Skip to content

Navigating Business Development as a Veteran

Winning not Whining
Business Development Conversation with Joy Barr and Jason LaClair

How long did you serve and what did you do?

21 years. I was an Army Intelligence Officer; my final position was a CW4 (Chief Warrant Officer4) with Army Cyber.

What was your most interesting duty station and or assignment?

My most interesting assignment was doing signal search and survey in Afghanistan during a deployment with the 513th MI Brigade. That was the best assignment I had in the army. We would go out with a with an antenna and do an environmental survey of the radio frequency spectrum in different locations in Afghanistan to see what the saturation point was for radio communications. We were looking for the most productive environment in which to place larger intelligence assets.

At STS we place a high value on having an intimate understanding of the customer problem set. With that in mind, how have you navigated working on the industry side of problem solving in Business Development for customers where you may have previously worked on the customer side?

I put myself in the place of the customer and try to anticipate what their expectations are from the government. What that means is that when I was in uniform and had interaction with industry folks, I always assumed that I could snap my fingers and they would provide a solution. They were always telling me that they just needed to know what we wanted and could execute that.

Now as an engagement manager on the industry side of things, I try to do much better with expectation management. If you engage in realistic expectation management, the customer, your former self/teammate/peer now understands the realm of the possible. Don’t get your hopes up because we can’t do everything. But also, don’t be afraid to ask for something. We could probably figure out a way to do it, even though you’ve never heard of that capability before in the past. Problem solving is what we are expected to do.

What has been the biggest change in your perspective now that you are on the industry side of things like you alluded to in your last answer, that your expectation was that the industry partner was just waiting for a decision from you?

The appreciation that I’ve gained now is that even though as a Soldier I may have been talking to an industry partner about obtaining a capability back then, I had no idea the layers and layers of bureaucracy that it takes to get a solution into the hands of Soldiers. So, an appreciation for how the Army acquisition requirements and delivery actually works is something that I could not have imagined until I was on the civilian side of the house.

Is it fair to say the originator of the request might not get exactly what they wanted, but that's not because that wasn't possible. It just wasn't what was best for the totality of the army, or the unit, or the COCOM or whoever the ultimate decision maker was?

That’s right. I use the Canteen Cup as an example.
You may have asked for a coffee cup to be used in the field, another person asked for a water bottle, another person wanted a flame-retardant item that they could heat water in, and another person needed a shaving kit; and what you got was a canteen cup that could do all of these things. It’s not the perfect water bottle, and it’s not the perfect coffee cup, but it meets the needs of a lot of folks across the army, not just for your particular problem, while avoiding duplication and ultimately solving several problems.

In commercial business to business (B2B) settings, it’s seen as such a benefit to have experience on both sides of an equation. Knowing a customer’s needs and understanding a solution provider’s capabilities helps problem solving immensely. Have you found that to be true in DoD/Industry Business Development as well?

Yes. That insight is invaluable. That is why industry hires former Soldiers. One of the things experienced when Soldiers get out of the military and go to work for an ‘Industry Partner’ is when they think to themselves, “Wow, I’m working for a commercial company and learning the capabilities and I have discovered we are working with the Air Force on a problem set similar problem I encountered in the Army.”

One picks up the phone and calls their former brigade/battalion/company commander who you’ve known for 20 years and says, “Hey, sir/ma’am. I’ve got a job with so and so and you know that problem we had when were at that unit together. I know how we can solve it.”
The issue is, you are no longer a Soldier, and you are no longer at the unit together. And even if the problem can be solved the next day because you are now a contractor, the above-listed layers of bureaucracy are even further complicated by avoiding any appearance of favoritism by the customer exuding influence.

As a small business we certainly appreciate the effort the government puts into creating fair and accessible processes for awarding contracts. Have you found a mechanism to continue relationships and avoid conflicts?

Yes! I participate in events and conferences that get me in front of Soldiers sharing their current problems. Once I began Business Developement, I asked myself what would I have loved to have known as a Soldier? And now I need to put myself in a position to be able to answer those questions and provide that information in an environment that is appropriate. Sharing the realm of the possible helps Soldiers write better requirements. Knowing how to get it funded and/or the Program Executive Offices to work with makes the process easier and faster for the Soldier. I can’t tell them to “pick me”, but I can explain the rules of the process and how to build a strategy to win it.

Can you give me an example of events like that?

Professional organizations such as the Association of Old Crows, AFCEA and AUSA have small monthly events to bridge that gap between industry and government on many installations that have leaders and panels discussing prototype requirements or contract forecast. Then of course there are larger AFCEA TechNet events, AUSA National, SOF Week and other capability/customer specific engagements focused on intelligence support, Electronic Warfare and Cyberspace Operations to name a few arenas. Program Executive Offices and consortiums have Technical Exchange Meetings and release Broad Agency Announcements that provide a venue to show off one’s capabilities in meeting the warfighters requirements and to ask for greater clarity on capabilities and operational uses.

You personally have done far more than just participated in events. You serve on the local board for many of the organizations you listed and are the current AUSA Greater Augusta - Fort Eisenhower Chapter President. Why is that?

Association of the United States Army – AUSA, AFCEA International, the Association of Old Crows, Military Cyber Professionals Association, as examples, all help you maintain that sense of belonging and ownership to the larger organization because you are surrounded by people like yourself. They’re often either current or former military, and there’s a certain level of camaraderie around shared values and I really believe in the mission of the organizations we support. As well, beyond the business aspect, these organizations are here to help Soldiers and their families on and off the battlefield through capabilities development, scholarship programs, supporting Morale Welfare and Recreation programs, Christmas House, Fischer House and so many other aspects that impact the force is positive ways.


From a business perspective, it gives you that venue to engage with the customer and demonstrates that you are involved and interested in the problem set beyond the Request For Proposal. I’m not here just to win work. I’m here to help you solve your problems and these organizations put industry and government in a place where they can talk about those problem sets. As we discussed before, just picking up the phone doesn’t always work. It can put your old battle buddy in a tough spot and can be perceived and using your friendship as an unfair advantage. Avoiding that keeps your relationship at the personal level and you can use these professional organizations to further your business endeavors.

Join the conversation here on LinkedIn 

SOFtact in the NEWS

More To Explore