64: Become Mission Ready with Jim Lockwood

Jim Lockwood is the co-founder of The Lockwood Group and serves as Vice President responsible for driving growth, creating value, and executing objectives across Lockwood’s markets. We talk about the concept of mission readiness, the IBM alignment model, and the gap between public and private sector infrastructure.

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Become Mission Ready with Jim Lockwood

Our guest is Jim Lockwood, the co-founder and CEO of the Lockwood Group, which is a professional services and solutions firm that makes the Department of Defense and other federal agencies mission ready through the delivery and application of logistics, training, enterprise and consulting services. Jim is responsible for driving growth, creating value and executing objectives across Lockwood’s market. So welcome to the show, Jim.

Thanks, Steve. Great to be here.

I’m excited to have you here. And I want to start by asking about your entrepreneurial journey. How did you end up running your family’s business with your father? How did you get there?

Great first question, Steve. Yeah, so, you know, really kind of reflects me back. I think there’s two defining moments that really said this was my destiny. I mean, one, and I’d say it’s not so much a defining moment, one specific moment. But as a kid, funny enough, business was what I most often played and was involved in as a child. I always had, and that’s really, the underlying to my entrepreneurial journey is just the love for business. I mean, I’ve just had an absolute passion for the aspects of business, problem solving.

And that showed up, again, as a child, when I remember Christmas one year where my gift was an office setup. It was a briefcase and office setup and that’s what my parents got me. And so that kind of set the foundation for the business. And then segueing that to my college years, my college years, I had varying internships like most college folks do in their college years. And for some reason, I always chose the hardest ones. One year I was selling insurance for a summer as a college intern.

And then the year following that, I decided to choose an even harder internship where I was going and doing door-to-door sales for a full summer in a full suit in imagine 90, 100 degree heat. And really, I mean, what that taught me for those three, four months was just the perseverance and hard work and just going through that, waking up every day and literally was doing that six days a week.

My college roommates thought I was nuts and probably partly was, but it was really that learning that I had that hard work and I was wired with that element of perseverance and persistence that those data points tied to really kind of what the journey started when my father and I started the company, what is now 11 years ago.

All right. So you’re here, you’re running the business with your father, and you are in this services business, professional services. So my question to you is that, was there a management blueprint or a business framework that particularly inspired you that you adopted for your business? Or it may be just a book that you, you know, gleaned some concepts from that you, you implanted in your business and, and it made your business better.

Yes. And, you know, after, after, you know, we had the initial discussion, I think we hit, I hit on, you know, what would say is the foundation of a lot of the blueprint we use, which comes from a long time advisor, personal mentor to me, a gentleman by the name of David Krugman. He was at original, one of the very early employees of a company called SRA. SRA was kind of a world beater, a true innovator in the professional service space within the government back in the 80s.

I mean, I’m so wired on the stories just through working with them for so long. I know that they came, you know, they were former Air Force. They really had a real strong model around culture, customer-centric services. And he, you know, as an early, you know, one of the early employees, you know, was with them all the way through to COO when they went public. And then he had paid a transition and has been CEO of a number of other defense firms. So anyways, his book is, it’s a zero to a billion.

It’s, and I have it over here, 61 rules entrepreneurs need to know to grow a government contract in business. So interesting enough, when you go Google or Amazon that term, you know, entrepreneurial rules in our space there’s not many titles or good titles out there. His has had really good reviews, so picked it up six years ago. Then from that, actually reached out to David, and he spoke at one of our off-sites, and then he’s been working with us since. I mean, his book just really dices out the business from the culture side.

That’s that there’s a whole element of culture chapter on that people side gives you the mechanics of sales and growth and then really the mechanics around operations and then really the last piece to it is really the strategic and M&A side of things which is a big piece of the GovCon space and in how it works so for sure that’s the management blueprint that most impacted me.

Okay so there are 61 rules which is quite a lot of rules to implement. What are the most important ones that you first latched on and you embraced in the Lockwood Group?

Sure. So the first one, culture, is really a part of strategy. Culture is a differentiator, which especially holds true in professional services businesses. I mean, we are our folk, our people, and we’re only the power of the team we build and the team we deliver to our customers. So culture and really spending the time to think through and develop what is our culture, which is really built upon our core values. And I’d say that’s one very strong rule. And that’s on that one section, the growth section, I’ll kind of unwrap from each section just off memory, I think on the growth section, outside of the mechanics of just how to do effective sales, which I mean, I think very good points in there. One that he, you know, kind of holds true is, is having in your strategy that you bid four jobs that double your company every year.

Developing a strong culture based on core values is a crucial rule. Share on X

So every year you build your pipeline, you build your pipeline for the year with four jobs that can double, or I mean, we call it game-changing, double or greater your company each year. And the logic there is you win one. So you win one, it’s a successful year. So that’s kind of on the growth side. On the upside, one that sticks out in my mind is that your operations should never grow linearly or greater than, you know, your growth on your, you know, overall revenue size. And, you know, GovCon, I think, is unique. I mean, other professional services are some, you know, you got to be conscious of your costs. So that’s really the third one.

So you have to scale your organization, you cannot just add one person for each job, So you have to ratchet up the earning per person, so to say, of the organization so that you are becoming more profitable. It’s a really big trap in professional services, especially GovCon, to just add bodies and make the business more complex and the profitability doesn’t grow and ultimately the risk is increasing with every person. Okay, that’s a really good one. So what else? Anything else that stands out?

I mean, the closing points and the book is just, you know, building with a thought on the future. And even, you know, I gave GovCon one of those things where, and not to get into the details, but size and how you grow are very, it’s deliberate and there’s gotta be a plan around it. So having, don’t be so much, you know, focused on, you know, numbers per se, but really be pointed at a strategy, be pointed at a vision. Mischievous is really kind of where we come about it. And really, you’re not an expert at one thing, but you’re there to solve the problem. And it’s really built upon a vision of purpose and really established the foundation of the business around that.

So how is a government contracting professional services firm different from one that is serving the private market?

I think the big one of the bigger pieces is obviously the elements of compliance that involves delivering services. And it depends. And obviously, the layers of compliance vary depending on the agency that you’re working with. Now, we’re one of our primary customers is the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense is one of the higher tier compliance entities out there. We talked about before about building your business and the operations side of things consciously.

Well, you also have to balance the consciousness with also building the business to be able to deliver and meet the requirements of your customer. The levels of compliance and elements, just to kind of give details of just being very conscious of your security. I mean, obviously we’re all very aware of what’s going on in the world of cyber. Really on the front end of that is the defense department and all entities involved in it. And then also service providers as much or have to be built to operate in that space.

You have to balance the consciousness with building the business to be able to deliver and meet the requirements of your customer. Share on X

And I mean, yeah, so that’s one complexity too. And then outside of that, I mean, from a financial perspective, I mean, I just mentioned one other area I’d see of the operational side that requires more extensive investment than I think the non-government side is, you know, the financial accounting side. Because again, you’re not only, you’ve got to do the mechanics of what you do in any business to meet the requirements of the IRS. But from our standpoint, you know, we’re audited multiple times.

We’re audited on that end, but we’re also audited by the TARP and Defense, and we’re audited at layers below that pre-shop. So, I mean, just the levels of complexity, and again, it tiers up, tiers down, depending upon the entity. I mean, certainly the level of how well organized and how you deliver your services. Again, being that you support the Department of Defense, you support lives. I mean, the margin for error is not wide. I mean, when we talk cost schedule, technical quality, risk, it means there’s height and heighten this to it.

So that’s- That’s obvious. So talking about organization, you mentioned on our pre-call that you are organized using the IBM model. What does that mean exactly and why is it a good model for you?

It really, what we do, I mean, with that concept is really breaking the business down into easy, digestible ways to think about it. I mean, really what we do as a service provider, it’s two things. We win work, we deliver work, and then everything else supports that element of winning and delivering. Now, from applying it to what you said from an IBM perspective, really what that looks like when we, if you were to see our organization, it’s built around a concept of account and customer management.

And whereas our growth team is also responsible for servicing the customer, where we’ve got it all in one area there. It’s really about that element of there’s not a separate silo of growth versus you run the project, that’s all run under the same umbrella. Really with that, there’s accountability on the front end to how you’re choosing to pursue something because you’re also going to own how you deliver it.

That’s interesting. So the sales function, so to say, and the customer service function is interlinked that way. So if you sold the job, then you better make sure that you can deliver that, what you sold to the customer. And I guess the farming element and getting another job from the same customer, same department, within the department may also be part of this. So what does it mean, mission ready? How do you get mission ready? I saw your website that you basically, you talk about the soldiers, whether it’s the army or the Navy or the Marines, that they get all the technology, but they also need to get other stuff. They need to get the support packages so that they can really be mission ready. So what does that look like? And what kind of support packages are we talking about?

So, you know, you go to the highest levels of the department at the defense secretary level. One of the major metrics, KPIs he’s tracking at his level is readiness. And what does readiness kind of trickle down? It’s really, I mean, in the most simplistic fashion is preparedness. So from a mission readiness standpoint, you know, the way we look at it and the way I would answer that, Steve, is it’s training, you know, is that soldier in the field well-trained to do his job, you know, when he’s there out there on the, you know, in the battlefield, you know, is what he’s, you know, the product he’s using, is there a clear path to use it, to support it?

I mean, really, it’s all around that element of being prepared and being well-trained and being, you know, all those, I’d say psychological elements, but even the elements of just obsessive planning almost. I mean, you could imagine the war rooms literally, the amount of planning that goes into things. And I’d say that as much trickles down to our business, just a level of over-preparation and planning and getting down to the detail level where surprises are rare. And we’ve got a clear picture of what our risks are and we also have a good understanding of where the downsides may be and knowing that for our customers as well.

So can we pick a specific example? I don’t know if you can talk about this in the abstract at all, but I would be really interested. Let’s say you have a Navy unit and you want to deploy them in, I don’t know, Syria, then what kind of support would you be giving to this unit? Would that be like that, that you would own some part of the support and you would provide everything or you work together with a million other providers and you just provide this small slice of it?

So the supply chain engine that supports the Defense Department is massive. So, in the example you provided, and I’d use a Marine or Army unit because I think there’s a tangible applicability there, but they’re put in use, Kosovo, we’ll use that as an example. Prior to them going over to Kosovo, they would have been, and this is where we come in on the front end, and I’ll give you both front end and tail end, they’ve got to be at their home station or they’ve got to be at a training center and they’ve got to be on and trained on every nuance that they’re going to be using in the field.

You know, they’re going to be trained on, how do I use this radio? How do I turn it on? What happens if it breaks? You know, what happens if my signal goes down? What happens, you know, how do I use this Intel system? Whatever it may be. So that’s kind of on the front end. So it’s an element of training. And then also with that training, as we use the word logistics up front, now logistics is a very comprehensive word, I mean, in the sense of the Defense Department. And again, I’ll use the soldier individually here.

Logistics to them means, do I have a manual, a user guide that I can pick up, that I understand that, again, I’m in the middle of the battlefield in Kosovo or wherever it may be, and I know if this thing breaks, this thing I have, this manual is effective and it will fix my problem. So, that’s kind of the home station part. And then you get into the field and the front end of things, do things go perfectly all the time? Does the manual work? Does, I mean, it’s no different than an IT department. You get the help desk ticket, right? You get the help desk ticket of the soldier in the field, they call on us. So their radio is down and there’s something that’s not in the manual.

In the field, perfection is a rarity. When soldiers encounter challenges beyond the manual, the front end of mission readiness springs into action. Share on X

There’s something that they weren’t trained on. And that’s where the support on the very front end comes into play where it’s really, they call it field support, field service representation. That’s where the front end of mission readiness comes. So that’s, I mean, a very small sliver. I mean, there’s ways we can dice mission readiness logistics in how you design a system. You could dice it mission readiness logistics. Again, I think that’s more of an example when the system is being used by a user, and then you could also apply it when the system is being in the middle of it being fielded.

So that’s really interesting. So it’s basically a kind of an ultra preparedness which you probably need in a war situation. How do you do that? Do you have checklists that have been honed for years? How do you know that you have thought about everything? What is your process there?

Well, it’s and I think loaded could be a loaded answer, but I’ll simplify it because there’s so many different nuances to, you know, the example could use here, but we’ll just use we’ll say a new system. And this, you know, and I think probably a good way to kind of segue this is leading the way to missionaries. Where did this come? Because I think that will hit on this point. Back when, you know, in 2010, 11, we were in Iraq, we were in Afghanistan fighting two different conflicts.

At that time, obviously the, you know, us as a country were supporting two different fronts. All eyes from a standpoint of the US military was on defending, right? So at that point, the priority from a defense perspective was to produce technology as fast as possible to solve the problem, okay? So when you think about that, and you think about that in any regard, right? You’re developing something, you’re probably developing it a little quicker than you want, you’re probably not testing it as well as you want, and you’re probably just putting in the user’s hands quicker than you normally would.

So during that time in 2009, 10, when we formed the company really was on this foundation as we recognized what was happening. Soldiers were getting equipment, they were getting these rapidly developed, rapidly fielded systems. They didn’t know how to use it. They weren’t trained on it. Whatever they were using to fix it, you know, didn’t exist. So from our perspective, we saw an enormous gap there and we really, we wanted to solve it. I mean, really with, you know, the soldier and the military mind. And I mean, that’s kind of the example I’d use from the question.

So, basically you were helping them to fix the problems, to learn on the fly how to operate the equipment or the systems, and you were the help desk and you were there like 24-7 supporting them every step of the way. Is this the kind of situation?

And let me think in that specific example, yes. And I mean since then to now, I mean, so you ask what’s the playbook now, I mean the playbook is evolving in the areas of this single component of what we call logistics. And I mean, the future of this as it’s already being implemented is all the things that you’re seeing in the commercial space, from artificial intelligence to predict when something needs to be fixed to different elements of how they train using 3D, AI, immersive environments. So, I mean, that’s some of the playbook we’ve got now as we evolve to the future. But in that practical sense, we just use there.

Yes, I mean, things were still very, I wouldn’t call it old school, but it was, do you have your written manual on your tablet? And if it wasn’t there, that’s where we kind of dropped in and said, all right, well, let’s think outside the box here. You know, we’ve got this pool of subject matter experts, you know, outside of what we have let’s figure out how to fix this. And I mean you could use it from a traditional setting kind of like a sophisticated help desk and that’s a that’s not a bad way to think about it. But, you know, that’s that that whole thing is evolving as we move forward here.

Okay, got it. So, as you move forward, and you’re talking about the evolution of the whole process, the complexity is increasing. You’ve got all these high tech things coming in all the time. And in the military, I guess that’s a cutting edge thing, right? This is a lot of new innovation in the military. So how do you even keep up with all these changes? How do you stay a step ahead of everyone else so that you can really train them and you don’t make a lot of mistakes? How do you ensure that?

The element, you know, we, as an organization and our subject matter experts, you know, the way we close that gap, I mean, is with partnerships with those that are on the element of innovation. You know, we’ve got what we call an innovation hub inside the organization. Really what the innovation hub is doing is kind of predicting that future. Where are we going? And I gave one example in my prior question. And one area that’s changing in logistics is data, data is driving it. So what is data doing and what are they trying to do with data? They’re trying to use data to predict things.

Closing the gap between the present and the future is an art, and we achieve it through strategic partnerships with innovation leaders. Share on X

So from our standpoint, one of our core areas that we’re working from an R&D standpoint and a study standpoint is around data and predictive analytics. So it’s recognizing those broader concepts. I mean, it’s at a fundamental level, obviously it’s maintaining relations with our customers, maintaining relationship with our customers at the user level, at the level above the user level, and then obviously at the department level, and just really understanding in a global sense, where is the department going and where’s the nation going? I mean, the whole element, I mean, as you can Google anything right now, it’s all about near peer. It’s about the bigger competitors, and really the strategies all around that. So from our standpoint, we’ve got to understand that, and then we’ve got to think about this, our service offering. Is the service offering we’re delivering, keeping up with that. And really, it’s multifaceted.

So, I’m wondering if what you do, I mean, again, the military typically is ahead of the commercial use technologies in developing technologies and possibly the processes that you use are maybe also cutting edge. So what is your view? How could some of those things that you are doing for the Department of Defense, other federal agencies could have a commercial application in the private sector? Can you give a couple of examples that you feel like is going to go into the commercial sector and even private companies can embrace some of those kinds of processes that you use for their business?

Certainly. Yeah, I mean, I think not to rehash what we talked about upfront, I mean, going back to the management blueprint I used, I would say the fundamentals of what, you know, that book says applies to, I mean, there’s some nuanced things that are industry specific, but culture, people, I mean, I’ll talk in those broad terms and I’ll kind of hit the operational question. Those, I mean, we’re no different than any other entity. I mean, it’s about our culture, it’s about our core values, it’s about getting the best people that align to our core values. It’s about promoting those core values, promoting against those core values.

And then as part of that, that’s kind of the upfront thing is, are we putting in people in positions to succeed? So that’s kind of the element of people. And I think people in no matter what the industry is, I mean, that’s what’s going to drive the train. So that element of it now outside, I mean, getting into the specific processes, I think from our standpoint, as we talked about, you know, the cost consciousness of delivering services and just the, you know, from a macro standpoint, I mean, the Department of Defense spent, that one of their highest spend is on professional services.

So they’re always, you know, their eyes are always on how do we drive down professional spend? So us as industry, we’re always thinking, how do we deliver this service more efficiently? How do we cut our costs? So from our standpoint, I mean, we’re all operating in what is now a hybrid environment. So we’ve, you know, one thing we did is we launched, you know, enterprise-wide technology to share and work in secure fashions and really have, you know, really eliminate what it is, those silo environments and create an enterprise. And so we’ve implemented technology to do that, which in the past, you could walk down the hallway, right?

You can walk down the hallway and you can ask a question, but we’re beyond that now. And even in, you know, if you’re a growing business and we’re still, we’re 11 years old, so we’re still in that growing phase, so processes aren’t perfect, right? So the way you get around processes often is by again, going down the hallway and, and or in other settings. And I think that technology has been a huge thing on, in our backbone. I mean, it’s rolling out the element of technology and that’s, I’d say one area that’s really helped us and getting toward that digital, digital push has helped us to operate effectively that I think applies in any industry.

Okay, so digital and also, I assume that you use virtual communication as well, much more extensively than before. So probably that’s a big cost cutter as well. So, looking ahead, what’s the big vision for the Lockwood Group? Where do you see yourself 10 years out as an organization?

Sure, the whole concept of mission readiness, I mean, it’s really, we thought about, you know, the foundation of that, you know, in a broad sense, even when we started the organization. Mission readiness, as we talked about, and I think we related it just from a standpoint of, you know, a soldier, applies, you know, to the nation and all entities that support the nation. So, really, from our standpoint, and going back to the vision, it’s all about how do we support our nation, our government, our defense department to be mission ready.

I mean, that’s really what we’re all about. And really, as you look at it from a practical sense, I mean, we talked about in the prior question is we’ve got to beat them where they’re going. So really, from our standpoint, we’ve got to infuse elements of innovation in the organization. We have to know, you know, what is the future of, you know, this service line, that service line. We talked about logistics, you know, that’s data. Talk about training, you know, there’s elements of innovation going there.

So we’ve really got to stay ahead of the curve and really be, you know, the problem solver and be delivering that innovation to our customers. So, I mean, the 5, 10 year vision is to keep applying what we do well, delivering that mission readiness to, you know, whatever agency, be it commercial or federal, is looking for that and helping them meet the moment of where things are going and be prepared.

Okay. So wherever the Department of Defense goes, you’re going to go, basically. Your mission is interwoven with it, so you cannot have your own vision. It’s going to be part of the vision of the big picture. Okay, well, very cool. So if the listeners would like to learn more about mission readiness and what you can do for them, where can they connect with you? What is a resource that you can offer them?

So directly, I’m like as most, LinkedIn is always a great tool. So LinkedIn is a tool that I use professionally. So that’s a great way to connect. From a business perspective, I mean, our website, we’ve got a longer URL, but it’s really the company name, the lockwoodgroupllc.com. That’s where they could find us. And, you know, we’re, I mean, if professionally, you could find us at all major, you know, defense department and all related entity events. And we do spend a good time in the DC region as well.

Okay, well, Jim Lockwood, the co-founder and CEO of the Lockwood Group. Thank you for coming on the show. And to the listeners, if you like the show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and stay tuned. Next week, I’ll have another entrepreneur sharing their exciting story with us. Thank you.

Thank you, Steve.


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