TOP 100: How Leidos manages its BD feature

Business development can be a particular challenge for a company that is already the largest systems integrator in the federal market.

This job at Leidos goes to Debbie Opiekun, Chief Business Development Officer of Company No. 1 in our 2022 Washington Tech Top 100 with $9.6 billion in annual liabilities.

What follows is an edited transcript of my conversation with Opiekun. Our interview will also be part of an upcoming episode of our Project 38 podcast.

Washington Technology: When you look back on the past year, what stand out to you as big wins and what makes them important?

Guard: We’ve been very fortunate to have a number of big wins. The $2.5 billion NASA AEGIS contract. We won that in the spring (of 2021) and of course it was protested and we finally got permission to go ahead in February.

There was also an $11.5 billion Defense Enclave Services contract. This was protested and the GAO just allowed this. This is a great win because it goes so well with our big GSMO contract.

QTC’s Veterans Affairs Medical Disability Eligibility Exams were a win in our health group ($6.8 billion). It was a big re-competition, so we won the re-competition and then won a brand new job doing these exams internationally. It was a take-home business. (QTC is Leidos’ health screening business.)

Of course, there was NGEN, a $7.7 billion Navy IT infrastructure job.

These are great wins and show the diversity of the company. This is a huge health win, and these IT wins stem from our experience from the work we did with DISA for GSMO and NASA’s NEST contract, where we provide services for NASA end users.

WT: What do you think these wins say about what the customer is looking for and what’s driving opportunities in the market?

Guard: From what we see, the customer wants someone who can come in and understand the ‘how it is’ and then how to apply the innovation to take that to the next level. How through innovation you can increase efficiency, reduce costs and achieve their modernization goals.

With QTC (where the company provides clinical reviews as part of processing veteran health claims), we have a very streamlined process and it uses automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to move through the claims process.

It’s the ability to look at the technology we’ve developed and then apply it to the biggest challenges and show the customer how it will make them more efficient and effective.

WT: Your organic growth last year was 9%. For a company as large as Leidos, what does this mean for BD’s role?

Guard: First, I don’t believe in the shotgun approach where you shoot at anything out there and see what you kill.

We have a very thoughtful process where we look at opportunities where we believe we can offer something that sets us apart from our peers.

Over 20 percent of our employees are veterans, so they bring deep knowledge of systems and missions, and that allows us to take the technology we’re developing and apply it uniquely to solving this problem.

We don’t look at things that are low cost, technically acceptable. We are not looking for commodity jobs. We look at where the science, where the technology, where the mission capabilities and mission knowledge make us capable of giving the government the biggest bang for their buck.

WT: Have you ever had a situation where you are the incumbent but the customer wants to switch to LPTA? Do you ever move away?

Guard: This is probably one of our most difficult decisions without bidding

When we look at an opportunity, we ask, is it aligned with our growth strategy? Is it a high value job? Is it a difficult challenge? Can we provide a unique solution to resolve it? Can we make money doing it?

If the customer just wants to move to LPTA, we’ll have those discussions with them and say “If that’s the direction you want to go, we understand, but we don’t play there.”

We want to make sure we always provide the highest possible value.

WT: When heading into a large order like Enclave or NGEN, how far ahead do you work?

Guard: Our process is to start at least two years in advance, especially for takeout, because it takes time to learn and you have to have a lot of customer meetings to understand where the customer wants to go. Then you have to figure out, “Well, we thought it looked good, but does it align with our strategy.”

It takes time to qualify an opportunity.

WT: Can you talk a little more about the qualification process?

Guard: I have to be a little careful here, but does qualifying mean what the customer wants? Who is the customer? Who makes the decision? Anyone up the chain?

Of course who makes the decision. This is understanding the scope of work. Sometimes it’s stated and then it’s really something else.

You have to look at the competition. Who are the best teammates? What is the schedule?

You take all of that into consideration, and once you have that information, you decide that we’re either going to pursue it or not.

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