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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

What Duke vs. Kentucky teaches us about government contracting

Before I start, I should confess that I’ve been a Duke basketball fan since childhood, long before I married into a staunchly Duke family.

So perhaps my viewpoint is biased, but I’ve been thinking about sports and business and the different philosophies that can bring success in both worlds.

Duke played and defeated Kentucky, the defending national champions, earlier this week. When the two teams took the floor, Duke’s team was built around three seniors; Kentucky around three freshman. So, the different philosophies of how to build a team, the one from Kentucky’s coach John Calipari, and the one from Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, were very much on display.

In my mind – again, my bias – Calipari’s approach is one of instant gratification. He targets players who, five or six years ago, would have gone straight from high school to the NBA.

While Coach K has had several one-and-done players, he takes a more patient, long-term approach.

Both have had success. Calipari won the national championship last year, with a team dominated by freshman, who all left for the NBA.

Duke has won four over the last 30 years. The last one was in 2010, with a team led by three seniors and two juniors.

So, what does this have to do with government contracting?

I’ve spoken with several current and former executives who are lamenting the current state of the business world where everything is driven by quarter to quarter decision making.

The dangers of the fiscal cliff and sequestration and a shaky economy exacerbate the short-term thinking. It is easy to understand why, but at the same time it seems to me that it might be an even more critical time to cling to the long view, particularly in the government market.

I’m reminded of a couple interviews I have had CEOs--one several years ago, and one more recently that support my point.

When Phil Nolan was the CEO of Stanley Associates, I was working on a story and I was trying to get him to describe his job for me. I was looking for some color or some other insights.

One of the things he told me is that he tries not to think about the current quarter or the current fiscal year. His job is to look out 18 months or more and see what the customers’ needs are, where technology will be headed and how Stanley can get there.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be worried about the current numbers, but the longer view should smooth out the short term bumps.

Similarly, when I’ve interviewed Bill Hoover, CEO of American Systems Corp., he has talked a lot about his focus on building the pipeline, and if you aren’t building the pipeline for opportunities two or three years from now, you have no hope of growing.

Hoover also related a guiding principle for how his company decides whether they are pursuing the right kind of work. And talk about the long view.

The basis of his principle is more than 200 years old. It’s the presidential oath, particularly the final words: “Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Words that have been repeated by every president from George Washington to Barack Obama.

In Hoover’s thinking, if his company focuses on doing work that can meet the criteria of that oath, then he knows American Systems increases its ability to succeed over the long term.

By the way, both Hoover and Nolan are former Naval officers, and Krzyzewski is a West Point grad, so maybe there is a link back to their military backgrounds.

We’ll see how this basketball season goes for both Duke and Kentucky. Will Calipari deliver a repeat of last year’s results? Will Duke take its experience deep into March Madness? And as importantly, what does the pipeline look like for next season and the season after?

In that same vein, is your company doing what it needs to do to succeed today and be ready for when the market turns?


Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 15, 2012 at 9:52 AM

Reader Comments

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 Cindy West Virginia

In keeping with your sports theme, I saw this on a placard in a sports bar and it sums up what being a calculated visionary is all about - "A good hockey player knows where the puck is. A great hockey player knows where the puck will be." ~ Author Unkown

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 Doug

If the founders of this country were alive today they would not recognize how far we have deviated from their ideals. Today's government looks at the Constitution as merely a "guideline" not the actual rules that they must govern by.

Wed, Nov 21, 2012 Dave

Nonsense. I am sure Calipari would love to have last year's freshman class back. He did not kick them out, they left for the opportunity to play in the NBA.Just like Coach K has lost player in the past.

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 Mike Virginia

Barack Obama defending the constitution? Haha, good one!!

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 Virginia

Phil Nolan's view turned out not to be too long term--when he and his senior leadership team sold the company to CGI--and hauled off a few tens of millions of dollars for themselves!

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