Celebrating the ‘Year of Women in Manufacturing’
2022 is being hailed the ‘Year of Women in Manufacturing’ by NJMEP. This dedication to the incredible women business leaders that continue to drive the industry forward is taking many forms over the course of the year. One way in which these manufacturing leaders are being recognized is through a series of interviews between NJMEP and stand-out professionals to gain unprecedented industry insight and give them a platform to share their impression of modern manufacturing and STEM fields. This will be a chance for them to pass down their knowledge to young women who look up to them as role models and to give women leaders a platform to inform the public that manufacturing is an inclusive industry that provides countless opportunities and career paths.
General Technical Services, LLC (GTS) was one of the first companies approached to participate in the ‘Year of Women in Manufacturing’. GTS provides technical, management, and administrative support to US Government agencies, universities, and industry partners. Their staff of scientists and engineers have an incredible breadth of knowledge and experience to help support the development of advanced RF technologies and sensors, advanced Electro-Optical technologies, electronic materials and devices, and power sources. With a track record of success, they support clients through complex R&D program management which helps ensure the US remains a technological leader.
NJMEP was lucky enough to catch up with the leadership team from GTS. Barbara J. McGivney and Mari C. Kovach are GTS Co-Chief Executive Officers and were spectacular examples of two women leaders in the industrial space. See below for the conversation between McGivney, Kovach, and NJMEP’s Marketing & Communication Manager, Mike Womack.
BARBARA J. MCGIVNEY
Co-Chief Executive Officer
Barbara has been with GTS since its inception in 1989. She was primarily responsible for the operations and financial management of the company, along with contract administration. Now as Co-CEO she shares overall P&L responsibility and is responsible for setting culture, values, and operating standards. Prior to joining GTS, Barbara was a Contract Administrator at Systematics General Corporation.
MARI C. KOVACH,
Co-Chief Executive Officer
Mari has been with GTS since October 2011. As Director of Program Management, she was primarily responsible for program execution, delivery and quality. Now as Co-CEO she shares overall P&L responsibility as well as setting the strategy direction of GTS and defining the path for growth. Prior to joining GTS, Mari held various Engineering and Management positions at the Communications-Electronics Research and Development Center, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey retiring from the Headquarters as the Associate Director for Technology and Strategic Planning.
Mike Womack (MW): Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves? I’d like to know how each of you found yourself in the Research, Development, and Prototyping industry.
Barbara J. McGivney (BJM): “It’s by chance that I found myself in this field. I applied for a business position with a defense contractor who was providing research, engineering, and management support services to Fort Monmouth at the time. When that office closed the manager who I was working for decided to open his own contracting business and ask if I would be interested in being his office manager. I accepted and became the first employee of GTS! In addition to managing the office, I was responsible for contract administration and finance, and almost 40 years later here I am.”
McGivney is a wonderful example of the limitless vertical movement a career in STEM / Manufacturing can provide. She went from being an Office Manager to CEO. Career paths are never a linear progression. However, if a person works hard in the manufacturing space, virtual growth is almost always an option.
Mari C. Kovach (MCK) was asked the same question and here’s what she had to share: “I started my career at Fort Monmouth in the Electronic Warfare Laboratory which morphed into the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate. I spent a total of 30 years at Fort Monmouth until it was BRAC-ed (Base Realignment and Closure). For the last 10 years of my career, I was in the R&D Center’s Headquarters so in going from one of the labs to the Headquarters, I got an appreciation for what it’s like to run a larger entity than what I was used to in the laboratories. Then it came time when BRAC was happening for real, and they were getting ready to put the padlock on the gate. I really didn’t want to move. Our daughter had been through a serious illness that same year, and she still had follow-up appointments to make. I didn’t want to uproot my family and move to Maryland. One of my former colleagues I worked with in the Army was working for GTS as the program manager. He was considering retiring and he asked me if I would be interested in replacing him at GTS. He set up the interview with GTS’ owner at the time, Mike Mirarchi and voila, here I am.”
MW: Can you tell me a little more about GTS and its business?
MCK: “We’re an engineering services company providing technical expertise, administrative assistance and program management to our clients who are primarily the US military. We have a group that’s on-site in the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland. They provide engineering and scientific support mostly in the development of sensors and electronic components that make up those sensors to make them better, see farther, improve fidelity, etc. for the Soldier. And then we have another side where we execute programs. Again, research and development programs, in the power and energy space. That encompasses things from energy generation to storage to the distribution of it. A lot of the projects that we run are primarily geared towards the Soldier, improving the battery life of their sensors or giving them wireless connectivity, so they don’t have to carry batteries into the battlefields. We work from the Soldier-level up to base camps so that also encompasses large power distribution. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’re good and fortunately for us, we have repeat clients. We’ve been doing this for 35 years now.”
BJM: “In addition to Mari’s above comments, as a retired government employee, Mike Mirarchi’s vision was to provide the government engineers with some of the services that they found more difficult to get in house. We are proud of the reputation that GTS has in the DoD community.
MW: What role do you play within the organization? You don’t see many companies with CO-CEO. How does that system work?
BJM: “GTS’ founder and owner was winding down his career. After over 30 years working for the Government and nearly 30 years running GTS, he was looking to Mari and I to run the company. I was running Operations, Finance, and Contracts. Mari was running the technical end of the business, Program Management, and interfacing with Government customers. Shortly after the founder had passed away, Mari and I were having a conversation about the company while traveling down to Maryland to visit a client. At the time we were uncertain what the estate intended to do with the company, and we both knew that GTS was very important to us for a lot of reasons. Mari looked me in the eye and said, ‘we should try to buy the company and run it together… I would love to own a company like this’. I looked at her and said I never really thought about something like that and thought, ‘Wow’. Between my operational experience and her technical expertise, we felt we were a great mix and we got along very well both personally and professionally. It seemed like it was a good combination. So, I said, ‘You know what? Let’s try it!’. We spoke to our families, found a good lawyer and banker, and bought the company. The Co-CEO title came about after Mari and I closed on the sale. We weren’t sure what titles we wanted to use and were going back and forth with ideas when one day I was reading a Meridian Ocean Medical Center Newsletter and inside the front cover, was the forward by the then-president/CEO of Meridian. He was saying how Meridian was now joining Hackensack Medical Center and was introducing his Co-CEO. I thought, it was a novel idea and maybe something that Mari and I could use for our titles! I sent the article to Mari and said, ‘What do you think of Co-CEOs?’. That’s how it really began.
We’ve been very happy, and the company has done so well in the last four years since we bought it that I often think about what Mike would say if he could see GTS now. I don’t think he ever would envision how great it could become.”
MW: How was your experience entering the field of Government contracting? Can you give me some examples of hurdles you had to overcome, personally and professionally?
BJM: “As I mentioned earlier, my entering the field of Government contracting was quite by accident. I applied for a position as a contracts/financial person and it just happened to be in the defense industry. I was very lucky to be surrounded by well experienced co-workers who were willing to take me under their wing and I took every course I could find in Government contracts administration. It surely was an on-the-job kind of a training and one thing led to another. There were more and more growth opportunities and I grabbed each one that I could and learned as much as I could.”
MCK: “It’s funny because they don’t teach you government contracting in engineering school. It was sort of a new experience. Fort Monmouth relied a lot on its defense industry partners. That was a whole new thing just to learn contracts. What is a contract? What kinds of things do you need to consider? How do you write a proposal? How do you make sure you get everything on time and all that? That was something I wasn’t anticipating when I was in engineering school. When you’re around for 30 years you pick things up.”
MW: Did you have a role model growing up that pointed you toward the defense industry? If so, who were they and when did they first inspire you?
MCK: “Both my parents worked at Fort Monmouth, so I knew about the defense industry from them. I heard lots of their stories growing up. Over dinner at night, my dad would tell us about the particular challenges he may have had that day. When I got to actually work as a full-time civilian employee, there were very few women in leadership positions. There was a woman engineer, a mathematician, and a scientist that I was personally acquainted with. They were all great women and very friendly. Always willing to help and give advice. Over the years, eventually, you wait around long enough there were more and more women in leadership positions… To include me – eventually! There were several men who were my Branch Chiefs who were very supportive; always available to help out, answer questions and give consult. But I can’t say that there was just one person; one role model.”
BJM: “No, I didn’t have a role model in the defense industry when I was growing up. My dad was in the retail business.”
MW: Studies show a more diversified workforce leads to a more profitable business. In your opinion and from your experience, what other ways can an organization benefit?
BJM: “We have a pretty diverse team at GTS. Recruiting is open and fair, and we won’t tolerate anything less. Mari and I trust our employees and we let them do their job without micromanaging. If our staff members need training, we sponsor the training. If they need certifications, we sponsor that as well. We have an open-door policy and encourage our staff at all levels to feel comfortable to come to us at any time with any issues/concerns they may have in regards to their job performance and or needs in order to do their job. In addition, we were both working moms and fully understand all the challenges that brings.
MCK: “It comes down to respect. We respect our employees and they respect us. I used to say all the time, ‘We’re not in kindergarten anymore.’ You hire someone they have a job to do, and they do it. If they have question or issues doing their job then you’re there to help them through it but you don’t have to micromanage people or do their job for them to get a great outcome. As Barb said, we have a pretty diverse team… we also have a very high performing team which is reflected in the feedback from our clients”.
Now Barbara and Mari are in a position to be role models for the next generation of women engineers, manufacturers, and business leaders. This next question was asked to provide real guidance to young women from people that have walked the path before them. The next few questions are specifically geared to offering invaluable insights to the emerging women manufacturing business leaders.
MW: What advice would you give to young women that are currently exploring career opportunities?
MCK: “My daughter just recently graduated (with a degree in Engineering). She and I talked a lot about plotting a path forward. So, what did I tell her? In her case and mine, you have this picture in your mind of what you think you want to do when you graduate. Then depending on the job market, COVID aside, you have to make a choice. The advice was: don’t have your heart set on your dream job to start with because the opportunities and the universe might not have the planets lined up just yet for that. Try different things, explore the opportunities. You look at each job as an opportunity and just do your very best at that job. Soak it all in, learn, grow. In her case, she was very fortunate and landed a really good position with a great firm. She’s learning a lot and growing as an Engineer.”
BJM: “Don’t be afraid to try anything! And if something looks interesting, go for it and make the most of it. When you’re younger, you’re more intimidated by other people and I think just trying to get over that is important. I know that was true in my case. Sometimes I just think, ‘Oh, I really wouldn’t want to ask that question, or it might just be a silly question.’ It took me quite a while to be able to just come right out and ask questions in an open forum. I found that often it wasn’t a silly question that I wanted to ask and the people around me didn’t have an answer either until we worked through things together. I think then you get more confident the longer you’re working around other people.”
2022 is NJMEP’s ‘Year of Women in Manufacturing’ for a reason. Stories like the one shared by Barbara and Mari are instrumental in encouraging more young women to explore fruitful careers in the STEM space. Throughout the year NJMEP will be connecting with more women business leaders and giving them a platform to share their experiences and shine a light on these incredible individuals through articles and speaking events.
More women are entering the field than ever before. These incredible people need role models to look up to and learn from as they’ve already seen the path and can now help guide others. If you’re a woman in manufacturing, engineering, or any STEM discipline or know of one that has a story to share, reach out to Mike Womack, NJMEP Marketing & Communications Manager to set up an interview or learn about upcoming Women in Manufacturing-focused speaking opportunities, today.
Mike Womack, Marketing & Communications Manager