By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“We have a global perspective across multiple sectors with thousands of customers,” John McNeely says about Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, Inc., the company he helped found 18 years ago in the two-story garage alongside James Goldston and Will Henderson.
He goes on to describe the company as “a world-class organization based in Knoxville,” adding that it is probably better known across the country and world than here where it’s headquartered.
Sword & Shield has built its business by focusing on two sectors – commercial and federal government. In the case of the latter, it has notched some impressive wins, two within days of each other earlier this year.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the company was part of a $20 billion, 10-year contract under the federal agency’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP). It is a fixed-price, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract that any federal agency can use to procure IT equipment and technology.
Technically, the latest award is referred to as SEWP V. In Sword & Shield’s case, it is the third such SEWP award that the company has received from NASA since 2003.
Days later, the National Institutes of Health announced a $20 billion award to the company under the agency’s Chief Information Officer-Commodity and Solutions program. The contract calls for Sword & Shield to provide IT products and services for health and biomedical research, scientific, administrative, operational, managerial, and information management requirements, again for any federal agency.
“We have two 10-year contracts, each with a $20 billion cap, to sell into the federal marketplace,” McNeely explained.
These contracts and the commercial business are part of the factors that have allowed Sword & Shield to double in size since 2009 with the commercial side alone doubling since 2012.
“We will continue to grow at a good, manageable rate,” McNeely says, noting that he does not want to sacrifice certain important values. Chief among them is to be an employer that provides a good work-life balance.
As the company grows, it uses three words to communicate and classify the essentials of good security practices. They are protect, detect and respond. The first word addresses preventative controls, systems, and policies to avoid/thwart security incidents. Detect means enterprises have implemented policies, processes, and systems to identity and early detect security incidents. Finally, respond says a business has well thought out, planned responses on how to react and handle security incidents when they do occur.
“We also like to say that compliance does not equal security.” McNeely explains, adding that “being secure does not mean you are invulnerable.”
As we do with successful entrepreneurs, we asked Sword & Shield’s President and Chief Executive Officer to share some lessons learned. He offered three – people, adaptability and diversification.
- “People really are your most important asset,” McNeely says. “How you treat people will determine the environment you create in a company.”
- “Maintain adaptability,” he says, noting the challenges outlined in the second article in the series that Sword & Shield overcame. “Do not seek perfection, but seek clarity so you can pivot or move.”
- “You need to do what you do well, but you also need to look for ways to diversify and connect back to your core. Black Swan events do happen.”