Throughout grade school, Matthew Dean had always excelled effortlessly at mathematics. One can thus imagine his surprise and horror when his ninth grade math teacher recommended him for the second best math class instead of the best. High school had raised the bar somewhat in terms of demand and standards, and the boy’s diligence had not yet escalated along with it. Though the packs of football pencils given out as prizes for elementary school math competitions were a thing of the past, Matt found a brand new source of motivation—his own willpower, and his own destiny. Determined, he asked Mr. Burns what he could do to maintain his status in the highest class. “You must ace the second half of this school year,” the teacher said. Matt rose to the challenge and excelled with flying colors, and true to his word, Mr. Burns changed his recommendation.
“Nobody’s going to give you anything or carry you. You’ve got to get out there and do it yourself,” he confirms.
From this experience, Matt drew so much more than just a renewed drive for math, which carried him through to receive his master’s degree in engineering later on. Beyond the specific skill, the challenge cemented in him something he had always known in his soul but hadn’t actually firmed into a concrete guiding principle. “Nobody’s going to give you anything or carry you. You’ve got to get out there and do it yourself,” he confirms. Now the President of MARKON Inc, a government contracting and consulting company specializing in management solutions, Matt could not have gotten to where he is today without this revolutionizing conviction in personal agency.
MARKON is a spinoff of MKI Systems, which has since been purchased by L-3’s Command & Control Systems and Software (C2S2) Division. Matt assumed employment at MKI, a full-service professional organization focusing in the needs of the Marine Corps, in 2005 to help diversify the company into the intelligence community market. He started his division as a one-man show which grew to nine team members by 2007 when L-3 decided to purchase the enterprise. The new ownership wasn’t interested in an intelligence division, and Matt was not interested in the new ownership, so MARKON was born. When they first spun off, they specialized in providing consultant services to the intelligence community and were earning $1.2 million in revenues. Just a few short years later, they are now over forty employees strong and have amplified revenues to $7 million, fanning out across industries through the translatability of their knowledge base.
Being the professional services company that it is, MARKON essentially sells time and manpower to federal government organizations with the goal of improving functionality through the use of professional resources. The feature tool in this arsenal is project management, and MARKON’s ability to capture key processes and replicate them across subjects has played a vital role in its success. “Our business model has been to serve across government agencies because our method is translatable,” Matt explains. “The Army, Marine Corps, CIA, NSI, DIA, DNI, etcetera—the same types of skills are valuable across all these markets.”
MARKON’s real value lies not in its method, however, but in its matter. “The motivation of our people to succeed is what truly makes us unique,” Matt acknowledges. His team, which is monitored by seven managers, understands the intricacies and nuance of the business that allow them to play the game with unparalleled expertise and offer exceptional service while still balancing the business aspects of the work.
“My mom chose not to take her career into her own hands as a sacrifice for us kids,” he remarks. “If I don’t take full advantage of the opportunities in my life, I’m wasting what she gave me.”
The fascinating thing about Matt’s success is that it doesn’t stem from outside influence, but rather from a strong internal locus of control that marked his comportment even at an early age. Throughout his youth, he doesn’t remember being pushed or micromanaged when it came to academics or athletics. It was always expected that he and his three brothers should maintain good grades and attend college, but his parents, who divorced when he was ten, did not actively talk about the future. Matt’s mother had chosen to focus on her family and her children instead of pursuing her career, and this fact serves as a strong source of motivation in his life and work today. “My mom chose not to take her career into her own hands as a sacrifice for us kids,” he remarks. “If I don’t take full advantage of the opportunities in my life, I’m wasting what she gave me.”
Matt’s first handful of jobs were acquired throughout his high school years and revolved around construction, most notably for Cates Electric. The manual labor was intensive, with one particular instance standing out in his mind in which he was required to dig holes and insert grounding rods for a major electrical system. His first rod took him eight hours of backbreaking labor to install due to the ground’s impenetrable quality—a disheartening end product that only hinted at the effort required to obtain it. When he reported his single accomplishment to a coworker later that day, the man shrugged his shoulders knowingly. “Yes, you will work hard, but it never really amounts to anything,” the laborer told Matt. This remark emblazoned into his mind a strong resolve to do well in college, taking pains to ensure that he set himself up for a professional journey instead of a professional dead-end.
After starting college at Virginia Tech, Matt acquired a job in database building assistance at the World Bank’s Facilities Group. “I wore a shirt and tie to work for the first time,” he remembers. “It was my first chance to experience a real office job.” When he graduated in 1991 with an Industrial Engineering Degree, he found the job market somewhat barren. After a slew of interviews, he was finally offered a government position with the Department of the Navy as a program analyst in a cost analysis shop. In this capacity, he served to assist different Navy programs in mapping out current costs and predicting future expenses. This was essentially his entrance into the government acquisition and support world while also giving him first-hand training in the client service environment as he worked to develop relationships with different customers.
“Realistically, I knew I couldn’t change the system, so my only option was to take my career into my own hands.”
Though he would receive frequent accolades on his performance excellence, Matt was barred from promotion because he didn’t have seniority, and he was turned off by the lack of control over one’s own destiny that the atmosphere engendered. Not only had he reached the kind of dead end he had vowed to avoid, but his personal learning and evolution had come to a standstill. “I realized I wasn’t going to be gaining any additional skills after the first five years, and I didn’t like the resigned attitude that the system is the system,” he recalls. “Realistically, I knew I couldn’t change the system, so my only option was to take my career into my own hands.”
With that, he left to enter the Big Six management consulting world through employment at KPMG Consulting, which became BearingPoint in 2002. Throughout his nine years of employment there, Matt served as a management consultant in a wide variety of industries. The experience allowed him to see how many skills can be translated to different markets and environments, honing his insight for his later leadership with MARKON. BearingPoint’s decrescendo commenced in the early 2000’s with its transition from a partnership model to a public company model. Aware of the writing on the wall, Matt left for MKI Systems in 2005 before BearingPoint’s collapse and eventual merger with Deloitte Consulting.
Despite its impressive evolution and diversification, MARKON’s story is far from complete. “We’re still a new company and haven’t finished setting the foundation yet,” Matt says. True to his upbringing, which focused on a general striving for accomplishment rather than a specific micromanaged path toward success, he remarks, “I don’t feel like I have to hit a certain figure in revenue to accomplish a given goal. Rather, I just focus on making good, smart decisions.” Not only does this approach lead to reasoned judgments and solid returns, but it heightens team morale by instilling sound confidence within MARKON’s employees.
“I’m particularly excited because it gives opportunities to our employees to expand their skills, almost as if they’re running mini MARKONs themselves.”
Now, as the company’s past performance record and reference list grows, Matt and his team are working on building the company’s accounting system and overhead infrastructure as they begin to aim their targets on bigger fish. “The sky’s the limit,” Matt says lightheartedly. “I’m particularly excited because it gives opportunities to our employees to expand their skills, almost as if they’re running mini MARKONs themselves.” This mindset showcases the leadership philosophy that drives the enterprise—one of interconnected fates and genuine interest in the success of others. “It’s all about the team approach,” Matt explains. “I truly believe that the best way for me to be more successful is for my employees to enjoy this success as well.”
In advising others along this quest for collective success, Matt urges the kind of openness and awareness that has kept him in perpetual evolution over the years, both personally and professionally. His method echoes what seems to be a current trend in American society toward life-long personal skill strengthening and diversification. “I remember reading an article that explained how, for generations, people thought it was risky to change jobs,” Matt recalls. “But now, at least in our industry, staying in the same job allows your skills to get stale.” So, where his role was once in contracts, security, finance, business development, and recruiting, he has incrementally yet steadily shape-shifted into the strategist and broad-scale leader he serves as today.
It is safe to assume, then, that the future of Matt’s role as President of MARKON is far from set or static. In this light, he also emphasizes the crucial part that long-term planning and vision plays in success. “The big thing I’ve learned recently is that I’m in this for the long haul, and my decisions are reflecting this realization,” Matt remarks. “Investment in training, going out of our way to hire good people, getting into new markets even though they may not make money this year—all these are an automatic yes for me now. Maximizing my 2010 income would be at the expense of my 2015 income, so I’m not going to do that,” he explains.
Inherent in this recipe success, however, is a certain fascination and will of character. “Be a sponge. Soak up everything,” Matt insists. It’s how we keep life fresh. It’s how we stave off stagnation, keeping the self on a perpetual journey toward betterment. And it’s how we put our future back in our own hands, molding something truly remarkable and unique from the raw material of status quo.