Editor’s note: A plea for calm amid the economic storm

June 17, 2012

For an industry many regard as bulky, slow-moving and a bit dull, the pace of change in government contracting these days is something to behold.

Nearly every week we read of more jobs being cut or management being changed, all this before any big budget cuts start to bite. After the busting of the dotcom bubble, the implosion of telecom and the mother of all collapses — the meltdown in housing — it seems no one wants to risk exposure to the next calamity.

The transformation has been so rapid that longtime Booz Allen Hamilton chairman and chief executive Ralph W. Shrader offered the equivalent of a plea for calm, urging folks attending last week’s Northern Virginia Technology Council “Titans” breakfast to hang in there with their leadership and to stick to their knitting.

That hasn’t been so easy of late.

It feels as if we have collectively grown more comfortable with revising our expectations every three months or so, factoring in the latest economic inputs. The price of energy is now in the rearview mirror. Look out for Greece ahead!

Change now feels like the status quo.

Shrader dubbed today’s operating environment as one of “pervasive uncertainty.”

He said he’s never seen so much confusion in all his 13 years as CEO.

There’s political uncertainty, brought on by the presidential contest. There’s economic uncertainty, with new threats daily to the global recovery. There’s even technological uncertainty, as people try to make bets on what new trend to ride.

Big data? Cloud computing? Going mobile?

Shrader argues the way to navigate all this turmoil is to hold dear what you do best, and what your customer values most. When the cuts come, it’ll be the work on the periphery that goes first, he said.

Which begs the question: What is worse, the disruption caused by a bubble burst or the one stirred by the fear of a pop?

beyersd@washpost.com

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community. Subscribe to our weekly newspaper and check out our daily reporting in The Washington Post and online at www.capbiz.biz. There, you can also sign up for our daily e-newsletter offering a roundup of news, tips and more.
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