Business Development: Breaking Out Of The Box

Oct 11, 2012
  |  by Andrew Hamilton

Alex Heidt manages a large group of employees and aids in growing business for Harris. He spots trends in the industry and predicts the future needs of clients, who are mostly federal government agencies focused on the military and defense. Heidt has also worked on technology issues as a vice president at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and a senior manager at space and rocket systems developer Orbital Sciences Corp. He has focused on the technology sector since his stint as a technician in the U.S. Marine Corps, which he joined the day after the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. Two hundred and twenty Marines were killed that day, including a close friend of Heidt’s. 
You manage 62 people. How do you keep such a large group of employees motivated to do their best?
I try to help them understand how they play a role in the direction of the company. Most people want to be part of something bigger than they are, and if you can get them on-board with some strategic direction and get them excited, a self-perpetuating motivation effect takes over. I also think it’s paramount to have a creative organization with people who can collaborate across different areas within the business. That’s where the best ideas come from.
Within such a large company, how do you foster that type of collaboration across departments and groups?
You have to be deliberate and create venues to do that. I hold town hall meetings, get larger groups together, explain where the company is going and make it interactive. I also like to get people out of the office. Titles go by the way side and you just get creative people together to come up with a win strategy. I’ve seen situations where somebody in finance or contracts had a great idea on how to market our capabilities. You can’t keep people in neat little boxes anymore. However, you also ultimately have to have accountability and responsibility. Once a decision has been made and you’re set in a direction, somebody has to be accountable for it. Group think is good for creativity, but when it’s time to execute, somebody has to own it, and you’ll have a much better product as a result.
Part of your job is anticipating what your clients are going to need in the future. Isn’t that hard to do?
When the government is your primary customer, it’s a double-edged sword. The laws are such that it’s very hard for someone in government to wake up one morning and say, ‘I want to put in a data center.’ They have to get the budget approved, go to Congress, and all of that takes time. I track where the money is going to be spent, not tomorrow but three years down the road, and I ask, ‘Do I have the skills in-house to meet those needs? If not, how am I going to get there?’ Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start to build a strategic road map to win opportunities.
How has higher education served you in your career?
I wanted to get my business degree as soon as possible to get into management. Strayer University offered a plan that allowed me to do that. As soon as I had that degree, I moved into a master’s program and then earned a JD [both from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.] Irely on my education on the job all the time. It gave me the tools necessary to be able to think differently and to apply it to all the different positions that I’ve had. Without that foundation, I wouldn’t be where I am today.


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