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Interview with DSFederal CEO Sophia Parker: "Focus on what you can do"

By Paul Harris, WashingtonExec,

Meet Sophia Parker, the CEO of DSFederal. Parker has international experience in the U.S., Taiwan, Russia and Pakistan. She considers her communication skills and emphasis on understanding customer’s needs as key success factors in her career.

“Don’t focus on what others can do; focus on what you can do”

Parker recently spoke to WashingtonExec about her vision for DSFederal in this uncertain financial time. Parker also discussed the topics of mobility, her personal life, and professional reputation. Parker remains an optimist about the upcoming business years.

WashingtonExec: What does the term “mobility” mean to you in a modern-day sense?

Sophia Parker: Most people think of mobility as someone working on a laptop from a Starbucks, but mobility also a way of thinking. Both concepts are important, and both of them are extremely relevant to DSFederal. This is because I believe mobility is the future of business, not just in terms of software like mobile apps, but also as an ethos for every organization. Mobility will be something that will be completely taken for granted as part of almost everything in the next few years. It will relate to how clients and organizations interact with each other, how employees work, how companies compete for business, where employees are based, etc.

For most organizations, the future marketplace is going to be free of any meaningful physical form. It will be as easy to run secure software from a beach in Brazil as it would be from an office in Manhattan. That means that executives will need to respond as quickly and dynamically to things happening 10,000 miles away as they would have to respond to something happening next door.

At DSFederal, our corporate structure is set up to allow a lot of flexibility for our staff, so that they are free to work on and develop creative pet projects. We have two different teams who have developed mobile apps on their own, and I think that’s a perfect example of a synergy between mobile thinking and mobile products. We really take pride in keeping our overhead low so that we can make quick decisions and offer the best services without unnecessary overhead.

WashingtonExec: What’s the best advice you can give to struggling companies that are pressured to do more with less?

Sophia Parker: My advice is to focus on what you do have, instead of what you don’t have. Don’t focus on what others can do; focus on what you can do. I remember reading about William Kamkwamba, a teenage boy from Malawi who wanted to provide electricity to his village so that he could read at night. William didn’t have money, he didn’t have connections, and he didn’t have access to a power grid. But William didn’t focus on what he didn’t have, instead he focused on what he did have, and what William had was wind. He built his own windmills out of junk metal and powered his entire village and changed the lives of thousands of people because he didn’t focus on doing more with less, he focused on doing more with what he had. So do more with less, that’s what running a small business is all about.

We started at the height of the recession, but when you do the right thing, the rest will come in any time, good or bad. You might respond to an RFP or to the needs of a client with what they want, but what they want might only be half of what they need. DSFederal not only grew, but thrived on the formula and belief that you can do more for less; we do not know how to do more with less (smiles.) So many organizations mark up their prices and look for a quick buck. We believe that if you bring in the right technology, with bright people, who you treat them with trust and respect that your projects will pay dividends. Our first project was a small website for HHS, but we turned that little project into 12 other HHS projects in two years because we did more with less. That is the secret to thriving in this economy.

WashingtonExec: What do you think will be the biggest challenge DSFederal will face within the next five years?

Sophia Parker: Many businesses really struggle when they grow too big to compete with smaller companies and begin to compete with the big ones. We see a lot of large corporations competing with small companies, like DSFederal is now, because the marketplace is so tough. Our biggest challenge will come when the size of our competition grows, and we will have to be ready for the big time. Because we are small, our employees and customers receive instant response and services by calling me or my son. Within hours, we will take care of the issues for them. Our challenge will be how not to lose focus on providing the personal service to our employees and customers that they are used to. How to think big and still have the small family coziness will be a challenge, but it’s a good challenge to have.

WashingtonExec: How do you keep a trusted partnership with your clients? What is the key to maintaining a good reputation?

Sophia Parker: Our reputation is everything. We have won all of our work through referrals, and that’s because we do one thing better than anyone, and that thing is honoring our commitments. If we promise our subcontractors that they will receive a certain percentage of the work, then that is what they will receive. If we promise our customers we will deliver a great product by a specific date, we do it at all costs to us. There is no gimmick when it comes to a good reputation; it comes down to your personal integrity as an executive. We keep it simple by keeping our word. Our customers know that we are a young company; we do not know everything; but if we make a mistake, we clean it up and we restore the trust.

WashingtonExec: What do you love most about your job?

Sophia Parker: Being an executive really is all about taking care of people. My employees are my family. Our DSFederal family has a simple rule: No drama. . My employees know the difference between working for someone and working with someone, and they know all of us at DSFederal would do anything to help our customers and their colleagues. Sometimes that means all of us are in the office at 9pm on a Saturday, working on a mobile app that we want to be perfect, other times we are texting each other at five in the morning to go over a proposal. DSFederal’s best asset is its people, and the best part of my job is working with them every single day. I love watching how DSFederal evolves and has a life of its own. The only way I know how to show my respect to DSFederal is by working hard and by providing stability and prosperity to our customers and employees.

WashingtonExec: Who are your heroes?

Sophia Parker: I have a lot of heroes, far too many to name. I have such admiration for visionary CEOs like Steve Jobs or Howard Schultz. I just finished reading Steve Jobs’s biography, and have read all of Howard Schultz’s books. What I think all my heroes share is a sense of passion for their work, and a real sense of purpose in their lives. I believe that if you look at the people who have been very successful in the long term, you will find that they discovered the art within their own work. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be Michael Jordan discovering the art of the jump shot, Steve Jobs discovering the art of the personal computer, or Howard Schultz and the art of that perfect cup of coffee. What makes someone a hero is that they see their purpose in life as to perfect their art as best they can. Those are the people that I really admire. They are not about making money; they are all about making a difference.

DSFederal itself is my hero as well; it is young and full of passion; it wants to do its best and keep raising the bar to measure success. It has humble beginnings but has the confidence of its employees, their families and customers that it will absolutely work hard and work smart. It is not afraid of trying and learning from mistakes, gets right back up if it stumbles, and it embraces diversity and creativity. It has my utmost respect. I am humbled to have the opportunity to grow with it.

About DSFederal: DSFederal is a woman-owned consulting firm that specializes in research support, enterprise IT solutions, business process improvement, and training for Federal government agencies. The company has received awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration (Top Woman-Owned Small Business), the Washington Business Journal (Top Small Technology Company), and SmartCEO (Cornerstone Award.) Clients include the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, Defense, and Agriculture, among others. Projects range from mobile app development to training solutions to customization of software and processes in support of multi-billion dollar efforts for HHS agencies.


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