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THE WAY I WORK

The Way I Work: Lani Hay of Lanmark Technology

Government contractor Lani Hay spends her days meeting with politicians, partying with celebrities, and advising the military.
Queen of the Hill Lani Hay chats up members of Congress on Capitol Hill -- and at her dinner parties.
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Lani Hay's life sounds as if it were straight out of an action movie. She has served as an intelligence officer and aviator in the Navy; she holds a top-secret security clearance; she has worked at the Pentagon; and she hosts dinner parties attended by senators and movie stars. Hay, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, is also the 35-year-old CEO of Lanmark Technology, a Vienna, Virginia-based government contractor that provides technological and administrative support to more than a dozen federal agencies. Hay's company, which she founded in 2003, now employs 200 people, the majority of whom are dispersed among various government agencies. Annual revenue is more than $15 million. Hay spends her days meeting with politicians, advising the military, and looking for ways to make the government run more efficiently.

The first time I went to Capitol Hill, I was overwhelmed. I was also baffled. I wondered, What exactly does the chair of Appropriations do? And do I call his chief of staff for a meeting, or is there a scheduler? I made a lot of calls and asked a lot of questions. Now, I usually have at least three meetings a week on Capitol Hill with Congress members or with key people from the current administration. My clients are government agencies such as the Department of State and the U.S. Army.

On most days, I wake up at 4 a.m. and have to force myself to go back to sleep until 6 a.m. I take my Chihuahua and two teacup poodles for a walk. And then I go for a run along the Potomac River. That's my daily meditation.

I have a protein shake for breakfast and work for a while at home, responding to e-mails, before heading to the office. My commute is about 20 minutes, and I use that time to make phone calls. Sometimes, I'll do a conference call, or I'll return calls from the day before. I also call my executive assistant, Vicente Garcia, to get the day's rundown. I just hired him in July. As I've gotten busier, things like making courtesy calls or sending flowers on someone's birthday have fallen by the wayside. I need someone to help me stay on top of that so that people know I appreciate them.

I usually schedule meetings for the morning. Part of my job is making sure that members of Congress understand the importance of supporting my clients' work. For instance, my company helps the Defense Intelligence Agency with its biometrics-enabled intelligence project. This project updates our terrorist watch list to include the use of retina scans and fingerprints in addition to names. Right now, the U.S. is tracking the bad guys this way only in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DIA wants to expand it to cover the entire globe.

I still use a Filofax to keep track of my appointments. Everyone makes fun of me. I'm panicked that they might someday discontinue the line. I also write things on my hand, Sarah Palin-style. I wear a sports watch and set the alarm to beep five minutes before my next meeting.

After I meet anyone, I ask for a business card. On the back, I'll jot down the date, the event, and how this person is relevant to me. For instance, the person might work for a company that makes a technology I'm interested in. Or maybe this person is fun, and I want to invite him or her to my next party. Later, my assistant scans the cards, types up the notes, and puts everything in a database.

I host dinners and parties at my house at least once a month. I'm known for them. I like getting a mix of people. I'll invite media types, business leaders, society people, politicians, and my clients. I have a PR person who helps get celebrities to my parties. It's really high-powered networking in a fun, chic environment. These events are important for my clients. It gives them a chance to mingle with representatives before they're testifying before Congress to request money for their programs.

Over the summer, I hosted a dinner for a nonprofit called Children Uniting Nations. Randy and Jermaine Jackson performed. I did another event this summer with the Creative Coalition, a lobbying arm for arts advocacy, for The Dry Land, a film about posttraumatic stress disorder and the effect it has on a serviceman's family back home. General Casey, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, co-hosted a dinner with me that was attended by the film's stars, America Ferrera and Wilmer Valderrama, as well as some of Michelle Obama's staff members.

Washington is known as an old-boys' club. But that doesn't bother me. So was the Naval Academy. It's all I've ever known. I cannot stand touchy-feely stuff.

I studied at the Naval Academy because I wanted to fly for the Blue Angels. I was medically disqualified before graduation, because I'm allergic to bee stings. So I started working on intelligence equipment. After the Gulf War, I was based in Bahrain, working on technology that allowed aircraft to transmit live video to ground units. After serving in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment of the Army and working as a technology consultant for the Army's Black Hawks, I started Lanmark to help the Department of Defense become more efficient with its technology. Now, we also do administrative work and other services for other agencies as well.

My goal was to make this a $15 million business in five years. I knocked on doors and forced people to take meetings with me. I signed on to help Secretary Clinton with her presidential run and met an amazing network of people. I've since established relationships that help me get the meetings I need. Some of the programs that I work on -- like the biometrics-enabled intelligence -- are very near and dear to certain representatives, so they want to meet with me. But I'll try any approach -- I've even tapped connections from high school. I've used, "I went to high school with your sister! You've got to take this meeting."

I've also had to do a lot of cold calling. I never even knew certain government agencies existed before I started this business. Part of my work is to learn each agency's mission and how it supports the government and the American people. Once I understand that, I can contact them to offer my services. For instance, I called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and asked to speak with its business office about contracting opportunities. I got someone on the phone who said the agency was thinking about updating its website. I wound up landing that job.

I try to do meet and greets with key people whenever possible. In July, I was invited to meet with Vice President Biden and some other small-business owners who had benefited from the stimulus package. As part of the stimulus, we got a contract with the State Department to run the Foreign Services Institute, which is where all of our foreign services officers go for cultural briefings, language classes, and antiterrorism training.

To maintain cash flow, we have to constantly have new contracts in the pipeline. I usually have a dozen going at a time. Each one typically lasts five years, with the possibility of renewal. I oversee the requests for proposal that come in. We usually submit one proposal a month. My strategy is to be the most technically proficient company with the lowest prices.

When I'm at my desk, I drink Diet Coke all day long. I also have two chocolate chip cookies every day. The deli in our building makes them -- I used to have two dozen delivered daily, but my staff begged me to scale down. Now we get a dozen and put them in the conference room. You have to walk through the whole office to get there, so we call it the Walk of Shame. I just declare it as I go: "I'm going for my walk now!"

For lunch, I usually eat turkey chili at my desk. I do this so that when I do have the opportunity to enjoy a great meal paired with nice wine, I won't have to spend an extra hour on the treadmill. On Fridays, I do what I call Lunches with the CEO. I usually take three or four employees out to lunch to see how things are going. I pick a spot that's near the agency they are working for -- say, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Department of Defense. I ask about morale and how their superiors are treating them.

The types of people I hire need a very specific skill set. For example, we just hired an anthropologist who specializes in Afghani tribal clans. After we win a contract, people often seek us out. We also have a full-time recruiter.

A lot of what my company does requires top-secret clearance. For instance, I'm going to Afghanistan soon for the Army for something we do called weapons technical intelligence. After a roadside bomb, the military typically sends the pieces back to the U.S. for forensics. We're now training the Army to do the forensics out in the field. It not only saves time, but the data is fresh. I've had top-secret clearance ever since I was in the Navy, and my executive staff members have to have a certain level of clearance in order to work for me. We typically try to hire people who already have the right clearance for the job, because the clearance process can take a really long time.

I've got project managers for each of the projects we run -- there are more than a dozen now. I get a monthly report on how each is going. Some projects require more of my attention, such as our contract to help develop strategies for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization. JIEDDO was essentially formed as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to that, we didn't have a particular focus on these cheap weapons of strategic influence that our enemies are using. The IEDs cause both physical and psychological damage, because you don't know when the next one is going to pop up.

I'm probably most proud of winning that JIEDDO contract. It's hard to compete with the marketing budget of companies like Lockheed Martin. Last year, we beat a lot of big contractors for the JIEDDO project. Originally, we just wanted to be one of the large companies' subcontractors, but no one wanted us on their teams. So I said, "Let's bid on our own." We worked really hard to win the contract. Later, we found out that the next-lowest bid was about 30 percent higher than ours. That is proof that -- unlike these big bureaucratic companies -- a small business really can deliver better work at significant savings to the taxpayers. That's always my pitch.

On Wednesdays, I always go over the company numbers with the two part-time CFOs I hired. We spend the entire day looking at all our lines of credit, cash flow, and accounts receivable and payable. When it comes to our finances, one of the CFOs is more theoretical, and the other is more practical. I'm the ultimate decision maker. I think it's good to get two radically different perspectives.

I try to end my workday by 8 p.m. so I can meet my trainer for an evening workout. Even if I'm at a business meeting or a cocktail party, I'm pretty strict about leaving by that hour. There have been times when I've let my work totally consume my life, which does not make me a good CEO. No one's going to make my life a priority except for me.

I grab a salad at the deli before I go or make a protein shake at the gym and drink it on the way home. It's supposed to be an hourlong workout, but it usually takes an hour and a half, because I'm a difficult client. It's the one part of my day where I get to whine and bitch and try to get out of things. My trainer makes me do a lot of planks and pushups.

I usually get home around 10 p.m. I might respond to a few e-mails or do some administrative stuff -- nothing too intense. I read to unwind. I like business books and biographies. Right now, I'm reading Nemesis, about Aristotle and Jackie Onassis.

I'm really fascinated by politics. I got my M.B.A., and now I'm thinking of going back to school again to study public policy. The University of Virginia has a political school called the Sorensen Institute that offers an in-depth study of Virginia politics. I am interested in serving our country once again by either running for office or serving our government in another capacity. I've been very blessed, and I want to give back.

IMAGE: Chris Crisman
Last updated: Nov 1, 2010




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