He’s been officially retired since 2003, but that hasn’t stopped Paul Lombardi from his continued contributions to the federal contracting community. As the former CEO of DynCorp, Lombardi helped grow the private military contractor from $800 million to $2.4 billion; in retirement, Lombardi is equally engaged, serving as a member of the board of directors of the IT services provider NCI, Inc., as well as a senior advisory board member to the Northern Virginia Technology Council. Contributions like these recently led Lombardi to be inducted into the Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards Hall of Fame. On the heels of that distinction, Lombardi recently shared lessons from his long career, his predictions for the industry – and the one piece of advice he says is central to career growth.
WashingtonExec: Congratulations on being inducted into the Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards Hall of Fame. How fun was it to receive the prestigious award along with Stan Soloway and also surprise him with the award?
Paul Lombardi: It was a very humbling experience to be considered on the same level as the previous winners, all luminaries. It was great to have NCI sponsor a table so I could bring my family – my wife, my son and his wife, and my daughter and her husband. It made for a very enjoyable family gathering.
Regarding Stan, one of the sponsors asked me if I would mind sharing the stage with Stan. That was a no brainer as far as I was concerned. He and I go way back. I was chairman of the Professional Services Council when Stan was brought on as president. It was a double pleasure to be inducted with Stan, as well as to introduce him. He certainly deserved the award for his contributions.
WashingtonExec: What do you consider inflection points in your career and what kind of key decisions — planned or unplanned — made you and the organizations you ran successful?
Paul Lombardi: I can point to three defining moments that gave me the experience and insight to be successful in the government contracting community.
- After 17 years in government, I decided to move to the private sector and join a small government contracting/services firm — Advanced Technology.
- While working for Advanced Technology, its founder and CEO, Bob LaRose, asked me to run the emerging IT division when my function at the time was leading the program management division. Although it was a surprise and shock to me, it redefined my career.
- I was the No. 2 guy at Planning Research Corporation, which absorbed Advanced Technology. The president at that time became ill and the chairman chose someone else to run the company. I saw this as a signal and joined DynCorp, where I ultimately became the CEO. While there, we grew the company from about $800 million to $2.4 billion, and I became much more involved in the community.
WashingtonExec: Your son now runs his own federal contracting business. What advice do you have for scaling and growing his business?
Paul Lombardi: He’s currently transitioning out of being a small business. This means he’s now competing against huge firms. This is not easy. Tackling this transition is the biggest issue he’s faced since opening his doors. My son and I talk almost every day, and my main piece of advice to him is to hire people who are smarter than him. This has been my mantra since I’ve been in this business.
WashingtonExec: What is your opinion of today’s federal IT market? Some industry leaders have said that they see the industry’s ups and downs as part of a 20-year cycle, like other industries. What is your view?
Paul Lombardi: It is cyclical. We’re currently in a period of lowest price, technically acceptable (LPTA) buying practices, which also happened in the early 80s. I remember bidding on contracts and to be successful, I had to adjust people’s salaries and benefits so I could get to the point where we were the lowest price.
LPTA has resulted in government treating services as a commodity. Therefore, they won’t get the best value that our country needs and demands. This will reverse again. The people who have the mission to perform will eventually have more influence than the contracting officials. The mission executives ultimately will win out in that battle, but it will take some time.
WashingtonExec: Where are you seeing growth in the market? Do you see offensive cyber as a growing demand from government?
Paul Lombardi: Internal attacks are a big issue. If you follow the news, you know that the Office of Personnel Management was recently raided. This is being repeated in both the private and public sector all too often.
Cyber is a big-ticket item whether it is offensive or defensive. Most contractors are or want to be in cybersecurity, which makes the government’s job of selecting solutions-oriented companies to perform its duties even that much harder.
Also, big data. Cloud computing. Health care. Health information technology. Records management. All of these areas are growth sectors, and most contractors are either in or attempting to enter this space.
WashingtonExec: You are on NCI Inc.’s board of directors. What should we expect to see from the company in the future?
Paul Lombardi: If you look at the recent federal budget situations, industry hasn’t grown because the budgets haven’t grown. It’s a tough time for the government contracting industry.
For NCI, the key is organic growth and to put out competitive bids that ultimately can be successful. NCI’s management has worked to expand its core competencies to help the company grow organically, but it also will grow through mergers and acquisitions. NCI made an excellent acquisition within the past 12 months that will do a lot to help the company with new key capabilities in agile technology and application development.
NCI has great customers. It also has done a good job of retaining talent, particularly in light of having to operate in a challenging and very competitive environment.
I’m excited about their future.
WashingtonExec: What other projects/activities are you currently involved in?
Paul Lombardi: I’m 74 now, and I’ve been retired since 2003. I want to stay young of mind. The only way you can do that is to keep the “muscle” between your ears very active. So, I try to do that both personally and professionally.
I currently serve on several industry boards. I help my son with his business in an unofficial capacity. Sometimes, he listens. Sometimes, he doesn’t. That’s the beautiful part of a father/son relationship. I also serve on the board and executive committee of the NVTC. And, I remain very active with the Professional Services Council.
WashingtonExec: What is the best piece of advice or business book you have ever received?
Paul Lombardi: I’ve had four bosses throughout my career that served as my mentors. Cumulatively, they instilled in me that you have to work smart.
I go back to the statement earlier: You have to surround yourself with excellent human resource talent who are smarter than you. And, I was lucky enough to do that.
Keep in mind, if you start to have some success, people gravitate to organizations that are doing well. They want to work for a company that’s on the leading edge; that is doing great things for its customers. Lastly, you should always be thinking in terms of performance for the customers that you serve. You can never let them down.