Navigating the Digital Continuum: My First 60 Days at Highlight

We live in an era of rapid technological change that requires organizations to continually adapt and transform. Many leaders in the public and private sectors often find themselves having to address these technological changes. But how do we do it? Is it through a tech strategy or digital transformation? What should it look like? How do we ensure we don’t erode our culture or identity? And most importantly, Why? I want to share my first 60 days as Highlight’s technical executive leading Technology and Innovation. Of course, Highlight made the first tough decision for me by establishing our T&I office. As Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” [1]

These first 60 days were an extremely enlightening blur. During my time in the military, I learned early on that the first action when leading a new office or team is to talk to as many stakeholders as possible and sit back and observe for at least two months. Why? Because I don’t want to come in as “that guy” who makes changes without having a basic understanding of the current organizational dynamics related to the people, policies, processes, partners, or platforms.

A few years ago, when attending the Foundation for Chief Data Officers Course sponsored by MIT, I learned that as an executive, there are three factors essential for success:

  • (1) the authority to execute,
  • (2) a budget, and
  • (3) resources (people).

Without having direct control over these three critical pieces, your success will be directly tied to whoever has control over one or more of the factors.

Planning for the Future

So, where did I begin? I drafted a plan paired with a clear authority to execute. We needed a Technical Strategy (the plan) and a charter (authority). Why is having these key documents important? I think Gen (Ret) Gordon R. Sullivan put it best in his book and the title, Hope is not a Method [2]. Essentially, effective planning fosters accountability by guiding our actions; as we can’t hope for the best, we need to plan for it. It enables us to strategically allocate our resources (including people, time, finances, information, and equipment) to maximize their impact on our objectives. Planning is the foundation for us to assess and evaluate our accomplishments with precision. Our strategy for the Highlight Technology and Innovation office outlines four pillars: Domain & Capability Management, Innovation, Vendor Partnerships, and Thought Leadership.

In addition to a plan, the other key element to adapting and transforming to new technology is understanding how it will effect the organization. When we talk about technology strategies and change, we’re talking about digital transformation. When executing the “Digital Transformation” process, we often consider the people, policies, processes, partners, and platforms. Why do we have people first? From my observations, for a few reasons:

  • Most technology is designed to help people,
  • People are often the largest enablers in the change process and
  • Technologies almost always have an impact on how people work.

So, digital transformation isn’t just a process. It’s also a mindset.

“Don’t be fooled by some of the digital transformation buzz out there, digital transformation is a business discipline or company philosophy, not a project.” — Katherine Kostereva [3]

From Digital Transformation to Digital Continuum

Personally, as a mindset, the phrase “digital transformation” doesn’t cut it as it implies there’s a beginning, middle, and end, as though the transformation is somehow complete. This is a pitfall! Maybe a more appropriate terminology for people and organizations is to call it a Digital Continuum. After all, change is constant.

As a young airman, I recall a speech by Gen. John P. Jumper, now retired, where he emphasized the need to “be comfortable being uncomfortable” when it comes to change. This year, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed this sentiment. Their message has stayed with me: We must embrace the rapid changes and discomfort that come with adopting new technologies. Morphing technology necessitates adaptability. Here at Highlight our Digital Continuum begins with understanding where our own people are in their openness to change, to new technologies, and developing a Digital Literacy training plan.

When considering digital transformation, it’s essential to recognize the close relationship between a well-defined technology strategy and the continuous nature of this process. A clear strategy acts as the guiding compass in our digital journey. It ensures that our transformation efforts remain not only purposeful but also adaptable in the face of constant change. In the dynamic landscape of technology, having a strategy isn’t a one-time event; it’s an ongoing commitment to aligning our initiatives with organizational goals and the evolving needs of our customers. It’s the thread that weaves the past, present, and future of digital transformation into a coherent narrative.

As I reflect on my initial 60 days at Highlight Technologies and our path toward a “Digital Continuum,” I’m reminded of the ever-present need for strategic clarity in this fast-paced digital age. In a world where change is the only constant, a well-crafted technology strategy is our North Star, helping us navigate the uncharted territories of digital transformation. It’s not just a plan; it’s our commitment to staying relevant, adaptable, and, above all, true to our vision. So, I encourage you to embrace the concept of a “Digital Continuum” and remain open to change, for therein lies the promise of progress and innovation.


Fortune Media and Great Place To Work Name Highlight to 2023 Best Workplaces for Women List, Ranking No. 2

Fairfax, VA — Great Place To Work® and Fortune magazine have selected Highlight as one of the 2023 Fortune Best Workplaces for Women™ List. This is Highlight’s 2nd  time being named to this prestigious list, this year coming in at No. 2. Earning a spot means that Highlight is one of the best companies to work for in the country.

To determine the Best Workplaces for Women, Great Place To Work analyzed the survey responses of over 600,000 women who work for Great Place To Work Certified™ companies that were eligible for the list. To be considered, a company must employ at least 50 women, and have at least 20% of non-executive managers who are women and at least one executive who’s a woman.

“Being included as a Best Place to Work for Women is a testament to Highlight’s efforts at workplace flexibility and inclusion,” said Chairperson and Founder Rebecca Andino. “I am proud of the company that we built, and take pride that putting our people first continues to be a top priority for the new leadership team.”

The Best Workplaces for Women list is highly competitive. Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determines its lists using its proprietary For All™ Methodology to evaluate and certify thousands of organizations in America’s largest ongoing annual workforce study, with over 1.3 million survey responses received this year, representing the experiences of more than 7.5 million employees.

Survey responses reflect a comprehensive picture of the workplace experience. Honorees were selected based on their ability to offer positive outcomes for women regardless of job role, race, sexual orientation, work status, or other demographic identifier. Great Place To Work analyzed the gender balance of each workplace compared with Bureau of Labor Statistics industry data. Companies are also assessed on how representation changes as women rise from front-line positions to the board of directors.

“In a challenging market, companies can’t afford to leave workers on the sidelines,” says Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place To Work. “When women feel empowered to be full participants in the workplace, productivity and profit grows, insulating the organization from external pressure. We celebrate these companies who are committed to closing the gender gap, developing the next generation of women leaders to solve the complex problems we all face.”

“Fortune congratulates the companies that made the cut for the Best Workplaces for Women,” says Fortune Editor-in-Chief Alyson Shontell. “Based on survey responses of so many women nationwide, these companies clearly demonstrate they have created workplaces where women are consistently valued, supported, and encouraged to do their best work.”

Highlight’s Previous Great Place to Work Achievements

In 2023, Highlight was recognized as

#35 on 2023 PEOPLE®’s Companies that Care List

#28 on 2023 Best Medium Workplaces List

#15 on Best Workplaces for Technology

#25 in Best Workplaces for Millennials™ 2023 (Small And Medium)

In 2022, Highlight was recognized as

#2 in Fortune Best Workplaces for Women™ 2022 (Small And Medium)

#10 in Fortune Best Workplaces in Technology™ 2022 (Small And Medium)

#16 in Fortune Best Medium Workplaces™ 2022

#33 in Best Workplaces for Millennials™ 2022 (Small And Medium)

About Highlight: 

Highlight Technologies (“Highlight”) is an award-winning, employee-owned, ISO® 9001, ISO® 20000, ISO® 27001, ISO® 44001, ISO® 56000 certified, CMMI-DEV Level 3, and CMMI-SVC Level 3 appraised federal contractor that provides Digital Government and Mission Support services across the federal government. Highlight delivers federal loan services, grants management, strategic communications, international development, conference and event support, program management, administrative support, agile systems development, DevSecOps, data management and analytics, cloud services, web services and automation services to National Security and Intelligence (DHS, DoD, State, DOJ, IC), Health IT (USAID, NIH, HRSA), and Citizen Services (FCC, EPA, GSA, HHS, SBA, Education) agencies. For more information, visit

About the Best Workplaces for Women
Great Place To Work selected the 2023 Best Workplaces for Women List by analyzing the survey responses of over 600,000 employees who work for Great Place To Work Certified companies that also meet the criteria for this list. To be eligible, a company must employ at least 50 women, have least 20% of non-executive managers who are women, and have at least one executive who’s a woman. Company rankings are derived from 60 employee experience questions within the Great Place To Work Trust Index™ Survey. Read the full methodology.

To get on this list next year, start here.

About Great Place To Work
As the global authority on workplace culture, Great Place To Work brings 30 years of groundbreaking research and data to help every place become a great place to work for all. Its proprietary platform and For All™ Model helps companies evaluate the experience of every employee, with exemplary workplaces becoming Great Place To Work Certified or receiving recognition on a coveted Best Workplaces™ List.

Follow Great Place To Work on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram or visit and sign up for the newsletter to learn more.

About Fortune
The Fortune mission is to change the world by making business better. We achieve that by providing trusted information, telling great stories, and building world-class communities. We measure performance by rigorous benchmarks. And we hold companies accountable. Our goal is to make Fortune a force for good through its second century and beyond. For more information, visit

Episode #36: Employee Ownership in Government Contracting 

Announcement: Broadcasting from Fairfax, Virginia, you are now listening to the HighlightCast.

Aarish Gokaldas: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the latest edition of Highlight Cast. My name is Aarish Gokaldas. I am the Chief Executive Officer of Highlight Technologies, and I am thrilled to be speaking with you in what is National Employee Ownership Month. Today, we are excited to welcome our guest, Mr. Matt Pierce, who is the Senior Vice President at Venn Strategies. Venn Strategies has a long history of supporting employee owned companies, both commercial companies, as well as those that support the federal government. I look forward to asking Matt questions about the work that Venn Strategies has done to further the employee owned community, but also to talk about the work that Highlight Technologies is doing in partnership with Venn Strategies to advance employee ownership within the federal contract space. Matt, thanks for joining us today. I’m really excited to have you here. Absolutely. 

Matt Pearce: Absolutely. Thanks for having me as part of your podcast.

Aarish Gokaldas: Of course. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you came to be at Ben’s strategies. And what best strategies is focused on. 

Matt Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. So, um, I’m a senior vice president at, uh, vent strategies. We’re a multidisciplinary, um, government affairs firm here in Washington, DC. Uh, been with the firm for about, uh, 10 years. And, uh, then is really known for its work in the coalition space, specifically dealing with, uh, uh, employee ownership issues. And so. In my time at Venn, I’ve worked on a large coalition of S corporation ESOPs called ESCA, the Employee Owned S Corporations of America, which is the voice in DC for, uh, S corporation ESOPs to preserve, protect, and promote the, uh, great, uh, employee ownership structure that has been for around for about 25 years. Um, and then in the last, uh, five years, there’s this group that has started, uh, uh, focusing on employee ownership in the, uh, defense and government contracting space. Um, really great work. Um, Before I joined Venn, um, I worked on the Hill for Congressman Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, um, bounced back and forth doing, uh, political campaigns for a while, but, uh, really I found a home here at Venn and working, uh, with great employee owned companies.

Aarish Gokaldas: That’s great. And, and, uh, going to the latter organization that Venn Strategies helped form, uh, the ESOP Council Roundtable, can you tell us a little bit more about that and what their mission is? 

Matt Pearce: Yeah, so, um, the Employee Owned Contractors Roundtable, ECR, is a, uh, group of employee owned businesses that operate in, uh, the government contracting space, specifically in the, uh, defense space. Um, you know, so, employee ownership has been around since the 1970s. It’s really a creation of Congress, uh, dating back to Russell Long, the Senator from Louisiana, and more recently in the late 90s with the passage of the S Corporate ESOP, uh, law. And so, Congress has really incentivized ESOPs. Through tax provisions through tax policy as the employee ownership has grown, um, you know, to be more prevalent and more successful. Several of our kind of leading ESCA members. And, and companies in a space that, Hey, more can be done to leverage the employee ownership model, uh, for small business and government procurement. And so we launched, uh, ECR in 2018 as a way to identify, uh, policy opportunities, um, to incentivize federal government to work longer with employee owned businesses and really to look for ways that Congress can pass policy options that lead to more ESOP creation. And so. ECR really is the voice for employee owned defense and, you know, government contractors here in D. C. working to leverage the ESOP model as not only a growth bridge for small business growth from small to midsize, but also as a way to show that, you know, these employee owned businesses really do a great job for the federal government, whether it’s DOD, Commerce, DOE, and, you know, find ways that the federal government can partner for a longer time with employee owned businesses. Um, ECR is about 23 members right now. Very active on the Hill, very active in the regulatory agency space. Um, and you know, our main mission again is to educate members about the employee ownership in the government contracting arena and look for policies that are not only. Produce a better atmosphere for the government to work with 100 percent and, you know, employee owned businesses, but also as a way to leverage, um, policies to incentivize non ESOP to look at the employee ownership transition.

Aarish Gokaldas: And, and to that point, and for everyone’s awareness, highlight converted in 2021 to a partial ESOP. And in 2022, we became. 100 percent employee owned on just this year, 2023. We, um, with great enthusiasm joined, uh, ECR as a general member. So we’re, we’re, we’re proud to be a member of the organization as well. And the work that they’re doing, uh, that we’re doing, uh, with Congress and in support of our clients. So, and we love 

Matt Pearce: to have highlight as a member and we’re great to, uh, it’s great to have you on board. 

Aarish Gokaldas: So talking about the federal contracting space, uh, Matt, what’s the current footprint of employee owned companies that support ECR? exclusively the federal customer. 

Matt Pearce: Yeah. So ECR partnered with the National Centers for Employee Ownership, uh, last year to kind of look at this question, right? How many employee owned businesses are federal contractors overall? You know, we kind of believe that there’s about, uh, 7, 000 ESOPs nationally in all different sectors, about 3, 400, 3, 500 S corporation ESOPs, um, uh, nationally. But, uh, to answer your question, you know, in the contracting space, Um, there’s about kind of 1300 employee owned businesses. Partial 100 percent different type of ESOP plans and in the DOD space, there’s, you know, 200 plus. So it is a small universe, but it is one that we think that we can grow through, uh, you know, advocating for policy, uh, options on the hill that allow, you know, 100 percent employee owned businesses to continue to work with the federal government, but also look at ways for more companies that are looking for a transition method to become 100 percent ESOP. Because of, um, some of these, uh, advantages in the government contracting space. So small universe, but we’re hopeful that it’s growing. Absolutely. 

Aarish Gokaldas: And, and certainly Congress is starting to appreciate the value that federally focused ESOP spring. Uh, one of the examples is within the 2021 NDAA that was passed and signed by President Biden. Uh, can, can you first give, give an overview of what is the NDAA for those who might be unfamiliar? 

Matt Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. So the NDA stands for the National Defense Authorization Act. It is an annual authorization bill that Congress passes every year to authorize, you know, DOD programs, but the NDA also carries like a small business provision and carries other provisions as well. It is one of the few legislative and policy vehicles that has. Congress, um, every year, I think dating back to, it’s been 60 plus years now. And it’s usually something that’s passed along bipartisan lines, very strong support on the Republican side, on the Democratic side. And, you know, from our perspective, it’s a great way to engage with members of Congress, because this. comes out every single year and Congress has a great track record of passing it. And so, um, you know, we have focused on the NDA over the last, uh, you know, several years to, uh, advance pro ESOP, uh, contracting policies. Um, and this year as part, and well, let me back up to your question about the FY 21 NDA. ECR led the effort to establish a pilot program that allows 100 percent employee owned companies to be eligible for a sole source follow on provision with the Department of Defense. We think that this is a really good provision, not only because, one, the 100 percent employee owned company has to have the contract, has to hold the contract, Also has to perform it well. And so, you know, those are two really good criteria that are pretty good standard bearers for our company’s doing the work that meets DOD needs. In addition, this is not a, uh, automatic sole source authority. This is something that individual contracting officers can decide to use. Um, and so when the program was established in 21, it was really up to the department of defense to decide after they want, whether they wanted to move forward with it or not because of ECRs, um, engagement in large part, because our ECR member companies, we work closely with the department of defense and the office of defense pricing and contracting in 2022 to get this program, uh, up and running. And in November of last year, uh, DPC authorized the use of nine. Slots for what we call the section 874 authority is the sole source authority as of you know earlier this year April or May All nine slots were filled So it shows that DPC is very interested in finding ways to implement this program to allow their contracting officers and their customers to part partner with 100 percent ESOPs, but there’s also a desire from the DPC to ESOP, DOD and contractors community to do this type of work and to take advantage of this great policy that Congress passed.

Aarish Gokaldas: And clearly, uh, it’s been a success in that all nine were filled and we’ve talked about this, Matt. It’s one of the few areas ESOP, uh, advocacy that has strong bipartisan support, right? It’s one of the few issues. Absolutely. There’s consensus on both sides of the aisle that it is valuable. Uh, a to the government and be more importantly to the employees within the ESOP companies. Um, so what are some of the proposed changes to the 2023 NDA, uh, that are going to further strengthen, uh, the pilot that, that ECR has worked so hard and successfully passed? 

Matt Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. And I think your point about employee ownership being a bipartisan cause is spot on. I mean, this is something that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Um, you know, largely Congress has looked to incentivize ESOPs in the tax space, like I mentioned, but those type of, you know, tax incentives have really gotten the support of Democrats and Republicans. Folks like Bernie Sanders. So you have very conservative Republicans and very liberal, you know, independents. And so, um, with ECR’s effort, we’ve brought it into the contracting space and, you know, Spending last year to really work and educate the Department of Defense on what a 100 percent employee owned company or what a privately held ESOP is and what it isn’t was really a test and, you know, a pretty big achievement on our end. Um, but, you know, Congress and DPC and DOD, I think, understand now what type of companies are eligible for the Section 874 authority. We worked this year to, um, engage congressional allies on the Hill, primarily the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, where the NDA originates, to, um, improve this program. I think, you know, the last two years have shown a good test case for this, that, that, that this works, there’s an appetite for it. And, you know, the goal of this year were, was to kind of build out the program to make it better, but also to create a stronger incentive for more companies to look at the ESOP transition. And so, um, you know, happy to report that, uh, ECR led the effort to get improvement language in both the House Armed Services NDA package and the Senate. arm services NDA package, which is now kind of being discussed, they’re about ready to be discussed at the conference level. And the main provisions that we are looking or the main improvement provisions that we’re, that we asked for is to allow 100 percent employee owned companies to use this authority one time per contract instead of one time per company, which we understand why Congress, you know, Did that in the first version because you know again, this is a pilot This is a little bit of a testing proving ground But the change from a one time per company limit to one time per contract limit Will really enable 100 employee owned companies to do that great work for the federal government And for the dod a longer period of time and again, it’s really up to the individual contracting officer to decide. Hey I want to move forward with this. Luckily, we have found that, uh, contracting officers and the DOD as a whole love working with a hundred percent ESOPs. Um, no shock there to you because of the great work that you all do. So that’s really the number one provision. We also, um, um, have, uh, identical language in the house and Senate versions to expand, expand, expand. Um, so that gives, you know, some more certainty for companies that are looking at the ESOP transaction because of this. Um, and so, um, that’s a, that’s a good move. Also, you know, the house and Senate versions encourage, uh, DOD to, um, promulgate rules and regulations and expand the usage of this from, you know, the nine times. Um, there’s also language on the Senate side that looks at. Increasing the subcontracting flexibility for, uh, under section 874 authority to allow, you know, 100 percent employee owned companies to subcontract out more than, you know, 50 percent to other 100 percent ESOPs and provide some additional flexibility, especially in the services side and the parts side, um, to bring in more small businesses, uh, as partners under a section 874, uh, contract. The main difference between the Senate and the House versions is this fix on the GSA, uh, uh, provision, what we call a GSA fix. As we went through implementation, We heard back from the General Services Administration, GSA, that these contracts were only for, uh, or Section 874 authority could only be used for GSA, or DOD contracts, not DOD contracts that are offered through GSA vehicles. And as GSA is a big supplier, um, of the Department of Defense and a lot of, you know, GSA vehicles are used for DOD contracts, um, we found that to be, um, hindering, you know, the success of this program. And so we worked with our house allies to get a provision in, um, the, uh, Section 874 improvements to allow 100%, uh, to you, to allow Section 874 authority to be used for GSA contracts. So, Taking all of this, um, together, we’re now working as part of, you know, the conference committee to Senate and House each passed their own version and now it goes to conference. And so we’re really, uh, working with our allies and really hopeful that a melding of the, uh, good work that the House, um, armed services did and the Senate armed services committee did. Yeah. together a good final package that hopefully will pass by the end of the year. 

Aarish Gokaldas: Yeah. Fingers crossed. Right. And, and, uh, we were obviously cautiously optimistic for that as well. Uh, and you mentioned that, you know, uh, program leads and, and contracting officers love working with, with ESOPs. And that’s, that’s been our experience, certainly as highlights interaction with our contracting officers and cores. What impact and value, uh, do ESOPs bring to the market and to the federal government? 

Matt Pearce: I think it’s really, it all comes down to culture, right? Like the employee ownership model creates a great company culture. And what that company culture does is when a hundred percent or employee owned business works with, um, you know, uh, a federal latency, that federal agency knows that that a hundred percent employee owned company is going to deliver results because the employee owners have a vested interest in the success of their company. And so that. that, you know, employee ownership creates really produces a great partner for the federal agency. And then additionally, you know, um, The innovative nature of employee owned businesses because of the tax structure, but also because of again, the culture allows 100 percent ESOPs to really innovate, right? To, you know, reinvest in themselves, reinvest in their R and D capabilities. Um, reinvest. cutting edge technology that they can then supply to the Department of Defense. And we’ve seen this throughout, you know, uh, ECR history and working with, uh, different ECR members that employee owned companies really are at the cutting edge of innovation. And I think that’s a, um, understated value of the federal government working with a hundred percent ESOPs. Now on the employee ownership side, the great thing about this is that this builds more, more innovation. Employee owners, right? This creates more employee owners across the spectrum, not only in federal contracting, but, you know, more broadly. Um, and so we think that this is a win win not only for the federal government, but for the creation of more employee owned businesses. And, you know, it’s just great to hear stories from, you know, ECR member companies that talk to contracting officers and they say, Hey, we, we want to work with you, um, and we want to make it easy. Um, because we know your results, we know what you can do and really, you know, need this to happen now or this contract to be delivered now and we’re in safe hands if, uh, we contract out to 100 percent ESOP. So it’s really a win win both on the government side and the individual company side, but it’s really that culture of employee ownership that permeates everything and allows 100 percent ESOP companies to, uh, really deliver fast, effective, um, you know, results for, uh, the men and women in the services.

Aarish Gokaldas: Highlight is, is fairly new to employee ownership, right? Less than two years. But I’ve been attending conferences and meeting with other employee owned companies. Obviously I attended the ESCA policy planning conference. I attended a separate conference last week and I was talking to another a hundred percent employee owned company who had been employee owned for 20 years. And I was talking to their controller and she said that they work in the industrial sector. So all hands on. Labor. Yep. And she said that just this past year, she had retired six employees who retired as millionaires. And we’re not talking white collar sitting in front of a computer. We’re talking about truckers, warehouse employees, roofers. that are that are retiring as millionaires and have a retirement to rely on. Right. And so to your point about building out that, that working class and middle class layer of wealth. Absolutely. And on top of that, it drives, it drives retention. So you have employees back to the federal side who are staying in their spot longer. who are building up that legacy knowledge, who understand how to do the job, there’s lower turnover. So you’re not having vacancies and risk to mission impact. There’s higher productivity, higher knowledge. So you’re not having to worry about retraining individuals. Absolutely. So all of that, in addition to the technology piece, I think is extremely valuable. So let’s look at the converse. What are some of the things that we’re The biggest obstacles to increasing employee ownership in the federal sector. 

Matt Pearce: Yeah. So I think, um, you know, first and foremost, I think it’s just education and awareness, right? You know, um, the, the employee ownership model, you know, can be done in, in, in different ways. And when we talk in ECR about employee ownership, we’re really talking about privately held. Holy employee owned businesses. And so that is a company that’s likely an S corporation that has a hundred percent of their stock within the ESOP trust and is considered, you know, wholly owned or a hundred percent employee owned. And so the, the initial work that ECR did, because again, this had been more of a tax policy discussion for 20, 25 years was to educate members of Congress about. You know, what type of ESOP are we talking about? Right? We’re not talking about a company that maybe has like a employee stock, um, you know, ownership plan or employee stock purchase plan. We’re talking about a company where employee ownership is. Um, is there, you know, M O is, is, is who they are. And so that education and awareness on the member side was really critical for the first couple of years of this. And then I think in the business community, more and more business leaders are knowing about, um, employee ownership. There are more and more resources, you know, not only ESCA and ECR, but you have the national center for employee ownership. You have state centers now. And so getting that, you know, material out there to business owners as they look at, Hey, what is my transition plan? Like, you know, do I want to sell to a larger company? Do I want to sell, um, uh, to private equity? How am I getting out of this business? Do I want to keep it in the family? And the great thing about the employee ownership model is that these companies need to be headquartered in the United States. They need to be, uh, based in the United States, but by moving to the, you know, Employee ownership model. You really are keeping that institutional knowledge in your company, because as you said, retention is a great, great benefit of employee ownership. And the more that you can retain your employees, the better. And to your earlier question, why ESOPs are great partners with the federal government is that institutional knowledge, right? You know, that you’re going to have people that have worked on a contract for a long, long time, um, maintain. Stay at that company. You’re not going to have all this moving. And so, you know, really it was education and awareness, you know, defining what type of ESOPs we were talking about. And now we’ve kind of, you know, pivoted to, all right, how can we build out, you know, a data set that speaks to what we all know about, um, employee owned companies being great, uh, partners with the federal government, the benefits of the federal government working with employee owned businesses, um, the performance of a hundred percent ESOPs, especially in the DOD space. And so we’re working with some academics. to look at these questions and see if we can compare performance scores, if we can, uh, compare other data to really have a quantitative set of data that we can say, Hey, this points to what we all know, what we all talk about, but here it is in kind of black and white and, you know, uh, uh, numbers. And I think that will continue to build out this, uh, uh, message of, you know, needing more employee owned businesses in the government contracting space, needing more policy incentives to allow a hundred percent ESOPs to work with the federal government. And it will, uh, continue to, uh, create awareness for non ESOPs as, Hey, this is could be a viable path for my business. Um, as I look to maybe transition out or, you know, um, Look to grow and, you know, want to continue to, uh, have a really successful, um, wholly owned business. 

Aarish Gokaldas: Yeah. And I can say for highlights perspective, we’re very eager to see the results of those study. Uh, and what, what it’ll show. Yeah. Um, certainly from, from our perspective, you know, we we’ve seen strong Uh, positive feedback from our clients with respect to performance and delivery. Uh, so, so we hope that that that’s what we’ll probably see across the board. Um, and then just bringing it out back to the federal sector. What are some of the key trends that you’re seeing in employee ownership in the federal sector? And where do you see the future of employee ownership in federal government going?

Matt Pearce: I think it’s all positive. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity there for employee owned businesses in the federal sector, especially as you look at small businesses that want to grow, right. You know, everybody talks about the consolidation of the defense industrial base, right? You have this kind of upside down curve where, you know, the larger you get, the harder it is to kind of understand what is your pathway forward, right. Especially as you move away from a set aside work. And so, you know, we approach, you know, the consolidation issue, um, from the, You know, not shockingly from the employee ownership, uh, mindset of saying, Hey, there’s this great structure here that you can leverage as a growth mechanism for small businesses that want to get into that kind of mid tier space or other than small space and provide them the opportunity to continue to grow, but not have to, you know, be completely unprotected, um, in status and, you know, then I have to compete against the large contractors. Right. And, you know, employee ownership can offer a solution for that because, you know, we have seen it again and again, that there’s a shrinking, uh, industrial base that not only is in the defense space, but in the federal contracting space. And that not only hurts our national security, it hurts, you know, competitiveness, it hurts the price of, you know, the, these contracts. And so. Growing that will make our country much more competitive and businesses much more competitive. And so, you know, things like section eight 74 provide that pathway for non ESOPs to become a hundred percent ESOP and continue to do the work. And for current a hundred percent ESOPs, it really provides a, uh, growth mechanism, right? Um, so you’re not having to, you know, move from, um, uh, a contract that you were, uh, protected status to now you can’t even compete for it. We did great work. We can continue to do great work and we can continue to look for the future. So this is all for looking growth, um, uh, policy ideas that we do think, um, the ESOP model and the ESOP conversation deserves to play a really good role in.

Aarish Gokaldas: Yeah. And Matt, that was so incredibly well said. I couldn’t agree more. Um, and, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t have said it better, right? I mean, in terms of providing an alternative, certainly getting acquired by a strategic firm is always an option once you grow out of that small business path. Uh, but in terms of providing a greater competitive landscape. For the federal government only serves them well in that regard from the capabilities perspective, from the cost perspective, absolutely. And offering that to those, those midsize companies and offering them those incentives, right. We’ll be a section eight 74 of the NDA for them to continue to. Support the customer, uh, in those environments. 

Matt Pearce: Yeah, Absolutely. And the thing that we hate to see is like when a hundred percent employee owned business gets too large to, you know, compete for a contract that they’ve really done well and maybe have done it for a long, long time, their employee owners are kind of put in a choice, right? Like, all right, do we move to a new company that has this contract? We’re experts in this, but I would lose. The benefit of the ESOP, right? And nobody wants to see that the employee owned company doesn’t want to see that those employee owners don’t want to see that. And so providing more of a, uh, you know, growth mechanism, a runway for a hundred percent employee owned companies to continue to do that work benefits everybody. And you don’t put these employee owners in a really tough position of having to decide, all right, my ESOP, or do I continue to work on this contract at a non ESOP? And so, you know, We, you know, not the employee ownership model doesn’t work for every single company. Um, you know, it won’t make a, you know, bad company good. It does make a good company great, but there’s a lot of fundamental, um, you know, elements that, you know, companies. Have to have as they decide the employee ownership, uh, uh, their employee ownership pathway. And we think that the more policy incentives, um, for business owners to say, Hey, this could be an idea for me, or this could be something that makes sense for my company benefits everybody. And, you know, you don’t have those situations where, uh, employee owners are really put in, uh, uh, this. tough, uh, between a rock.

Aarish Gokaldas: And Matt you were very diplomatic in not naming any examples of the shrinking industrial base, defense industrial base. So I will, uh, equally take the high road and not, and not listen to the examples either. So if, if people want to learn more about ECR, where can they find you? 

Matt Pearce: Yeah. So, um, you can go to ecrcoalition. com. It is ECR’s, uh, website. a lot of good information on there, um, including my contact information. If you want to reach out to me directly, it’s Matt. Pierce at ECR coalition. com. Um, or you can. Talk to you and you know how to get in touch with me. But you know, this is a coalition of companies that really I think has a pathway forward to engaging members of Congress and continuing to push for proactive, you know good SE SOP or employee owned policies, but also I think you know, and maybe you can speak to this is the benefit of bringing, you know CEOs and you know, C suite executives of you know, 100 percent ESOP, DOD, ESOP, uh, you know, federal contract companies and the mindshare, uh, the mindshare, you know, the, the conversations that are happening in this group, um, not only from a business to business standpoint, but just from a strategic, like, Hey, how, how can I make my company better? How can I operate the ESOP? How can I, um, you know, communicate the value of the ESOP to my employee owners? I think that is a underrated value of joining coalitions like this because we work with, you know, leaders in these businesses and. Getting them all in one room, having that, uh, information shared, that, uh, relationship building, I think is critical.

Aarish Gokaldas: Absolutely. And I’ll, I’ll co sign that Matt. Uh, obviously I’m, I’m less than three months into my role as CEO and highlight, uh, and, and already I’ve had, uh, several, uh, substantive conversations with CEOs, with, um, CHROs, uh, about. Uh, the tactics and techniques that they use to get their employees excited about ESOP, how they’re using it as a retention tool, as a recruiting tool, uh, things that we’re doing today within Highlight and things that we are definitely looking to add in. Uh, so it’s been, it’s been a great, um, uh, perspective to be able to collaborate with those individuals. And if there are companies out there that are either already partial or full ESOP or looking to go ESOP, uh, how, how can they get involved with the coalition’s work? 

Matt Pearce: Yeah. So we’re a member based coalition. The easiest way is to go to the website, ECR coalition. com. Um, there’s a contact form. There’s my email on there is to simply reach out and, you know, everybody, you know, all ESOPs have a different journey, right? You know, you’re, you’re, you’re two years into it. Um, we have companies that are, you know, 20 years into it. And so that, that kind of. Information share of a company that’s already a mature ESOP that has been in this business for 20, 25 years has been an employee owned company. Um, being able to share, all right, this is what we did. Cause you know, you still have growth challenges. You have, um, you know, business challenges, but the employee ownership model, I think really, uh, uh, Provides a framework for this knowledge share. And so getting involved, um, through ECR coalition. com, we are a member based organization. There are two different levels. There’s a, uh, ECR executive, uh, council, which is our de facto board helps drive our agenda, helps drive our mission. And then general members that, you know, are, uh, wanting to, uh, help the effort are wanting to be part of it for one reason or another. Maybe you’re not in that in the point of the USAP journey to fully, fully commit. But like having a general membership really enables ECR to continue to expand our, uh, reach, um, uh, geographically. And what that does for us is to, uh, allow us to go into more member offices, um, on the Hill and say, Hey, there’s a great a hundred percent employee owned defense contractor in your district, um, that, you know, supports these policy asks, um, and members of Congress That resonates with them, right? Because those are voters, that’s an economic driver in their district. And, you know, first and foremost, they want to deliver for their constituents. And so, getting involved, um, you know, can check a lot of boxes. Whether you just want to learn more about, uh, uh, how other, you know, ESOP DoD contractors operate. If you want to, you know, get into the, uh, to advocate for, uh, specific policies, if you want to just, you know, kind of get Intel and, you know, hear what is happening in this space, there’s, uh, I think a lot of different, uh, uh, value ads for companies that want to get involved in this. And so going to ecr coalition. com, uh, Matt dot Pierce, P E A R C E, I have a little bit different spelling at, uh, ecr coalition. com is a great way to learn more about it. And I’ve even heard that at some of, you know, kind of the. You know, DoD industry type of meetings. There’s, you know, even folks, you know, on the defense side that are saying, Hey, do we know about section eight 74? Like this is a tool that our contracting officers can use. And so it’s great to see that knowledge here, but we’re always looking for more companies that are committed to this cause that want the ESOP model to continue to grow and to expand in the DoD space. Um, and more broadly in federal procurement as that’s probably our next step there, um, is to go to ecr coalition. com and, uh, uh, get in touch that way. 

Aarish Gokaldas: Yep. And I can vouch that it’s a worthy mission that benefits. The federal government benefits the members companies and benefits the employees. It’s a win, win, win. Uh, so Matt, thank you very much for taking the time to join us here today. Uh, really appreciate it. Very informative. Really appreciate it. 

Matt Pearce: Well, I appreciate you having me on. I appreciate the highlights, uh, involvement in, uh, ECR and, um, you know, a couple of years in on your ESOP journey, but you’re a great company and, uh, look forward to continuing to work with you. 

Aarish Gokaldas: Thanks a lot. Hey, happy National Employee Ownership Month. Absolutely. Go ESOPs. Thank you again to Matt Pierce for joining us to talk about Venn strategies as well as the employee owned contractor roundtable. And thank you for listening to HighlightCast. To keep up to date with highlights, news, and activities, uh, please follow us on LinkedIn and visit us at www. highlighttech. com and be sure to tune in to our next episode. Uh, thank you again and happy national employee ownership month. 

The views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the hosts and do not necessarily reflect highlight technologies and, or any agency of the U S government.

Highlight Named 2023 CARE Award Winner by Northern Virginia Family Service

Companies As Responsive Employers (CARE) Awards Honor 20+ DC, Maryland, and Virginia Businesses With Outstanding Community Impact, Family-Friendly Policies, and Employee Engagement

Fairfax, VA– Highlight today announced that it is the recipient of a 2023 CARE Award from Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS). Since 1992, NVFS has recognized exceptional companies proactively making the Washington, D.C. region a better place to work, live, and play through the CARE (Companies As Responsive Employers) Awards. Each of the 22 organizations honored this year has an outstanding culture and employee engagement strategies that create one of the best places to work in the D.C. area.

“For more than 30 years, the CARE Awards have honored the companies making a meaningful impact on our community and our region stronger through their supportive, inclusive, and fulfilling atmospheres,” Stephanie Berkowitz, President and CEO of Northern Virginia Family Service. “On behalf of Northern Virginia Family Service, I extend heartfelt congratulations to Highlight and thank you for your commitment to adapting to a new world of working through your outstanding employee culture, emphasis on employee wellbeing, deep community engagement practices, flexible work environment, and diversity, equity and inclusivity efforts.”

“Receiving this award reaffirms that Highlight’s people-first approach is not just a strategy – it’s a fundamental part of who we are. This only empowers our team to continually innovate and create an even better workplace for our employee-owners. I’m looking forward to many more years of making a positive impact at Highlight and in our community!” said Highlight Director of People and Culture Fiona Sityar.

CARE Awards will be formally presented at a special reception at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner/Innovation Gallery. For more details about the CARE Awards, including how to sponsor or attend the awards reception, visit

About Highlight 

Highlight Technologies (“Highlight”) is an award-winning, employee-owned, ISO® 9001, ISO® 20000, ISO® 27001, ISO® 44001, ISO® 56000 certified, CMMI-DEV Level 3, and CMMI-SVC Level 3 appraised federal contractor that provides Digital Government and Mission Support services across the federal government. Highlight delivers federal loan services, grants management, strategic communications, international development, conference and event support, program management, administrative support, agile systems development, DevSecOps, data management and analytics, cloud services, web services and automation services to National Security and Intelligence (DHS, DoD, State, DOJ, IC), Health IT (USAID, NIH, HRSA), and Citizen Services (FCC, EPA, GSA, HHS, SBA, Education) agencies. For more information, visit

Highlight, Teamed with Patriot, Awarded SBA IT Service Center 2.0 Contract

Fairfax, VA – Highlight, alongside our partner Patriot LLC (Patriot), has been awarded the IT Service Center (ITSC) 2.0 consolidation contract to support the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). The contract consists of a 12-month base period with four (4) option years, resulting in an estimated contract value of $49 million.

The SBA OCIO is responsible for delivering IT services and managing the day-to-day IT service desk operations, including the agency’s enterprise IT general support system and data centers, consisting of ≥10,000 end users, six (6) major operating centers and 70 regional offices throughout the United States territories, one major call center, and multiple cloud-based services environments. The consolidation creates an integrated help desk and NOC function to streamline the management of SBA’s critical infrastructure and support services while improving delivery to the end users. The increase in the number of end users within the agency requires support from an experienced managed services provider with expertise in implementing customer experience (CX) improvements while understanding the overarching mission of SBA to “help Americans start, grow, and build resilient businesses.”

In collaboration with our prime partner, Patriot, Highlight is committed to delivering round-the-clock Network Infrastructure Monitoring, Incident Management, and comprehensive Service Desk operations support. We take immense pride in our ongoing dedication to SBA’s crucial mission.

For over 5 years, Highlight was pivotal in supporting SBA’s operations under a BPA offering mission-critical administrative, legal, financial, risk management, technical, and program management support. Our unwavering commitment was especially evident during the critical COVID-19 surge response, where Highlight provided essential assistance. Our contributions were consistently recognized with multiple CPARS, consistently earning ‘exceptional’ ratings for both Quality and Management in all our CARES Act support endeavors.”

“Highlight is proud to support Patriot in providing critical information technology services to the SBA OCIO. We look forward to working alongside the Patriot team in ensuring the SBA and its users receive exceptional support,” said Lia Melakou, Vice President of Mission Solutions.

“Patriot is excited to be able to support the SBA in fulfilling its important mission. We look forward to working with our partner, Highlight Technologies, to exceed the SBA’s expectations in providing support to their users and environments.”, said Anthony Russo, CEO of Patriot.

About Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 to support small business owners and entrepreneurs. The SBA is the only cabinet-level federal agency fully dedicated to small businesses. It provides counseling, capital, and contracting expertise as the nation’s only go-to resource and voice for small businesses.

About Highlight

Highlight Technologies (“Highlight”) is an award-winning, employee-owned, ISO® 9001, ISO® 20000, ISO® 27001, ISO® 44001, ISO® 56000 certified, CMMI-DEV Level 3, and CMMI-SVC Level 3 appraised federal contractor. Highlight delivers federal loan services, grants management, strategic communications, international development, conference and event support, program management, administrative support, agile systems development, DevSecOps, data management and analytics, cloud services, web services and automation services to National Security and Intelligence (DHS, DoD, State, DOJ, IC), Health IT (USAID, NIH, HRSA), and Citizen Services (FCC, EPA, GSA, HHS, SBA, Education) agencies. For more information, visit

About Patriot

Patriot LLC is a “verified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) and a Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Minority/Disadvantaged Business Entity (MBE/DBE), established in 2005 and headquartered in Columbia, MD. Patriot is a privately held government and commercial services contractor carrying a Top Secret (TS) facility clearance and currently supports federal customers in the Civilian and DOD agencies in (13) thirteen states. Patriot is a CMMI-level company and ISO 9001- Quality Management Systems, ISO/ICE 27001- Information Security Management Systems, and ISO/ICE 27017- Cloud Computing Security. For more information, visit