4 financial tips to help government contractors pave the way for growth

How did a kid who went to Baylor University in Texas, end up helping government contractors around The Beltway?

For Greg Wheeless, it began after oil hit $10 a barrel in 1986 and the bank he was working at in Texas failed, like a lot Texas banks at the time, and came under federal control. “So I moved east when Reagan was in the office and there was a defense build-up against the Soviet Union,” he recalls, which led to a career in advising and lending to defense and government contractors. Today, that’s his passion.

“I’ve really been doing it ever since,” he said. “I just love being in the DC area. It’s just such a great city, a great place to live, a great place to work. And the companies and the people here are great too.”

Today, Wheeless is senior vice president and manager of the Government Contractor Banking Group and Middle Market Banking Group at Truist. He stepped into that job in early 2022.

We asked Wheeless to share insights that he’s uncovered after more than 30-plus years partnering with government contractors, particularly small and midsize businesses. He offered four tips, from a banker’s perspective, to help businesses continue to grow as government contractors:

Insight No. 1: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek financial advice

There are no silly financial questions, Wheeless said, whether a business is trying to win that first federal contract or it’s just renewed its fiftieth.

He suggested that business leaders and entrepreneurs should schedule time with bankers and financial advisers who specialize in government contracting and can offer subject matter expertise.

“We have a lot of conversations with business owners who need advice — and may or may not move forward with needing actual services. They just want advice and to understand best practices,” he said. “Knowledge is power.”

Insight No. 2: Hire knowledgeable people to build the best team

Developing a team of trusted and experienced employees pays off time and again, Wheeless said.

“Oftentimes, an entrepreneur who maybe came out of the military or came out of the government, they know their client, they know what the client needs, they know their technology or their product,” he said. “But they don’t know about raising capital, managing their business, the legal aspects of running a business or all the compliance items that a business must maintain to operate as a government contractor.”

Insight No. 3: Partner with a group of trusted external advisers too

Beyond its own staff, a business should also seek subject matter experts from third-party providers to extend the smarts of the internal team, Wheeless advises.

“If you don’t have all the expertise your business needs on your internal team, that’s what external partners are good for — companies that provide those kinds of services, so your banker, your accountant, your lawyer, an HR firm. You’ve got to build a good internal and external team, one that has a depth of experience in government contracting.  I’ve seen it over and over that those business owners who surround themselves with experienced advisors are the ones that are most successful.”

Insight No. 4: Be prepared to handle rapid business growth after a large contract win or wins

Surging growth happens in government contracting more often than most other businesses. “We’ve worked with many companies where they needed financing to get started on that new contract that is going to double or triple the size of their business. That rarely happens in other industries, you rarely see that kind of rapid growth, but we see it regularly in government contracting,” he said.

Wheeless recommends that a business leader engage their financial lender and talk through the potential dynamics of sudden growth and what likely financing may be needed should the company win a large contract that would change their business model rapidly. The lack of planning can result in a government contractor not having the ability to perform on its new contract.

“Helping businesses ensure they have the financing to perform on such contracts is one of the many ways we are able to help our government contracting clients at Truist,” he said.

On a mission to help the local business community thrive

From Wheeless’ perspective, the pairing of SunTrust and BB&T made two “great organizations” even stronger.

“There’s a real commitment to the community, to caring about developing how we serve our clients,” he said. “That’s what really attracted me, that sense of commitment to the community, that we care. There’s a real desire to help the community and to help local businesses grow.”

 

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