Behind the career: Damon Walsh

Position: President, Synex­xus, a systems-engineering company based in Arlington.

Damon Walsh had dreams of being an artist while he was growing up. That is until he joined the Army reserves after the Iran hostage crisis and found his way into the Special Forces. When he retired after 25 years, he entered government contracting. He is now heading up a defense firm.

How did your military experience prepare you to be a leader in business?

My last job in the Army was commander of the Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, where we built the Abrams main battle tank. It’s an enormous manufacturing facility. I got a lot of insight into the necessary pieces that go into operating a manufacturing organization.

You helped grow one business from $10 million in revenue to more than $1 billion. What was your greatest contribution to that growth?

Helping the company understand how to work within the defense. Working within government acquisition services is unlike anything else, anywhere else. I considered myself a subject matter expert in the acquisitions business at that time, and I helped the company understand and navigate the acquisition bureaucracy.

What leadership lessons did you take away?

You have to focus on all of the infrastructure pieces concurrent with, if not ahead of, capturing the business. There were a lot of folks who were focused on getting the next contract and the next one. But sometimes you have to be willing to concentrate on what you have so that we’re doing well at what we already have in place. Then you can build a base upon which you can grow to the next level.

Anything else?

Pay attention to finances. You have to have the necessary systems in place.

Throughout your career, how have you grown most as a leader?

When I was a lieutenant in the Army, I had 40 people under me. Now I’m heading Synexxus with about 30. I’m certainly a lot calmer. The relationship between people is so prescribed and defined in the military. The minute you meet someone else in the military, it’s a marriage. In the business world, you date first and then you get married. And then that’s how your relationship gets defined. I’ve learned to have an appreciation for how that works in the world of commerce versus defense.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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