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Executive Spotlight: Cliff Gornto, SVP of Business Development with KBR

Executive Spotlight: Cliff Gornto, SVP of Business Development with KBR - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Cliff Gornto, senior vice president of Business Development with KBR, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding the implementation of recent acquisitions to the company as well as their impact on KBR’s quarterly performance results and overall growth in the federal marketplace.

In addition, Gornto discussed the core values that continue to drive KBR in the federal sector and across the globe to drive the company’s international business as well. He also provided a look into the unique challenges to recruit and retain the best talent in business development proposal talent during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.

“At the heart of our integrated approach is that we are adding talented people – and the focus should be on them. From day one of integration, it is about making sure they are valued. These acquisitions have not only added capability but made us a better company. Losing the people who made the acquired company successful is a failure from our perspective.”

You can read the full interview with Cliff Gornto below:

ExecutiveBiz: What are the core values that are important to your company’s culture? How have these values led to success in such a competitive market?

Cliff Gornto: “KBR’s success is built off our commitment: to our people; to delivering for our clients; to being people of integrity; to empowering everyone KBR; and to being a ‘Team of Teams’.  It starts with people. Our decisions heavily factor to create an environment that inspires top talent?

Without great people, no organizational structure, no management processes, and no technical approach can drive success. Our people deliver consistent performance for our clients that builds deep relationships and instills confidence that drives continued growth – both in repeat business and new contracts with new customers.

Our CEO, Stuart Bradie, and GS President, Byron Bright, have created a Team of Teams culture that permeates throughout KBR. An Agile ‘Team of Teams’ culture eliminates hierarchy allowing us to quickly bring together the right set of empowered people regardless of their place in the organization. This extends into our growth efforts.

From a personal perspective, I have not encountered an organization that brings operational, functional, and business development experts together more seamlessly than KBR. It is recognized and encouraged that everyone will be part of multiple teams – reducing stovepipes. We are all responsible for performance and growth.

Regardless of the ‘team,’ you are primarily part of, you are part of several other teams – including those formed for a short-term specific purpose.  This provides the kind of challenging and rewarding environment, that talented people find inspiring.

Our success is a clear demonstration of why having the right people is extremely important. It’s truly inspiring to be a part of an organization that brings all these people together and transforms KBR into an organization of ‘doers.’”

ExecutiveBiz: In today’s hyper-competitive talent market, how are you addressing the difficult challenge to recruit and retain the best Business Development and Proposal talent in the federal marketplace?

Cliff Gornto: “Finding and recruiting talent is a primary focus for us, and for me, every single day. As I mentioned earlier, no organizational approach or process can replace having the best people. The demand for BD talent is evident in the number of calls we all get from headhunters each week. As KBR and our competitors (SAIC, Leidos, CACI, Jacobs, Peraton, etc.) grow, especially to the scale we are all achieving, the amount of work we must win each year increases.

Thus, the number of BD, capture, and proposal professionals we all need also increases. There is a real shortage of proven talent to meet the needs of our business. Exacerbating this challenge is that a lot of very talented people, with a lifetime of experience, have called it a day and moved on to retirement. I expect that trend to continue.

To meet demand, we must be a preferred location for BD Talent. That requires having competitive total compensation as a baseline. But it also requires a place that helps everyone be successful and recognizes their efforts regardless of the eventual award outcome.

As an example, we strive to celebrate the submission of outstanding proposals in addition to celebrating wins. As much as we would like to win every opportunity, we face great competition every time. So, despite doing everything right, we won’t win them all.  We need to recognize and celebrate great efforts and pursuits when they go in.

To fill our BD talent pipeline, we have had success identifying outstanding people from across KBR. After a careful selection process to make sure they have the required writing and business acumen, we train and mentor them for a career in business development.

Our selection process also makes sure they understand the role, responsibility, and expectations of BD at KBR. We highlight that making the move to BD can be a career accelerator. In fact, many KBR leaders share this path to their current roles.

To meet our training needs, we will roll out a comprehensive 10-module BD Excellence training program tailored to KBR’s approach next quarter. Our training includes all aspects of the opportunity lifecycle including capture, proposal management, and pricing.

This training goes beyond the standard Shipley-based training to include active listening, effective negotiation, and strategic pricing strategy skills. This training takes considerable effort – but is absolutely critical to meeting our growth demands.”

ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the implementation of recent acquisitions you’ve made and how they’ve benefited your portfolio, technical capabilities and driven value for your company and customers?

Cliff Gornto: “Over the past seven years, KBR has worked to transform our business. Our former model was highly dependent on worldwide events. We could do very well or poorly. As a result, our CEO set a path to make KBR a more predictable and sustainable business.

Starting in late 2016, KBR added capabilities and talent with the Wyle, HTSI, SGT, and Centauri acquisitions. These acquisitions strengthened our existing core Readiness and Sustainment business while diversifying our offerings into civil and military space, mission IT, human performance, digital and sustainment engineering, intelligence agency technical support, directed energy, and cyber operations.

We now leverage our customer and domain expertise to expand our ability to pursue new work and solve our customers’ most difficult challenges.

As an example, we pursued and won a contract with USSCOM called Preservation of the Forces and Family (POTFF).  This contract is focused on the overall physical and mental well-being of our special forces soldiers.

We could not have pursued POTFF prior to the acquisitions. Leveraging the synergy of Wyle’s astronaut health and performance experience with KBR’s existing global recruiting and deployment capabilities, allowed us to propose a differentiated approach that led to our award.

The acquisitions also brought a diversity of contract pursuit capabilities. Pre-2017, KBR had no real capability to exploit multiple-award IDIQ contracts at scale. Many companies are good at either large single-award contracts or task order pursuits.

Few are successful at both. Wyle brought a very mature MATO capability that has been strengthened on the classified side with the addition of Centauri. Coupled with KBR’s, HTSI’s, and SGT’s single award expertise, we now are adept at pursuing and winning work across both MATO and single-award contracts.

In FY21, we won over $800M in task orders through the IAC MAC Best-in-Class contracting vehicle to provide cutting-edge R&D and modernization support.  We added several hundred million dollars in work through other contract vehicles bringing our total MATO awards to greater than $1.1 billion.  We have also been awarded single award contracts worth over $22 billion (including Global Household Good Contract).

Successful M&A requires effective due diligence and integration efforts. Different from my previous experience, KBR conducts more thorough due diligence and more thoughtful integration.

At the heart of our integrated approach is that we are adding talented people – and the focus should be on them. From day one of integration, it is about making sure they are valued. These acquisitions have not only added capability but made us a better company. Losing the people who made the acquired company successful is a failure from our perspective.”

ExecutiveBiz: Following the success of your recent quarterly results, what were the key factors that led to that company-wide performance and how will you continue to work to capitalize on that success moving forward?

Cliff Gornto: “We had a fantastic 2021 and are off to a strong start to 2022 as noted in most recent earnings reports. Our Government Solutions and Sustainable Technology Solutions businesses posted $7.8 billion in new 2021 contract and option awards resulting in a robust 1.2 book-to-bill. Our revenue grew 27 percent and our adjusted EBITDA grew 31 percent.

There are many factors that led to these stellar results. We have great people across our business. Our Team of Team culture fosters a strong relationship between our Operational, Functional, and Business Development teams.

We work closely throughout the opportunity identification, evaluation, and pursuit lifecycle. This has led to a robust pipeline across all areas of our business including $44B in positioning and pursuit stages and $12B in proposal in negotiation.  I should note, this does not include the ~$20B Global Household Goods contract award we received but remains under protest.

KBR, through our Sustainable Technology Solutions Business, has a differentiated ability to meet the accelerating demand for technology and solutions to enable energy transition, including blue and green ammonia as a hydrogen energy enabler.

This part of our business also has proprietary technology to bring a true circular plastics economy to reality. We are making a genuine difference in our environment and helping create a more sustainable world. Our government clients are asking us to help them ‘be more sustainable.’  KBR has the technology and expertise to help them.

I mentioned our ability to pursue and win both MATO and single-award contracts. This is a powerful combination that leads to sustainable, predictable growth and  the ability to compete at scale against the tough competitors we face each day.”

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Written by William McCormick

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