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Sean Thompson, CGO at J&J Worldwide Services, Delivers Advice on How to Build & Sustain High Revenue Growth Organizations

Sean Thompson, CGO at J&J Worldwide Services, Delivers Advice on How to Build & Sustain High Revenue Growth Organizations - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Sean Thompson is a growth enabler who has left his mark on a slew of technology organizations. Throughout the last 20-plus years, he embraced a particular interest in serving government customers at the federal, state and local levels. The attacks on September 11, 2001 moved him to double down on aiding the missions of national defense and intelligence. Thompson earned a top level security clearance shortly after 9/11 and has been supporting these markets ever since.

The business development and capture management-specializing exec has enjoyed stints at Northrop Grumman, IBM, and Sotera Defense Solutions, before his most recent run at Unisys and IDEMIA over the last half-decade. In January, he came aboard J&J Worldwide Services as its chief growth officer.

During this Executive Spotlight interview, Thompson provided a deeper overview of his career trajectory, in the process shedding light on how to help companies struggling with revenue and describing some favorite strategies, such as replacing business development farmers with hunters in a staff.

How do you build a market-leading growth organization?

I’ve built five different growth organizations at five vastly different companies. Everything from a global consulting company to my current company, J&J Worldwide Services, which is the market leader in a number of different areas. We are the number one provider of base sustainment and environmental services for military hospitals, for the United States military—an incredibly important mission.

I’ve worked for three companies that have been owned by private equity. I’ve built five different growth organizations, and they’ve had a number of things in common in terms of the steps I’ve taken to aid expansion. I want to give two examples. One at Unisys Federal. I was there starting in 2017 and led their federal sales team of 50 people. And then after that I went to a company called IDEMIA, the largest biometrics company in the world.

IDEMIA is headquartered in Paris, but its North American headquarters is in Reston, Virginia, same place as Unisys’ North American headquarters. As chief growth officer of IDEMIA, I had a team of about 90. Both companies had different growth issues.

When I arrived at Unisys, they were a world-class company that had been around for 142 years, but they had been suffering from declining revenue for 15 years. My boss, Jeff Renzi, was the head of global sales; a great mentor and a great guy who I really enjoyed working for. “PV” Puvvada was the President of federal and had a great reputation in the federal marketplace. Unisys also had a great net promoter score, meaning, how we were rated by our customers. Customers loved Unisys Federal and they had a really good recompete rate, but their new business acquisition was sorely lacking. They had had six different growth leaders over a 10-year period before I joined. And their win rate the prior three years before I joined for new business was only three percent. So, they were really struggling to grow their business and win large enterprise sized opportunities.

The largest new business opportunity they had won was slightly under $100 million. After I left, they had seven opportunities over $250 million that we had won in new business and three over $500 million. They had won more enterprise-size opportunities than any company in the federal marketplace besides Leidos and Leidos was, nearly 20 times our size. They had an incredible growth run during my time there.

This was due to a combination of different things. When I went to Unisys, I wanted to focus heavily on Department of Defense business. So, I added a number of assets in the DOD market. I tripled down on DOD and I focused on the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation. They had a global transportation practice, but no business in the DOT. And we had a great footprint in DHS’ Customs and Border Protection with three anchor contracts, but we wanted to expand outside of CBP into other substantial accounts in DHS, which we did.

I looked at our sales force and I worked with operations and replaced the farmers. We had a lot of farmers in our BD team and replaced them with hunters—solution-based hunters. And we restructured our capture team to be more market-facing.

On the proposal side, we had global proposal operations. I thought we needed some more focused proposal operations, so I brought them in-house. Our European proposal team had some members located in the U.S. but focused on our entire commercial and global government business. We brought them in-house just to focus on Federal.

There were two great leads on the solutioning side of the house: Peter O’Donoghue, who most recently has been chief technology of Leidos’ civil group and Gary Wang, currently a vice president in cloud and application services at Peraton. I partnered with them to pair solution architects with our sales leads to drive customer interaction early in technical differentiation early in the bid process.

Another thing I did was try to focus on our specialties: instead of selling a host of different things, I found it’s best to try to do two or three things and do those things outstandingly. In my time at Unisys, we went from a stagnant and declining growth rate in the prior 15 years to a 54 percent year-over-year growth rate—the highest growth rate of any Fed100 company that had not done an acquisition in the past 10 years. So they had truly amazing, market-leading, turbocharged growth and more enterprise large wins as a prime contractor than anybody in the market, barring Leidos.

When I eventually moved to IDEMIA in 2019, they were stagnant in their growth. When COVID hit, we were declining. When I left there, though, we had a 25 percent average two-year sales compound annual growth rate—five times our industry average. We had record sales my last two years there each year, beating past figures by double digits, over 30 percent sales growth year-over-year in terms of our TCV won. We accomplished that the same way, bringing in hunters instead of farmers, as well as adding a capture team that we did not have, adding a price to win team that we did not have, and teaming our solution architects with our sales staff to get in early and differentiate technically with our customers to try to get ahead of the curve.

Those are a few of the things we did to really turbocharge growth at both companies. I’m looking to do the same thing at my current company, J&J Worldwide Services. Our mission here is serving heroes. Our customers are the U.S. military with a heavy focus in military hospitals populated by injured warfighters either returning from service or trying to get back to service. We have an incredibly important mission that I’m very proud to be a part of. We’re in the process of upgrading our growth team and getting ready for market-leading growth. J&J has been growing consistently over the past 15 years, and we’re looking to accelerate that as we move into our next phase.

What are some of the primary services that J&J offers and what are the company’s main areas of business?

We operate within three key areas. One is base sustainment: base operations and sustainment maintenance. The second area is environmental services. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, water, gasses at the hospital, cleaning of the hospital and related services. And third is design and build for portions or whole buildings of military hospitals and related facilities.

What do you think is the most overlooked part of the bid process, and how does your company set itself apart from its competitors in this area?

With every company, the process varies and is very different. At Unisys, we really hit the incredible growth rates where we were consistently winning $250 and $500 million prime contracts with new customers. One of the key things we did was pair up solution architects with business development hunters who had determined a solution very early in the process. That’s a step that a lot of companies don’t do.

At IDEMIA, we did the same thing, but they also did not have capture talent or price to win talents. We added a price to win and a capture function within the organization at IDEMIA. One key area we had that I felt was a differentiator was our government relations practice. It really set us apart. It was the best government relations practice I’d been in at any company I’d worked for. But new additions like capture and price to win were functions we added that they did not have before.

At my new company, J&J, we’re doing a number of things unrelated to those aforementioned strategies, but when you go into any company, you just need to analyze what they’re doing well, where they need work, as well as the “as is” and the “to be” and the roadmap to get there. Everything differs, but here are some common rules of thumb: you want to have more prime business than sub. With some companies, it can be a heavy mix. When I went to to Unisys, it was 60/40 prime/sub and when I left it was 95/5 prime sub.

You also want to get ahead of the bid cycle, meaning, move everything to the left and work things earlier. But not everybody does that when you have a plethora of opportunities. The big thing is focus. You can’t do everything. Make sure you’re focusing on a few things and doing those better than anybody else.

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