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Albers Aerospace Founder, President & CEO John Albers Highlights Company Values, Key Defense Landscape Trends

Albers Aerospace Founder, President & CEO John Albers Highlights Company Values, Key Defense Landscape Trends - top government contractors - best government contracting event

John Albers’ expertise in federal acquisitions is informed by 24 years of service in the Marine Corps, where he served as an operational aviator, then a test pilot and later as an acquisition professional.

In 2015, Albers leveraged his experience within the public sector to found what is now Albers Aerospace, which he built with the intention of creating a company he would have liked to work with on the customer side of acquisitions. As Albers Aerospace’s president and CEO, Albers is focused on driving value, and he has incorporated aspects of the USMC’s culture into his organization to build a strong team.

During a recent Executive Spotlight interview, Albers spoke with ExecutiveBiz about Albers Aerospace’s core values, the relationship between company culture and successful business and the current trends architecting the government contracting industry landscape.

Tell me about your company’s culture. What aspects of the company do you think are contributing most to its success while helping to attract and retain top-level talent?

I spent 24 years in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps has a great culture, so I tried to bring in components of that culture that fit into a non-warfighting entity. The Marine Corps is a unique organization, but I tried to bring the pieces that I thought would transition well to the civilian world into our company’s culture.

Our vision is to “Impact Others and Deliver Value” because I think everybody inherently wants to make an impact when they come to work. People want to know that what they do is impactful in their industry or in their space, and that is no different for any of us at our company.

As a business, we need to deliver value because if we are doing so, then we’ll be successful. If our customers win, we win. That vision is the overarching driver, and I think it is what compels at least the initial entree for people. They see that, and they think they could get on board with it, “Inspire Others and Deliver Value”. We want to work on inspiring each other as a team in the company as well as inspiring our customers. If we are encouraging them to be the best version of themselves and delivering value in doing that, then we can make a big impact, which is really what I want to do and what I think we were all made to do. 

In the media these days, we often see that our country needs an expanded defense industry that is focused on making an impact for the nation and for the warfighter. We love working on that with our industry partners today and want to continue doing that in the years ahead. Our values are stewardship, innovation, dedication and excellence. We have a lot of veterans in the company, but we’re not all vets. A lot of our people are simply committed, patriotic Americans that love doing their part. I frequently speak with our team about what they can do in this chapter in their career. They are young and in their initial chapter, and they have an opportunity to be a part of defending the country in an indirect way, which is amazing. Some people do it by putting on a uniform and serving that way, and others can be supporting elements. 

If we build a great business with a great culture and work hard, it really can be a win-win. I think that culture is what helps us recruit and retain talent – we have a very high retention rate. Overall, we work on employee engagement, so paying attention to the culture is part of our strategic plan. That is something I talk about with the executive team. We work very hard on our ownership of the culture surrounding the team.

What are your company’s core values? How do you think these values translate into continued success and growth in the GovCon market?

Innovation is the first. We may not invent the next iPhone, though we are making products and actively working on them. When I say innovation, I mean thinking differently, because I believe there are not enough people who slow down and think creatively about a problem set or ways to approach solutioning for a customer. That is a differentiator for us. If we build a culture that is innovative in our thinking and in our approach to business opportunities, business structure, solutioning and pricing, we will likely be able to “Inspire Others and Deliver Value.” 

Our next core value is stewardship. We want to be good stewards of what we are given, and I want to be a good steward as a leader of our team. We don’t call our employees employees, we call them teammates because I believe everybody has a role. We have a sports team type of mentality – we want to win the championship, we want to be successful as a business. Everybody’s role is important, no matter how small it may seem or how significant someone else’s may seem. Every individual’s role is important, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. We also want to be good stewards of our time, talents and resources to ensure that we are employing our assets in the best way to achieve our vision and what our customers need.

Then there is dedication. We want to be dedicated to each other and to the mission. I think that dedication is extremely important in this day and age, where it is easy for people to move around, change brands and do other things. Being dedicated to what we are doing really helps us have a more long-term mindset, which I do think helps drive more value. If you are only thinking short-term, you might be able to have a pop in the value piece, but more than likely it won’t be sticky and sustainable. Ultimately, we are dedicated to the warfighter and helping them achieve their mission, dedicated to each other, and dedicated to our customers.

I often talk about being the best subcontractor that our primes or our customers have ever had. It’s not that we are perfect – we are all human beings that can make mistakes, but we will own them and fix them. Letting people make mistakes is part of our culture. Don’t make the same one three times but work with your teammates to grow and be a championship team. 

Championship teams care about the small things and work on making necessary adjustments, which goes hand-in-hand with being dedicated to the mission and making mistakes. Are we trying? Are we pushing ourselves? That is how we create value.

Our last core value is excellence, which we want to pursue as best we can while remembering that we are human beings. We can fall short or make mistakes, but we want to assume the best in people.

I am a big believer in the idea that people show up to work wanting to do well to make a difference. A bad day could be caused by something going on in their life. If we are chasing excellence and we see somebody’s missing the mark, it could be that they are not a good fit, or it could be that they are having an off day.

Part of being excellent, being dedicated to each other and being good stewards is asking those questions, asking what is going on and asking how we can help them be the best version of themself. Not all of us have had the people in our life to help us see that potential, so I want to create an environment where we can help people become the strongest version of themselves. That is part of chasing excellence, which then parlays into how we deliver our service or our product to the customer.

What’s your outlook on the global defense landscape? What significant changes or trends are you seeing, and how are those factors moving the GovCon market?

What we’re seeing are bullish trends. Defense has always been a good industry. There are high barriers to entry, so you have to deliver. If you don’t, you will not last.

When we look at other factors, there are geopolitical issues, macroeconomic conditions, and many tailwinds to the industry. Looking at all of those things, we see a positive outlook. There are still challenges, like the interest rate environment and the credit markets, but that is real life. When you drive somewhere, the wind is always blowing. Maybe it’s on your tail, maybe it’s on the side, maybe it’s in your face and sometimes it’s a little bit of all three as the roads change. 

I think there has been an awakening in this country about our defense base. Strategic decisions that were made 25 to 35 years ago and seemed like good decisions at the time might need to be revisited, so sometimes as a business owner or a leader you might just happen to be at the right place. We want to be innovative in our thinking and alert enough to notice when there is something happening. How do we make an impact? How is it that we can be a great service provider to our warfighter customers and our immediate customers where appropriate? How can we do that in light of all those factors? I think that overall, the industry is heading in the right direction.

There is a phrase I use, which is that I am “cautiously optimistic.” As a business founder, an entrepreneur or even a senior leader, you must be optimistic about things or you likely won’t succeed in your role, but there is also a cautious optimism that is important because in life, hard things don’t always go the way they should. You have to be measured in all those things while taking a hard look at what is happening around you. Don’t fall too in love with your own ideas or  your own performance.

Like the Marines say, the leaders eat last. It is a good reminder that you are the least important person in the deal. The Marines that are out on the front lines are the most important, so they get fed first. We have the same mindset here in our company – those that are actually interfacing with the customer are the most important people, and those of us at headquarters are secondary. Though our role is important, the people that touch the customer, interface with them and sell to them are the most critical people in the company. When you wrap that idea into the culture and the macro trends that we see in the industry, I think it is a great time to be in this business and a great chance for us to make a real impact for our country and for each other.

What’s the most impactful trend you’re currently seeing in the GovCon market? How are you seeing GovCon organizations respond to that trend?

The most impactful trend is the realization about where the industry is writ large. We are facing some hard truths as a country and beginning to understand that we previously made decisions that seemed good at the time, but may not have been based on where we are in 2023. It is a more realistic view of things that allows us to be honest about the industry and where its strengths and weaknesses are.

We have many strengths in this industry. We have amazing technologies – there are so many items coming out. Things like an Iron Gate Venture Fund and defense venture funds are eyeing some of these. There is just amazing technology out there.

There are also the services that may be boring, but are necessary to get things done. The warfighter not only needs great technology, they need good service in areas we have decided that those in uniform should not have to provide. Those of us who are in that space need to perform as positively as the folks that are chasing technology because service is just as important as making the new “shiny penny.”

The awakening within this country about the realities of the defense industry is the most exciting trend because it does create opportunity. It also forces all of us to really look hard at what we are doing and ensure that we are doing the right things instead of following old methods solely because we are used to them. We have to consider if the thesis we have is accurate, functional and meaningful because ultimately, what really matters is the customer’s needs, not what any of us think.

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Written by Ireland Degges

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