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SPA CEO Rich Sawchak Outlines Company Growth Strategy & Leadership Priorities

Systems Planning and Analysis underwent an executive leadership change in November 2022 when Bill Vantine retired and Rich Sawchak took the helm as the company’s new CEO. Sawchak refocused the organization’s strategy and structure and is leading SPA to accelerated growth through a combination of organic and acquisition-based expansion with a focus on deepening existing customer partnerships and engaging with new customers.

Sawchak sat down with Executive Mosaic to discuss his business strategy and staying true to the company’s roots as SPA embarks on its next phase of growth. Read below for Rich Sawchak’s full Executive Spotlight interview.

Rich, you took the helm of SPA in November 2022. What has the transition been like for you, and what’s your vision for the future of the company under your leadership?

The transition was very smooth because I was on SPA’s board of directors for a year before taking over as CEO, so I was able to learn more about the company and get more involved with the business from that position. 

In addition, my predecessor, Bill Vantine, remained on our board, and Bill and I spent about six weeks working through our transition plan and making sure that the handoff went very well. I was able to get to know the team of executives whom I now support, and I was immediately able to work on the strategy for the business going forward. 

SPA has been in business for 51 years now, so we have a long heritage of high quality, impactful decision support to a key set of federal defense, intelligence and homeland security clients on a global basis. We not only work within the U.S. federal government, we also work internationally with other allied nations and partners to the U.S. to help support some of their most critical mission sets. 

As we’ve continued to hone our strategy, we centered on a mission to continue to work more deeply with these customers we’ve worked with for decades, engage with additional customers across the federal landscape and offer the full set of SPA capabilities we’ve acquired and developed over time to all of our customers to accelerate the growth of the business. We are committed to keeping our focus on our people, quality and security, which we’ve always been known for as an employer of choice and as a trusted partner to the federal government.

Tell me about SPA’s culture. What aspects of the company do you think are contributing most to its success while helping to attract and retain top-level talent?

First, we have a diverse and extremely skilled workforce of over 1,600 employees globally. Within the employee base, approximately 40 percent of our employees are veterans, bringing their military experience and commitment to service to our culture. And, approximately 50 percent of our employees have advanced degrees, so we have a very strong depth of experience and education inside the business, which translates into employees who are knowledgeable of the mission sets we support within federal defense, intelligence and homeland security.

A lot of what allows us to attract and retain the best and brightest is our company mission, which our employees are passionate about. Every employee makes a difference and impacts important decisions that our customers make every day. We also have strong compensation and benefits, training and development opportunities, and our Career Tracks program provides a path for every employee to achieve their personal and professional goals. We encourage people to move around the business to gain the skills and experiences for continuous advancement in the company. Our people-first strategy has resulted in one of our proudest achievements of being selected as a Washington Post Top Workplace for ten consecutive years, making us one of very few companies that have achieved this milestone.

Most of all though, SPA’s culture is very deeply rooted in supporting the national security of our country and of the partner nations we work with. This dedication to national security causes our people to be ultra-focused on the quality of the solutions which they provide. We want to ensure that our customers can execute at the highest levels of excellence. With our unwavering focus on the mission, we have built a reputation for making our customers successful which leads to long-term relationships, repeat and new business, which then supports where we’re going as a business — growth, profitability and advancing the business are outputs of maintaining the appropriate focus and doing the right things. 

We’re extremely proud of the fact that our largest customer 51 years ago is still our largest customer today. We genuinely have a company and a culture dedicated to the long-term commitment to the mission. We engage with customers, we’re confident in our ability to provide significant value and those customers respond by continuing to partner with us. We have formed true partnerships with numerous customers, maintaining relationships that span five, 10, 20 and even 51 years. This is the reputation we strive to uphold, and it’s the reason we are a destination employer, have experienced growth and have achieved success over the long-term.

What can you tell me about SPA’s recent M&A efforts?

Our revenue structure and our employee base are the result of combining five businesses — SPA, the namesake business, and four other businesses, which have been merged into SPA to create who we are today. 

We have a strong foundation where those businesses have come together — one plus one did equal three — the business continues to grow organically and we continue to grow at market-leading rates as we move forward, even at our size. But now, as we think about M&A going forward, the M&A that we’ll do tomorrow will be to complement that organic growth, to allow us to grow even faster, and to be able to bring our skillsets, capabilities and technology to an even broader set of customers on a global basis.

What can you tell me about those areas that you might be interested in expanding into?

Our expansion is going to be primarily customer focused. At SPA, we believe we’re the best at what we do, so if customers we don’t have today have critical mission sets in areas we can help, then we believe that presents an opportunity.

So our areas of interest really align with those customers and their critical missions — deepening our footprint within the national security space domain, expanding within the intelligence community and broadening our exposure with other similarly minded agencies responsible for key strategic programs, such as homeland security. Additionally, international exposure within the areas which we are already participating remains top of mind.

We want to make sure we execute acquisitions that allow us to bring in like-minded, like-cultured organizations that will fit inside the SPA family and allow us to offer our combined set of SPA capabilities to that broader customer base on a global basis.

How do you set your priorities in an ever-changing market? What are the key factors you look for when making bidding and/or acquisition decisions?

We have spent time in the last eight months since I came in as CEO refreshing and refining our strategic plan. We now have a plan that takes us out through the next several years. We’re looking out from 2023 to 2027 right now. It’s a detailed strategy for which we have a highly defined structure for operating and growing the business with the individuals, both leadership and all employees, who will help us expand the business. So, when we think about how we are going to pursue organic growth through bids and proposals or through sole source competitions, or we think about M&A and what we want to add to the company, they have to pass the test of fitting into our strategic plan and aligning with our core values.

The vision, mission and values of the business, along with how we think about our full capability set and the technologies we bring to the table, are crucial factors. We also consider which customers we want to serve and how we might best support them. 

Historically, we have focused on operating within the high-end segments of our customers’ missions and being at the forefront of fast-moving, complex areas that require a very refined approach. We aim to extend our involvement in those areas for a broader customer base. Everything we do aligns with our strategic plan, serving as a gating process to ensure the right decisions regarding bidding opportunities, customer expansion and M&A. 

This approach keeps us consistent, provides clarity and ensures that everyone involved in the process understands our goals. We avoid pursuing divergent paths simultaneously and stay focused on our objectives and how to achieve them. By following this approach, we increase our probability of success as we aim to grow the business to well over $1.0 billion in revenues by the end of the current strategic plan.

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