How Pedersen's legacy shapes ManTech's future

Pedersen might be stepping down as executive chairman, but he remains on the board and his legacy will continue to guide the company he founded in 1968.

George Pedersen’s decision to step down as executive chairman of ManTech International can be viewed multiple ways.

It’s a story of careful succession planning. It’s a story of the lasting legacy of an industry pioneer. It’s a milestone event in the continuing evolution of the government market. And it’s a business story about what comes next for ManTech.

And it is almost impossible to talk about Pedersen’s decision without touching all elements of all of those. Pedersen’s legacy of success and the culture he’s instilled are likely to continue whether he is executive chairman or just a board member.

The succession of the chairmanship from Pedersen to Kevin Phillips began in 2016 when Phillips, who was chief financial officer since 2005 to 2016, became chief operating officer. On Jan. 1, 2018, he became CEO.

“It’s been a fairly natural progression and it’s been fairly seamless,” Phillips told me.

Over the last four years, more responsibilities have been shifted from Pedersen to Phillips to the point where Phillips now asks for Pedersen’s guidance more than his direction. An important distinction when you consider Pedersen was the co-founder of ManTech International in 1968 and led the company as CEO until the end of 2017, a 49-year run.

Pedersen is a rarity in that he is an entrepreneur who created a start-up and grew it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise and took it public. Generally, we see entrepreneurs grow their business until it out grows their management skills. But not with Pedersen, and that’s an important part of his legacy.

The company has been preparing for this transition in multiple ways, Phillips said. Including adding to its senior leadership team. On July 1, the company promoted Matt Tait to COO as well as a realignment its business from two business groups to three sectors: intelligence, defense and federal civilian.

No one should expect significant changes from ManTech’s approach to the market. It just concluded one strategic plan and finished work on the next plan that will guide the company through 2023.

“I’ve been working with George since 2002 and we have a strong view of what we want to be as a company and what we want to do,” he said.

The 2023 strategy is focused on national security, homeland security and other select civilian customers. On the technology side, the company is focusing on digital and moving emerging technologies into its customer mission areas. These include cloud migration, cybersecurity, analytics and automation. Other areas of focus include data collection and analysis.

Given the long relationship Phillips has had with Pedersen the most obvious question to ask is, “What have you learned from Pedersen?”

“He taught me how to run a business, let’s start with that,” Phillips said. Phillips came to ManTech through the company’s 2002 acquisition of CTX Corp., which brought increased intelligence capabilities to ManTech, a long-time goal of Pedersen’s.

As part of the integration, Phillips became an assistant to Pedersen. From there he had a front row seat to ManTech’s push into the intelligence market and its initial public offering.

“I can’t describe everything I’ve learned but you don’t often see someone who has the passion he has for the business,” Phillips said. “He was in his mid-60s and took his company into the public domain.”

Pedersen’s passion is evident in how he has approached the business and the focus on issues that are important to the country. His passion also includes the employees. When ManTech went public, Pedersen created a special assistance fund with his own money to help employees in need. The fund remains active and is an example of Pedersen’s legacy, Phillips said.

As someone who has followed the market for more than two decades, Pedersen is a legend and deserves his spot in the hall of fame of government contractors. In my early piece, I said he deserved a spot on the Mount Rushmore of government contractors.

Pedersen doesn’t do many interviews, so I’ve only talked to him a couple of times over the years. The limelight doesn’t seem to attract him personally. It always has seemed he wants the attention on his company and not himself.

His decision to step back marks another step in the closing of an era in government contracting. Jack London, executive chairman of CACI International – another worthy Mount Rushmore resident – might be the only one remaining active executive from the 1960s launch of the modern government technology industry.

Pedersen, who still controls some 83 percent of ManTech’s voting shares, will remain active on the board. In many ways, ManTech will remain his company. He’ll still be a presence there because, well, he built the company.

But his transition is a big sign of trust in Phillips and the senior management team and it follows years of planning and implementation. It’s also a sign that the market is maturing and that Pedersen’s greatest legacy, perhaps, will be ManTech’s success going forward when his name isn’t at the top of the C-suite.