.
I’ve also worked in centralized models and I’ve worked in decentralized models. I’ve found it to be a cyclical thing within companies. Two of the companies I worked for have operated in both centralized and decentralized models at one point. Both models will work. It really is driven by the breadth of experience and maturity of the leadership team involved. I personally prefer a centralized BD model, because I do think that if BD is immersed and embedded within the line that there’s a tendency to go native. When that happens, strategic behavior generally starts to erode. There should be a good, healthy, natural tension between the near‑term tactical needs of the line organization and the desire to chase large needle mover deals, which requires a much more strategic approach.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about moving forward?
George Obertubbesing: There are still a lot of good opportunities for Harris in the market. Some of the knowledge I’ve gained from working with some of our competing players in the space has given me perspectives that can help Harris mature some of our processes and maybe look at growth through a different lens. I’m really excited about it. We have a very astute management team that can adjust to the market conditions from a value and pricing perspective. Those companies that are not willing to get creative in this current market may not get the chance to live to fight another day. I feel fortunate that we’ve got a mature management team that gets this and is willing to sacrifice near‑term gratification for longer‑term good. That’s one of the reasons I came back to Harris, because historically, that’s the way the company has behaved.