ExecutiveBiz recently had the chance to speak with Robert Silverman, executive vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton and 2021 Wash100 Award recipient, to discuss Booz Allen’s work in the digital battlespace, the company’s M&A activity and strategy, the challenges of mixing company cultures in acquisition and the latest opportunities for Booz Allen to drive growth in a post-pandemic federal landscape.
“At Booz Allen we are so mission-focused it provides us with many opportunities. We are always paying attention to where our clients are going and where they should go. Often, the difficulty is how to narrow down the many directions and dive into helping the client in the best way possible. I’d break down your question into the ‘how’ and the ‘what.’”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight with Robert Silverman below:
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the concept of “productive disruption” and how it’s driven your success in your career as well as assisted your customers and company?
“We at Booz Allen are never content with the status quo. In other words, disrupt or be disrupted. You don’t stay in business for over 100 years by being content. We recruit people who are not content with things being the same.
Personally, if I’m not disrupting in some way, I’m not terribly comfortable. Let’s face it: whether it’s Booz Allen or any of us in professional services, we are in an industry of disruption, be it foreseen or unforeseen, whether technology advancements, new missions, new threats or new opportunities.
The productive part of that is that you shouldn’t disrupt for the sake of disruption. You have to be disruptive in order to drive the mission.”
ExecutiveBiz: One of the main initiatives I found in my research was Booz Allen’s work to develop the digital battlespace and emerging technology for the U.S. military and federal agencies. What are the benefits that these initiatives would have on our warfighters, national security and other aspects?
“In the Digital Battlespace, it really is about getting the right data at the right time from sensor to shooter, but, more than that, putting the information needed at the center of how the military acquires, trains, and operates. The world is changing and we as a country, as a military and as a national security apparatus, must change how we combine all the data in a useful, understandable manner.
I see similarities in my work across Defense and Civilian agencies. For example, with its VAULT Data Platform, the Air Force aims to make data “visible, accessible, understandable, linked and trusted” for airmen and trusted partners, whereas the National Institutes of Health (NIH) endeavors to make the data in its ecosystem ‘FAIR’—findable, acceptable, interoperable, and reusable.
While I’d love to see NIH add a security component (think ‘FAIRS’), you can see the comparability between NIH and a DoD Service. Even though they serve unique constituents and have unique requirements, they–and we– can leverage the best of our private and public sector technologies, processes, and brainpower.
Another example is DoD’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program, which is centered on moving data seamlessly between sensors and effectors across all branches of the military. As a digital integrator for the DoD, Booz Allen brings a lot of technical and mission experience to solving that problem.
At Booz Allen, we really think about how we can better serve our entire portfolio of clients, leveraging lessons learned from across the many different clients we have the privilege to serve.”
ExecutiveBiz: Can you discuss your M&A strategy for Booz Allen and how you’re able to leverage relationships and partnerships in the GovCon and federal landscape to continue to grow your business?
“We start with a philosophy based on tenets established in our Vision 2020 strategy. Over the last decade, we have focused on how we move into Booz Allen’s second century of doing business.
How do we grow from our strong consulting heritage and mission intimacy to continue innovating and leading in our industry? We set up a framework that helped to propel us to achieve Vision 2020.
The strategy has evolved our technical capabilities around digital, cyber, engineering, and analytics, building innovative partnerships and investing smartly—both organically and inorganically.
With inorganic investment, principally M&A, we look for cultural alignment to our purpose and values, capabilities that grow our technical horsepower, and the ability to better serve existing clients or enter new mission sets, all while ensuring that our clients, our talent, and our investors continue to benefit from their faith in our company.”
ExecutiveBiz: A great challenge of any acquisition is the merging of two different cultures. Can you walk us through how to preserve culture during the implementation process and how to keep “what’s good” about a company you’re acquiring?
“I can tell you from personal experience how difficult that is. We have a strong corporate structure and want to strike the balance between setting a foundation of purpose and values that underlie who we are at Booz Allen while capitalizing on what made an asset so attractive to us in the first place.
The ‘gate check’ for any acquisition is that the company needs to comport with our purpose and values. From there, we establish an Integration Philosophy, typically around shared empowerment, where we make our new colleagues—and our existing base—more successful collectively and individually than we would have been apart.
The grounding of purpose, values, and philosophy are critical—a ‘North Star’ to follow when things get hectic down the road.”
ExecutiveBiz: In the current landscape and post-COVID, where do you see the greatest opportunities to drive new capabilities and growth for Booz Allen in the near future?
“At Booz Allen we are so mission-focused it provides us with many opportunities. We are always paying attention to where our clients are going and where they should go. Often, the difficulty is how to narrow down the many directions and dive into helping the client in the best way possible. I’d break down your question into the ‘how’ and the ‘what.’
With the ‘how’, we turned quickly and successfully into a heavy—but not exclusively— telecommuting posture that we are considering how to continue the benefits of remote work—say, accessing an even larger talent pool and accommodating individuals’ preferences for work/life balance—with balancing the natural cultural immersion that comes with purposeful in-person collaboration.
‘What’ opportunities we engage with have continued to present themselves throughout COVID, in areas like the Digital Battlespace, electronic health records, and case management. However, in a broader context, the pandemic has exacerbated differences in our national education, health care, and social equities. I think about how we can further help and ‘productively disrupt’ in those arenas by engaging clients in those missions as well as engaging with our talent who are passionate about those causes.
From my previous role as the Executive Sponsor of Booz Allen’s African American Network to my service in a similar capacity for our Multicultural Business Resource Group, I think about how we empower our talent to be themselves because the world’s toughest problems can’t be solved without a diverse set of individuals with unique backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.”