MORE THAN JUST REVENUE
When Pete Sload took over as majority owner at ITility, a government contractor, the company had one employee. That was 2008. Today, it has 220 employees and its revenue is growing fast.
For the first four years, Sload, who serves as president and CEO at the Herndon, VA-based firm, worked constantly at writing proposals for government contracts. “Early on, the strategy was, do one proposal a month for a whole year,” Sload says. He did 15 his first year.
In more recent years — and perhaps obviously, when you consider the numbers — the big challenge for ITility has been managing its growth. In the beginning, Sload wrote and delivered the company’s annual plan by himself. Now, the executive team comes together at the end of the calendar year to review and decide upon the budget, professional development plans for the workforce, and the business plan for the next 12 months. The team reviews the previous year’s annual plan, too, and they balance the whole effort against ITility’s strategic five-year plan, which places a focus on the value of people and processes across the company.
The shift from running ITility as a one-man team to working in a more collaborative environment has been a learning process, says Sload; and that hasn’t been just in terms of annual planning — it has meant letting his team learn from its mistakes, even when new business is on the line.
“The toughest decision I had to make in the last three years was to allow someone else to fail — and learn from it — instead of making sure we got that money and that customer and that enhancement to the company,” says Sload.
Most of ITility’s major contracts are with the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security. The firm specializes in systems engineering, program management, administrative support, enterprise services, systems testing services, cyber operations, intelligence services, and education and training. Because ITility has grown so quickly, it has had to build processes quickly, too, to keep delivering a high level of service.
“All growth isn’t necessarily good,” says COO Paul Reist. “You have to recognize what that growth means to the business and where it may limit opportunities elsewhere.”
The company’s growth plan now is not just about bringing in new business. It’s also about customer engagement, performance analysis and application, and improving talent management.
“I think the big challenge, to boil it down, is twofold,” says Reist. “One is anticipating the growth, and if you don’t anticipate, you find yourself behind the power curve, and it’s very difficult to get back ahead of it. And, specifically, anticipating your ability to not just perform the work, but more importantly, to manage the work. I think that’s where we’ve spent a lot of our time and quickly recognized that we had to make some additional hires.”
Another part of ITility’s five-year plan is about starting to compete with big government contractors, like Booz Allen and SAIC. “We’re getting really good at metrics,” says Sload. “We are very focused on becoming a performance-centric company, to include financials, but, more importantly, customer performance — what it is the customer needs. And proactively assessing and analyzing that and delivering that to the customer. That’s going to be the differentiator for us as we get bigger and bigger, especially when we have to compete with big-brand companies.”
As a CEO who has overseen explosive growth, Sload says his one piece of advice to other business leaders would be to incorporate some of these other values — above and beyond revenue growth — into their thinking.
“The thing that I wish I would have known before was that growth doesn’t just involve money,” Sload says. “It involves talent management, customer engagement, performance and revenue. If I had known more of that and had understood that better, I think we would have been a more mature, more capable company a lot sooner. And I think a lot of small businesses go through that learning experience. Some of them learn it faster, some may never learn it. And I think that propels you to your next level of success — or not. I think we’re on the right track, but we’re constantly challenging ourselves about that.”
Photo (L to R): JJ Jackson, VP of Corporate Support Services; Pete Sload, President and CEO; Paul Reist, COO; Frank Zachar, VP of Business Development