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  • Writer's pictureMark Johnson

Lessons From Grant Thornton’s Managing Director Carlos Otal

This blog was copied from OnFrontiers who recently interviewed Catapult Senior Partner Carlos Otal, the former National Managing Partner of Grant Thornton’s Public Sector. Carlos shared valuable experiences and lessons from his remarkable 30-year career. His journey, rooted in leadership and innovation, revealed a winning strategy for growing a government contracting practice that other executives in the space may be able to replicate. But first, some background.

The Evolution of Grant Thornton's Public Sector

During Otal's tenure at Grant Thornton, the company’s public sector branch grew from 225 employees to more than 1,200. This growth and the ultimate acquisition of Grant Thornton’s public sector business by Guidehouse, a major government consulting firm, is in part a testament to Otal's leadership and to the importance he placed on breaking down silos and harnessing Grant Thornton’s human capital in innovative ways. 

During the interview (watch on YouTube), Otal highlighted how expertise, culture, and vision can shape an organization's trajectory. Four themes emerged from this conversation.

1. Overcoming Organizational Silos

One of the most significant challenges Otal addressed in the interview was breaking down silos within Grant Thornton.

“We were going after a large financial statement audit and one of the key pieces that we could not solve for was somebody who had nuclear energy experience. You could not meet this key personnel requirement without it,” Otal shared. “And we ended up having to drop the bid because we couldn't meet the requirement. We could not find that needle in a haystack and we couldn’t submit a compliant proposal.”

Silos hinder the free flow of information and knowledge, limiting the potential for comprehensive expertise utilization. By fostering a culture of collaboration and inclusion, Otal integrated various departments within Grant Thornton’s public sector, improving the flow of knowledge and expertise across the firm. This unification both improved internal operations and enhanced client service and project success.

2. Investing in Training and Integration of former Government Executives

Contractors frequently hire former public sector executives to whom they provide the chance to continue serving the mission from the private sector. In Otal’s view, many of these transitions don’t reach their potential.

Contractors underestimate the cultural and professional adaptation required to translate expertise built up in a system with completely different incentives. While former executives may be leveraged as internal SMEs on projects and proposals, they are often unable to launch full-fledged second careers in the new setting.      

“One of the things that helped us on our growth path was our commitment to former government executives,” Otal said. “We found it difficult to retain them for the long haul and integrate them into what we were doing. We created a specific program to help them transition and demonstrate how they could bring their expertise to multiple parts of our business. The ability to understand the culture of a (government) agency and how things get done within it brings a tremendous amount of value as does their specific domain expertise, whether you are a CIO or a CFO.”

3. Mobilizing Talent and Resources within a Single Pool

Effective resource mobilization is not just about having the right talent; it's about deploying it strategically. This involves an in-depth understanding of project requirements, aligning them with the right expertise, and ensuring seamless collaboration between different teams and departments. Many organizations struggle to quickly mobilize and reconfigure teams around specific skills and knowledge because their best talent is locked up in divisional and regional fiefdoms.

"Making sure that people get a broad array of experiences oftentimes in siloed organizations doesn't happen,” Otal said. “We organized our consultants within a single pool so that people could move more easily across the organization."

4. Tapping Front-Line Expertise to Develop & Execute Strategy

As Grant Thornton grew, it needed to evolve the way it developed and executed strategies which often involved a significant transformation objective. Strategy is a C-level pursuit for many organizations. Yet Otal was able to achieve strong results by tapping the expertise of the front-line teams and elevating their ideas and solutions to the broader organization. 

"We surveyed our frontline people and asked them what they thought our priorities should be," Otal said. "Because they are out front executing, they're the arms and legs of the business. And that paid tremendous dividends, both in them feeling heard and buying into the strategy. Those strategies and investments yielded the right changes that spurred our growth."

Otal's vision of leadership and innovation—one that values collaboration, breaks down silos, mobilizes talent and resources, and uses a bottom-up approach to continuous improvement —serves as the secret formula for growing your government contracting business.

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