Judy Bjornaas defies convention. She’s the CFO of a Fortune 1000 company, while at the same time women finance chiefs are found in fewer than 12 percent of firms. Her employer is ManTech, a respected government contractor doing the bulk of its work with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security and the Intelligence Community. It’s a company that attracts people with military backgrounds and deep knowledge of technologies such as cybersecurity, which is not one of her areas of expertise.
But Bjornaas is digital in her own right: a master of the ones and zeros essential to guiding her company through the realms of finance and government contracting.
She hadn’t initially planned to become a finance leader. She briefly flirted with going to work in programming while at her first employer, Electronic Data Systems. But her true calling, finance, came shortly after she received an offer from a smaller company.
Now, more than thirty years later, she’s an executive vice president and chief financial officer of a leading government contractor. This is a $1.6 billion enterprise focused on protecting national security and homeland security. One of its core missions is to safeguard customers’ data, which is subjected to attacks by botnets, ransomware, and malware twenty-four hours a day. ManTech’s winning approach to this dark challenge: a cyber strategy based on the premise that the best defense is knowledge of offense.
Although it may sound like a tough environment, government contracting is right at home for Bjornaas. “The government can be bureaucratic but fair,” she says. “They provide very good debriefs on contracts and transparent evaluations of bids. In the commercial world, such decisions are not always so objective.”
Still, to many, it may seem that government contracting would be volatile territory. But Bjornaas would argue against that, as the business has remained steady even through changes in administrations and fiscal debt ceilings. “We’ve been in business for fifty years,” says Bjornaas, who started at ManTech in 2010. “There will be ebbs and flows. But national security is what we do. Conflicts in the world and external threats are there regardless of who is in power.”
“We’ve been in business for fifty years. There will be ebbs and flows. But national security is what we do. Conflicts in the world and external threats are there regardless of who is in power.”
She adds that, even during the fiscal crises and government shutdowns in the past few years, the mission-critical nature of ManTech’s defense and homeland security work minimizes the impact on its business. In some instances, the company moved employees working on-site at government offices to alternative, nongovernment office spaces.
What does affect Bjornaas and her peers at public companies, though, are the Securities and Exchange Commission requirements—specifically Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the 2002 law that raises the accountability of public companies to their shareholders. “The law requires proof of certain actions, including documentation of oral discussion in meetings,” she says. “But as a government contractor, we’re used to those things.”
Bjornaas adds how Sarbanes-Oxley changes the equation for privately held companies that are going public and the reverse—companies going private—which she has some further perspective on.
In her previous position as a CFO at NCI Information Systems Inc., another government contractor, she helped usher that company through its initial public offering. She says that directors and analysts typically like to know that their CFO has worked on a previous IPO. At the time, Bjornaas did not have this experience. She did, however, have a mentor, CEO Charles Narang, who was quite supportive of giving her that opportunity. “Working with Charles, they were confident in my depth of understanding with the company,” Bjornaas says. “It gave me my first shot at an IPO.”
Public offerings aren’t one-day events, of course. They involve months of meetings with analysts, banks, investors, and communicating what the company’s prospects are on road shows and in other communications. At NCI, Bjornaas had a major role to play in establishing the IPO stock price, and she says investors often have and share their own matrices for how it should be priced. How the price is set also affects the shareholder mix, which she says matters.
The entire process speaks to the various person-to-person relationships that are milestones of success for financial leaders. Bjornaas says a CFO who is externally focused on Wall Street analysts, bankers, and auditors—in addition to possessing strategic acumen—is best qualified.
“Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to be good at the internal and external stuff,” she says. A constellation of people—from her CEO to shareholders to government clients—evidently agree.
Photo: Bryan Blanken/Freed Photography
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