Hettinger strives to restore confidence, reinvigorate TechAmerica

Thursday - 1/9/2014, 4:02am EST

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

Download mp3

Trade association TechAmerica is re-emerging from a rough fall when four key executives left suddenly to start a competing public sector organization.

Mike Hettinger, TechAmerica's new senior vice president of the public sector, has been charged with ensuring federal contractors that TechAmerica is committed to the public sector for the long term.

"The response for the members thus far, and again, I've only been here 2 1/2 days, and we announced it about two weeks ago that I was coming on board, has been really positive," Hettinger said during a briefing with reporters Wednesday in Washington. "Like a lot of you, a lot of the members know me, worked with me and I've worked for some of the members, which is neat. I have a unique perspective, different than your traditional trade association person. I've worked on the Hill. I've worked for member companies and I've come from the trade association side most recently. So the response has been very positive."

Hettinger laid out his priorities and plans as the new head of TechAmerica's public sector.

But in the short term, his main goal is to engender confidence in the association's members, which include large and small government contractors.

Hettinger, who has more than 20 years of experience in the federal sector, came to TechAmerica after serving the last almost two years as vice president of the Public Sector Innovation Group for the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).

Recovering from the loss

And he has a tough job ahead of him.

TechAmerica lost four key senior executives last November with years of experience in the public sector. Trey Hodgkins, Pam Walker, Carol Henton and Erica McCann left to start a new public sector organization for the IT Industry Council.

TechAmerica has since sued three of the four former employees as well as the IT Industry Council. It recently revealed more details of the allegations against the former employees.

Hettinger replaces Hodgkins, who was the most vocal and most widely-recognized spokesman and thought leader for TechAmerica.

The decision by those four to leave and go to the IT Industry Council was both shocking and dealt a blow to the confidence of TechAmerica.

"It's as strategic a move as possible," said one industry executive, who requested anonymity in order to speak more candidly and worked closely with Hettinger over the years. "It will stem any bloodletting from companies leaving or considering leaving because of Trey and his crew going to ITI. And Mike Hettinger is in a different class than Trey and [former senior vice president of the public sector] Olga [Grkavac]."

The source, who hasn't always gotten along with or agreed with Hettinger, said Hettinger is much more aggressive than Hodgkins or Grkavac ever were, especially when it comes to issues on Capitol Hill, in advancing TechAmerica's agenda, and that is a good trait.

But other very active TechAmerica members, who also spoke anonymously, said they were not familiar with Hettinger and couldn't comment on him or the decision of TechAmerica to hire him. This shows Hettinger has a lot of work to get members familiar with him.

Another source says TechAmerica should have conducted a wider search and consulted with members more about who to bring in.

Leadership questioned

The other big concern that multiple sources contacted for this article said is the leadership of TechAmerica CEO and President Shawn Osborne.

Two sources say they are troubled by the continued poor treatment of staff in public settings by Osborne.

On the other hand, one source said they have been impressed by Osborne's efforts to meet with vendor executives to convince them to remain with TechAmerica.

Sources say several large companies, including Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, have decided or are close to deciding to stay on with TechAmerica. Sources say other companies are waiting for the first few months to see how TechAmerica commits to the public sector before renewing their memberships.

"TechAmerica is expensive, and we are in that process of re-looking at all of our memberships and how they fit into broader plans," said one industry executive. "Shawn is making a concerted effort to re-ignite the team and fill the needed talent space that was lost with the departures. They are in a rebuilding phase. TechAmerica has lost some companies, but not necessarily because of Trey and his team leaving, but for other reasons like budget cuts or rethinking their marketing budgets. But TechAmerica has also added companies too."