SRA's vice president, program manager makes work fun

If there is a secret to succeeding as a vendor in the federal marketplace it might be single-mindedness.

Jeffrey Westerhoff a vice president and program manager at SRA International Inc. illustrates how an intense focus on a project results in achievement. He spends 13 hours a day on the job running the company's contract with the National Institutes of Health's Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) program.

He calls his work his career and his hobby. "That's fun for me " Westerhoff said during an interview in his Fairfax Va. office.

Hanging near the door in a small frame is a quotation from former President Calvin Coolidge about the value of persistence that Westerhoff has kept with him since the beginning of his career in the Army 30 years ago. "My father gave it to me " he said. "He told me if I believed and lived by what was said there I would be successful."

According to data reported recently by NIH SRA has captured more task orders from CIO-SP than each of the remaining 19 vendors. As of late April when NIH last reported sales statistics from the program the company ranked second in revenues.

Westerhoff said his company's winning strategy which he helped shape while overseeing all of SRA's indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contracts is based on perseverance flexibility teamwork and close relationships with customers. Although procurement reform has spawned more options for government buyers Westerhoff believes the popularity of IDIQ contracts today has less to do with new acquisition rules than with agencies' business needs.

He said the marketplace "has generally changed from large procurements to IDIQ-type contracts" because information technology changes so rapidly. Meanwhile customers have sought to establish ongoing relationships with their suppliers.

Westerhoff thinks one reason agencies use CIO-SP is that the program allows them a lot of control over which company wins their task orders. NIH manages each purchase but the customers make the selection decisions and retain control of their funds.

In the IT integration business making a sale means convincing customers you know how to solve their business problems. That is a lesson Westerhoff said he learned during a three-year stint working for the Army inspector general while he was in the service.

He viewed his IG job as one that would help agencies improve their management practices. He applies that same mind-set today when he reads reports by the General Accounting Office - one way he gets ideas for business opportunities. "It's like a crossword puzzle " he said of those reports. "We try to figure out how we can solve these systemic problems."

Westerhoff became attracted to salesmanship as a Cub Scout when he pounded pavements in three New Jersey towns selling boxes of pansies to win a remote-controlled airplane. But after earning a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Tennessee he joined the military in 1966 instead of waiting to be drafted into the Vietnam War.

He decided to stay with the Army 20 years to qualify for a pension but he also found the work rewarding. He now sees similarities between what motivated him there and what inspires him as a salesman today.

"You always had your neck on the line " Westerhoff said of his military work. "If you didn't do the job properly you would lose your job. That's the way it is in sales too. If you don't produce you might not be around much longer."When he retired from the Army he chose to work in the IT industry because he had experience working on technology projects. "It was probably a quirk of fate " he said.

Westerhoff arrives at the office before dawn every day so he can spend several hours working alone before his phone starts ringing at 9 a.m. He said he tries to write two or three papers every week identifying sales opportunities and he prepares all his own briefings.

But he credits others - including his subcontractors and his customers - for his achievements. "I haven't done this " Westerhoff concludes. "I'm just a normal person that other people have helped make successful."

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