Copyright 2013 © Gordon J. Bernhardt, CPA, PFS, CFP®, AIF® ISBN: 978-0-9849572-4-8 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, or to obtain additional copies of this book for $29.99, contact the publisher below: Gordon J. Bernhardt, CPA, PFS, CFP®, AIF® 7601 Lewinsville Road, Suite 210 McLean, VA 22102 (703) 356-4380 Toll-free: (888) 356-4380 www.BernhardtWealth.com First edition – Volume 4 All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to a qualified charity, including but not limited to BEST Kids, Inc. (www.bestkids.org), YouthQuest Foundation (www.youthquestfoundation.org) and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (www.nfte.com). In cooperation with Executive Leaders Radio, Gordon Bernhardt conducted follow-up interviews with business leaders that were featured on Executive Leaders Radio. As a result of these additional insights, Mr. Bernhardt has published these case studies. Gordon Bernhardt is President/CEO of Bernhardt Wealth Management, a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration is mandatory for all persons meeting the definition of investment adviser and does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The business leaders may or may not be clients of Bernhardt Wealth Management. These interviews are independent of investment advisory services and do not imply any endorsement of Gordon Bernhardt or Bernhardt Wealth Management by the business leaders or by Executive Leaders Radio.
This book exists because of all the inspirational individuals who so graciously shared their stories with me. I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know each and every one of you. To my team at Bernhardt Wealth Managementâ€”Tim Koehl, Ken Robinson, Olivia Dewey, Bonnie Armstrong and Emily Burnsâ€”I would never have been able to do this without your efforts and support throughout the process. I am deeply grateful to Executive Leaders Radio and Herb Cohen, Rachel Blumenthal, and Faith Smith for your assistance on this project. Thank you Jorge Haddock, Dean of School of Management at George Mason University and Peter Schwartz, host of Executive Leaders DC and president of Peter Schwartz & Associates, for your help and encouragement on this project. And lastly, this book would not have been possible without the guidance and creative support of the Impact Communications team.
81 James Lynch
85 Teddy Matheu
Profiles in Success
89 Louis Matrone
5 Dan Ackerman
93 Jay McCargo
9 Joe Alvarez
97 Jim McCarthy
13 Alan Bechara
101 John Mina
17 Jim Bellas
105 Joe Moye
21 Andrew Canter
109 Derek Padden
25 Craig Cummings
113 Phil Panzarella
29 Steve DiAntonio
117 Duane Piper
33 Brian Domschke
121 Brad Powell
37 Olugbenga Erinle
125 Maria Proestou
41 Dave Harbourne
129 Edward Schwartz
45 Boyd Harter
133 Gary Slack
49 Richard Hayes
137 Katherine Sleep
53 Abrahem Helal
141 Stan Soloway
57 Richard Hendershot
145 Leslie Steele
61 Arthur Hurtado
149 Lonnie Taylor
65 Moe Jafari
153 Mike Tucker
69 Bob Kettler
157 Mickey Williams
73 Charles Kuhn
161 S. Tien Wong
77 Y. Renee Lewis
165 From Gifford to Hickman by Gloria J. Bernhardt
Foreword Transformational leadership is needed today, perhaps, more than ever in history. As organizations, businesses and governments become an interconnected global network, new opportunities and threats constantly emerge. Leadership and resilience is imperative to success. One of the best ways to continue our individual paths towards this breed of effective leadership is by learning from the experiences and wisdom of leaders who have gone before us. Gordon Bernhardt has compiled a priceless series of valuable lessons by creating volumes of leadership profiles to inspire and inform the innovator and entrepreneur in each one of us. Gordon is the president and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and has dedicated himself and his business to helping others. His devotion to pursuing knowledge and sharing it with students and business professionals through his Profiles in Success series offers individuals one of the best ways to learn and be inspired in their careers. We, in Washington, D.C., are very fortunate to live in a place with such a strong entrepreneurial history to inspire us. In 1607, the first successful English settlement in North America was founded in Virginia. Did you know that one important purpose of Jamestown was to provide investors with some profits from gold mining? These people were entrepreneurs, braving the unknown in search of something greater. And although the economy has been very tough in the past few years, history proves that during tough economic times, our nation emerges stronger because of our entrepreneurial spirit. Many great companies were founded during times of recession. In fact, General Electric was formed during the panic of 1873. The Great Depression saw the beginnings of United Technologies (1929), Hewlett Packard (1939), and Revlon (1932). Apple Computer was founded during the recession of the ’80s and Google during the downturn in the ’90s. P&G, IBM and FedEx were all started during major economic downturns, as well. We should remember that each failure is a lesson learned. Most entrepreneurs have one or two (or more) failures behind them. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple Computers. We all know how wildly successful Apple now is. But do you remember the Apple “Lisa” machine and the “Newton” handheld device? And how many of you even knew about Steve Job’s venture called “Next”?
Even Steve Jobs had many failures on the road to global success. Now is the time for entrepreneurs to follow their passions and career aspirations. In his Profiles in Success, Gordon showcases how others have pursued their dreams. He gives us the opportunity to get an insider’s glimpse of successful top executives and to hear their success stories—how they “did it,” what sacrifices were made, their backgrounds, lessons learned, turning points, and challenges and opportunities ahead. We cannot predict the future, but we can pursue our dreams, and embrace our experiences. I know that students, entrepreneurs, and business professionals will all enjoy reading this excellent collection of success stories. Gaining this unique perspective will provide the motivation to follow their hearts and create their own successes.
Jorge Haddock Dean School of Management George Mason University som.gmu.edu
Jorge Haddock is the Dean of the School of Management at George Mason University. He has authored or coauthored over seventy publications, including his most recent book titled, Creating Global Business Leaders: Business Education at the Intersection of Innovation, Technology, and Globalization (Aspatore Books).Dr. Haddock has served as a consultant to multiple companies including Mackie Designs, CSX World Terminals and Citicorp, and is a co-inventor of the patent “Method of System for Providing Credit Support to Parties Associated with Derivative and Other Financial Transactions.”
Introduction “We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.” – Vince Lombardi If there’s a common complaint I hear from success-
ful professionals and small business owners, it is that there is not enough time in the day to appropriately fulfill the heavy demands of their career and enjoy family or outside interests in their personal life. When you add to that equation the pressures of managing money to ensure their family’s security and preparing for their own retirement, the stress really piles on. In my experience, these successful individuals are quite capable investors who simply don’t have the time, or perhaps the interest, necessary to effectively research all of their financial options. This leaves them susceptible to mistakes, missed opportunities or unnecessary costs which can eat away at their retirement savings. But any thriving business executive will tell you, focus on what you do best and delegate the rest. Which is why by serving as my client’s Personal Chief Financial Officer (CFO), I strive to help them make informed decisions with their money so they can focus their time on their profession, community, family and whatever is most important in their life. WHAT IS A PERSONAL CFO? Just as a thriving business hires a qualified CFO to analyze and guide its financial course a Personal CFO is a financial advisor who understands every aspect of your financial situation and helps you make smart decisions about your money throughout your life in order to drive long-term success. Especially in today’s transitioning market, it takes a unique combination of skill, training and resources to ensure you are properly prepared for the future. And just like any other long-term process, planning for retirement goes more smoothly if you partner with your Personal CFO to identify and prioritize goals and develop a clear plan—an investment policy statement—of how you will reach those goals. While your plan cannot control market swings, it can ensure that you have considered and prepared for inevitable market fluctuations. An essay by Mike Ervoloni, the founder of Cabot Research, a firm that uses behavioral finance to improve the performance of investment managers, further illustrates the benefits of working with a Personal Chief Financial Officer. Ervoloni writes, “Risk management is as much about emotions as it is math. Feelings of fear, anger and
sadness can propel you toward risk-seeking or riskaverting behaviors, deftly overriding conscious intent. Emotions are one of many evolutionary gifts that have spurred mankind. Originally enhancing survival skills (that old fight or flight sensation), they now try to help make financial decisions—a challenge for which they are poorly calibrated.” A Personal CFO can help you become more emotionally aware and avoid making purely emotional financial decisions. As Ervoloni notes, “When uncertainty peaks and the current path just doesn’t feel right, it’s usually the worse time to go with your gut.” In fact, behavioral finance teaches us that reviewing long-term goals can lengthen your perspective, making it less likely that you will make a hasty portfolio move in response to a market drop or negative newspaper headline. A Personal CFO also adds value by working with your CPA, estate planning attorney, insurance professionals and bankers to manage your wealth accumulation, preservation, and transfer. While using multiple advisors affords you the benefit of broad expertise, if there’s no communication or coordination among advisors, your risk increases, putting you in danger of not achieving your goals. For example, an undiscovered overlap between 401(k) and investment accounts could leave you over-exposed to equities. Or an unfunded trust or a missing IRA beneficiary form could thwart your estate planning goals. As a Personal CFO my job is to leverage my skills and knowledge in a way that allows others to lead the quality of life that reflects their deepest values. For some people hiring us means they have more time to spend with their family. For others it means they have more time to focus on their business and profession. And for others it means they have more time to give back to their communities or the charities that are important to them. I consider it a great honor and privilege to serve as the Personal CFO to many successful executives and their families through the Washington D.C. area. I believe that my comprehensive and personal view of their finances has uniquely qualified me to help them with a range of issues and ultimately make a positive difference in their lives. I strongly recommend you partner with a Personal CFO in order to keep your family’s important financial matters front and center and under control, while allowing you the time you need and want to pursue a productive and fulfilling life. Introduction
Gordon J. Bernhardt, CPA, PFS, CFP®, AIF® President and Founder Bernhardt Wealth Management, Inc. www.BernhardtWealth.com
Since establishing his firm in 1994, Gordon Bernhardt has been focused on providing high-quality service and independent financial advice in order to help his clients make smart decisions about their money. He specializes in addressing the unique needs of successful professionals, entrepreneurs and retirees, as well as women in transition throughout the Washington, DC area. Over the years, Gordon has been sought out by numerous media outlets including MSN Money, CNN Money, Kiplinger and The New York Times for his insight into subjects related to personal finance.
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
Dan Ackerman Serving Our Country with Pride As a kid growing up in rural Ohio, Dan Ackerman didn’t have much interest in school. The problem was not too much challenge, however, but too little. His teachers referred him to a psychiatrist, who promptly handed down that diagnosis common to gifted children everywhere. “He’s bored,” the doctor informed Dan’s parents. Unchallenged by what was going on in the classroom, his attention would wander, in search of something that truly tested his abilities and appealed to his analytical, mathematic mind. Fortunately, his days spent disengaged were numbered. When his older brother began taking a computer science class at a local college, young Dan’s interest was piqued. Although he was only in seventh grade at the time, he devoted himself to a singleminded pursuit of the subject with all the passion he had bottled up throughout his previous years of experience in the classroom. “When I got a calculator, I knew every function it did,” he remembers fondly. “I knew how to use every button that was included on that thing. The same thing happened when the Tandy TRS-80, or ‘Trash 80s’ as they were called, came out, which I would go to Radio Shack to play with. And the same thing happened when Commodore computers came out. I wanted to learn all about them, so I started reading books on how to program in BASIC. I didn’t even have a computer, but I wanted to learn how to do it.” By the time he reached the eleventh grade, Dan’s high school introduced a computer class into its curriculum for the first time. When he arrived on the first day of class with a more extensive and nuanced knowledge base than even the teacher boasted, he knew he was in his element. Indeed, he excelled in the course and then spent his senior year working in the computer lab, where he wrote programs and created video games in his spare time. Now the cofounder and Executive Vice President of Guident, a business intelligence and systems engineering firm servicing the government and commercial markets, Dan has built solid success and a stellar company by remaining true to his element throughout his career. First launched in 1996 by Dan and two partners, Guident
set out to create a product and organically evolved into a business in the process. When he was initially approached by the two other founders, Suneet and Teddy, the concept was simple. Their goal was to design a toolkit around Oracle Forms software and then to sell that product, end of story. Suneet and Teddy even promised Dan that he could work on the project a mere ten hours a week. “That promise was their best sales job ever,” Dan laughs now. After about six months of work, the product was finished and ready to sell. The buyers, however, weren’t interested in purchasing the software without the expertise. “The companies kept coming back and saying, ‘This is really nice, but I don’t see how you’re going to train our people on it, and the documentation’s not there yet,’” Dan explains today. “They told us they would, however, hire us as a consulting company if we brought our product along with the service, and that’s how we started getting our first customers.” Over the next few years, Guident acquired about thirty employees, along with office space and all the trappings of a full-fledged business. Unfortunately, the burst of the dot-com bubble set them back significantly, downsizing the enterprise by more than half. In order to survive, the partners made a bold, strategic move into the government market, landing some key contracts. Today, Guident has around two hundred employees, and the company earned about $52 million in revenues in 2011. What’s their secret? Dan attributes their startling growth rate—over 30 percent for several years running—to their emphasis on the simple yet critical principle of keeping the customer happy. “Whether a company is profitable or not is merely secondary when it comes to predicting its success,” he affirms. “Rather, the central concern of any company should be whether the customer is happy, and whether you’ve delivered what you said you would deliver. Not only is this vital in the success of single, isolated scenarios, but the customer will also act as a reference for others, which has the potential to amplify that happiness or unhappiness infinitely. In the government world, your refer-
ences are everything. If your customers are getting a particularly good or particularly bad experience, you can bet that others in the market will hear about it.” Dan has never been one to preach without practicing, and the glowing reviews of his clients confirm the veracity of his philosophy. One customer—a woman he had worked with for five years—was asked once to recommend the business on a scale of one to ten. “She told me she had responded by saying that she couldn’t answer that question, and my heart dropped,” Dan recalls. “I was thinking she was disappointed by something, but then she said, ‘Yeah, I had to explain to them that a ten just wasn’t high enough for you guys.’ When I heard that, I knew we were doing something right.” Dan’s professional success provides a stark contrast to the financial climate of his upbringing, during which time his family often found itself on the edge of poverty. His father worked in construction, while his mother was employed as a bookkeeper in a department store and later in the back office at a bank. Though they both worked hard and did what they could for their four children, neither of his parents had a college degree, and their options were limited. “I didn’t want to raise a family in that type of scenario,” Dan recalls. “Living paycheck to paycheck and relying on food stamps on and off throughout my childhood, I knew I wanted my future to be different. I wanted to never again be in the position of not knowing if we could make the house payment, or the position of needing to borrow money from relatives. I knew with very firm conviction that I wanted to be successful.” Staying true to that conviction, Dan—and all three of his siblings—earned a four-year college degree. He studied computer science at the University of Mount Union and graduated in 1987, his fascination with the subject having only grown as the years passed and his natural affinity for it pursued. Jobs were scarce in Ohio, so he followed his brother out to the West Coast and spent the next few months job hunting in Los Angeles. That September, he landed his first job, although his methods of doing so were somewhat unconventional. Feeling frustrated by the repetitive interview cycle, Dan took a risk one day when asked about his greatest weakness. “I just said flat out, ‘I’m inherently lazy,’” Dan remembers. “The interviewer said, ‘What?’ He couldn’t believe I had told him that, so I explained, ‘I’m just saying that, if you give me a job and say there’s twenty steps to do it, I’m going to figure out how to do it in ten. If you give me something repetitive, I’m going to automate it. I’m a hard worker, but I don’t like doing menial tasks over and over again.’” Dan’s gamble—and his honesty—paid off. He began working for the company, Trident Data Systems, and 6
three months into his employment, his boss bemused, “You know Dan, I thought that was just a clever answer, but after working with you, I see it was factual.” When Dan glanced around him at the Operations Department of the company, he realized that he had, in fact, automated everything. “It took me about three months, but I got everything automated to the point where it was all just a matter of pushing a button,” he explains. Dan’s inherent need to understand all technologies from the inside out continued to motivate him. “I was always taking home manuals,” he recalls. “I would dive into any operating manual I could get my hands on and read them from cover to cover. When Macintosh came out, I read everything about them. I knew everything about every piece of software they produced.” During his tenure at Trident, Dan met his future wife, who proved instrumental in his decision to move on to bigger and better things in 1993. “I was a database administrator at the time, and I found myself bored with it, in much the same way I had been bored by the uninspiring environment of my early school years,” he explains. “I had pretty much learned everything I could learn in that capacity, and I had supported everything I could support. I wanted to move into development, but they didn’t want me to because they thought it would take too long to train me.” Dan’s wife, vigilant of the reality that he was no longer feeling challenged or engaged, pushed him to consider leaving. “She was the one who said I had to leave because I wasn’t happy there and because they weren’t leveraging my abilities,” he remembers with a smile. “She was the one to insist that I could do so much better somewhere else.” When she realized that reason wouldn’t work, Dan’s wife resorted to bribery. He had been quite the Foosball enthusiast in college, so one day she found herself saying, “You know what? You get a new job, and I’ll buy you a Foosball table.” It was the game that launched a thousand ships, and Dan still has that Foosball table today. After setting out on his own, Dan came across an opportunity with a company called Talus to pursue the kind of development work he had always wanted to move into. Again, he found that his ability to learn independently, coupled with his need to research thoroughly, served him well. “That was when I started getting to know the front end of developing,” he says. “I was surprised to discover, however, that even from Day One, and even though I had a lot to learn, I actually found myself teaching their developers how to do things.” It was like his first high school computer class all over again, but this time, an entrepreneurial inclination had begun to take hold of him.
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
He still had a few life skills to hone, however, before he was ready to launch his own enterprise. Although Dan never needed anyone to help him understand computers, for example, the political side of business was another matter. A few years out of college, a coworker and mentor advised him on how to refine his manner of interaction with colleagues in order to communicate his ideas more effectively. Since then, he’s learned how to avoid the blunt shooting down of ideas from others, focusing instead on helping the originator figure out the problematic aspects of the thought. “I used to say, ‘No, that won’t work,’ and I’d be right, but the way I’d deliver the message was just negative,” he recalls. “Instead, I’ve learned how to switch that around to, ‘That’s interesting; how would we handle it when this happens?’ A shift in framing like that not only fosters better dynamics, but also encourages innovation and growth.” Dan has also learned over the years that it’s the ideas he has, and not the credit he receives for them, that are most important. “One of the first steps in learning how to manage is the realization that your only goal is to move the team and the organization from here to there,” Dan explains. “When you learn that, you realize that you don’t necessarily care how it happens, and you don’t need to be the one to get the credit for it.” These early lessons have been vital in shaping his leadership style as he navigates the business world today, managing people without mi-
cromanaging and leading them to solutions without providing them directly himself. In advising young people entering the business world today, Dan is quick to advocate for the kind of self-teaching that has always served him well. “In reality, your college experience is going to be what you make of it,” he emphasizes. “When given creative license like that and faced with that raw material, you can choose to make a little, or you can choose to make a lot out of it. I would urge you to make as much as you can. Join different organizations and experience how they operate and what they do, because that’s what business is going to be like.” For Dan, the act of building something—anything— must follow from a thorough knowledge of that thing’s component parts. He’s lived with that conviction since the age of twelve, when he first became a voracious consumer of any and all technical literature related to programming. Running Guident is no exception, and with the decades of knowledge stores he has stocked through a lifetime of studying the component parts that make up his powerhouse of a business, it comes as no surprise that the enterprise serves its clients like a well-oiled, and wellanalyzed, machine. Armed with his bulletproof technical background and infinite appetite for knowledge, Dan continues to demonstrate that true mastery of a skill, concept, material, or marketplace is not only earned—it’s learned.
Joe Alvarez Looking in the Mirror On January 28, 1986, Christa McAuliffe was supposed to be the first female teacher in space. One of more than 11,000 applicants to the NASA Teacher in Space Project, McAuliffe was selected to travel with a seven-person crew to conduct experiments and teach lessons to students back on Earth from the space shuttle Challenger. 73 seconds into its flight, however, the Challenger spacecraft broke apart following the catastrophic failure of a seal in the solid rocket motor, resulting in the deaths of everyone on board. Media coverage was extensive, and within an hour of the disaster, some 85 percent of Americans had heard of the tragic event. One of those Americans was Joe Alvarez. But unlike the vast majority of the millions of people who mourned the loss of life that day, Joe had a personal claim. Years earlier, he had been touched by Mrs. McAuliffe in a way that few others had. McAuliffe had been a teacher and mentor to Joe when he needed one most. “I met Christa McAuliffe when I was in ninth grade,” he recalls today. “That was one of the toughest years I can remember.” Joe was born in Mexico City. His parents divorced when he was six years old, and he and his two younger brothers were raised primarily by his mother. For as long as he could remember, he had dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. “It was my dream to be a professional soccer player,” he recalls fondly. “Because my parents were divorced, we never had a lot. I learned to appreciate the little things, and that I had to work very hard if I wanted to achieve my dream.” Joe’s mother worked in the hospitality industry in Mexico City. One day, a gentleman from the American company, Remington Rand, traveled with several colleagues through Mexico City on their way to Acapulco for a national meeting of the top sales representatives. Passing through Joe’s mother’s hotel, the gentleman was having a very hard time ordering breakfast. An English speaker from the time that her father worked at the United Nations, Joe’s mother came and helped him. One thing led to another, and the two went on a date.
Three years later, they were married. Joe, his mother, and his two younger brothers came to the United States and settled in Maryland, and Joe was enrolled in junior high at Thomas Johnson in Lanham, Maryland. “My first year there was the ninth grade, and it was daunting,” Joe remembers. “That’s when I met Christa McAuliffe. I was in a situation where I knew I was smart enough to do well and pass the tests, but because of my lack of knowledge of the English language, I needed help.” Indeed, Joe was learning quickly and excelling in his ESL classes, but it was still difficult to apply his language skills to subjects like algebra or geometry, where word problems were particularly challenging. “Christa McAuliffe was my Social Studies teacher and would sit with me for thirty to forty-five minutes after school. She would ask me, ‘How did you do today? What did you have a hard time with? Let’s go over it.’ She spent a tremendous amount of time with me. I think she saw in me someone who really wanted to do well. She felt that, with a little help, she could get me to that place where I could succeed. I feel that in those days, in the attention she gave me, the good Lord was looking after me.” Now the Principal of National Office Systems, which has been serving the storage solutions and document management system needs of the DC metropolitan area with expert skill since 1976, Joe recognizes that McAuliffe helped to catalyze his success by going above and beyond, being the best teacher she could possibly be. Because she took the extra time to work harder and help even though it was outside of her job description, she could look in the mirror and know that there was a young boy who was flourishing instead of sinking. And today, Joe continues to gauge his own success, ethics, and character through a constant act of self-reflection to ensure he’s being the best he can be, day in and day out. Christa McAuliffe helped Joe Alvarez, and Joe Alvarez helped himself. He worked hard to succeed in school, and he brought that same work ethic and talent
to the soccer field, too. “I achieved at a high level as an athlete because I hustled and worked very hard to improve my soccer skills,” he affirms. In Mexico, Joe was aiming to be a professional soccer player. Coming to Maryland in the late 1970s as a young teenager, he brought an entirely different world onto the field—one in which the players don’t just play the sport, but instead have the pulse of the game moving through their veins. “It was like a hockey player trained in Canada who comes to Maryland,” Joe remembers. “Hockey is to Canada, what soccer is to Mexico, which is the same as baseball, basketball, and football are to America. My level of soccer was simply more intense than that of the kids I was now playing with. Joe was very successful in high school, both on the field in select club soccer teams and in academics. As graduation approached and he considered his options, he was attracted to several schools but eventually decided to attend George Mason University. “I ended up going there because the coach was a passionate guy and the school was close to my family in Maryland,” he explains. “There are times in life when you meet someone and you think, I could play for that guy. This was one of those times, and things worked out very well.” Joe started every game that he played at George Mason. Each year, the team improved. By his senior year, the George Mason soccer team went to the final eight of the Division I national championships and faced off against the University of Virginia, coached by Bruce Arena, then the UVA head coach and now the former head coach of the United States men’s national soccer team. At UVA, Bruce Arena won five national championships. But in Joe Alvarez’s senior year, UVA would be humbled. “We beat Virginia,” Joe says. “I was fortunate enough to score the winning goal to win, 1 to 0. Bruce had worked with me at a youth summer soccer camp. He was always joking with me, telling me I never would’ve made it at Virginia. After that game, Bruce was busting my chops, telling me he couldn’t believe my team had beaten his because UVA dominated the game after we scored. He was so upset we had beaten him at his home stadium, and I just told him that all that mattered was the score and who got the “W”. A Fairfax newspaper reporter got a nice picture of us laughing together with me pointing at the scoreboard. My friends still chuckle about that, that I was lording it over Bruce Arena, himself, on his own field, and there’s photo evidence! What a great memory.” After being drafted to the Baltimore Blast (MISL) in 1982, injury would bring his pro soccer dream to an 10
abrupt end, but fortunately, resiliency had been built into his character. That resiliency supplied the drive to bounce back and pursue a professional career despite the disappointment. He had studied accounting and public administration, and when he graduated, he found a job at a car dealership in the back finance office that lasted about 90 days. “I just could not do it,” Joe says. “I actually got depressed. Someone said to me that I should try sales, but when I went to the GM of the dealership about a sales opportunity, he just laughed and told me I was only good at counting beans and to stick with what I know. As an athlete, you love a challenge, and that guy gave me a good one. My next challenge was to test myself in sales.” With that, Joe found a sales job at a copier company. “We were, what you call in the sales world, cold-calling machines,” he recalls. “If you did well, you moved up. If you didn’t, then you were fired. It was very simple. To me, cold-calling was like someone had let me out of jail. I loved it! The worst anyone could do was say no, and I never took it personally.” It wasn’t long before Joe’s work ethic and natural ability advanced him through the ranks to the point that he was running the company’s entire Virginia operation at age 29. But the more success he saw as a salaried employee, the more he felt the entrepreneurial drive to chase ownership. “I was a young guy,” he affirms. “I had a good knack for sales and for leading people. Once, at an executive meeting, I told my colleagues and superiors alike that I really wanted to own my own business. After the meeting, I went straight to the guy who owned the company and asked him to sell the Richmond branch to me.” The owner recognized Joe’s ability and told him flat out that he was a young superstar in the making, but that he already had big plans for the company that didn’t involve selling it off piecemeal. “He was planning to sell the entire company,” Joe says. “He told me it was worth about $41 million. He asked, ‘You have $41 million, Joe?’ I said with a smirk that that was a little outside of my reach.” Facing the sale of the entire company, Joe informed the executives that if an opportunity came along, he would consider it. Two weeks later, that opportunity did come, but from a place he least expected it. The President of the northern region of his company, Daniel Harbison, called Joe and proposed that they become business partners. “Dan was a proven overall business executive with expertise in finance and operations, but more importantly, he was, and still is, my mentor,” Joe says. “I loved sales and had a proven track record. He
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
knew our skill sets would complement each other well. He told me I was one of the best salesmen he had ever met, and his perspective was that, with his operational and financial experience combined with my rainmaking ability, we would have an optimal formula for success.” Together, Dan and Joe found a company worth buying in National Office Systems (NOS). NOS specializes in helping organizations and firms manage physical assets and make the most efficient use of their available space through comprehensive storage solutions, document management systems, and biometric security. “Today we’re expecting to see over $25 million in revenue compared to $1 million in year one,” Joe says, “and we have about 75 full-time employees plus additional contract staff. The first ten to fifteen years was steady growth, but it wasn’t until I made a decision to network more than I ever had before that the real growth began. What was at first a very transaction-based business became a relationship-building business. I’ve built relationships with builders, brokers, consultants, architects, designers, security people, and most importantly, end user clients. The last six to eight years have seen very fast growth, and it’s thanks to that ever-expanding network.” Even though Joe never had sales experience growing up, it always seemed to be an innate skill for him and came very naturally. “What I have learned is that sales is not about ringing the cash register,” he affirms. “It’s about understanding my customers’ needs and finding solutions that improve their lives and their environment. I’m lucky enough in my line of work that I get to meet and greet all kinds of wonderful people on a daily business. I really enjoy meeting new people and finding out what makes them tick, but more importantly, about how I can help them. Sometimes you meet people and feel within the first minute that you can trust them and that they have your best interest at heart. That is who I
strive to be, and I believe I succeed because I really do feel genuine in my interest of what they have to say. It goes hand in hand – networking is getting to know customers and business partners and helping each other solve problems. I firmly believe that my company’s success stems from the fact that we genuinely care about making our customers happy.” Whether he’s speaking to today’s young entrepreneurs or to his own children, Joe’s message stems from what made him a success in school, in sports, and in business: his hard work and passion. “Life’s too short,” he says. “Don’t waste a single day of your life. When you’re at work, give it everything you’ve got. What I tell our employees and my kids is that it’s not necessarily about the results; it’s about whether you did the best you could. If you do your best but don’t get the result you wanted, you can still look in the mirror and know you gave it all you had. You only have one boss, and that’s yourself. You are the only judge that counts, so look in the mirror. Are you the best spouse, the best friend, the best worker, the best boss you can be? Ask yourself that question. The mirror is not going to lie to you. You know deep in your heart what the deal is. At the root of this is self-accountability. If you say you’re going to do it, then make it happen. “And,” he adds, echoing the legacy of his mentor and friend, “don’t forget to enjoy the ride as much as possible. Smile a lot. Life is too short.” Christa McAuliffe once said, “I touch the future. I teach.” In reaching out to Joe, she reached her hand beyond her own mortality, passing through the present and extending into the future as long as her impact reverberates through the impact of each student she touched. By working hard, pausing to assess our progress and character, and taking the time to help others along the way as well, we can be sure that those reverberations ring positive, powerful, and persistent for many years to come.
Alan Bechara Building Character Beirut to Brussels went as planned. Brussels to New York City, however, was delayed. As a result, young Alan Bechara missed the final connection of his journey— the flight that would take him from New York to Washington. “I had never been to this part of the world,” he reminisces today, several decades later. “There were no cell phones, and I remember scrambling for change to call my brother from a phone booth to let him know I had missed my connection. I got ahold of his wife, who didn’t speak Arabic, and through broken English, I found out he had already left for the airport. That was quite a process.” Though he was only 22, however, Alan had already learned that, in those moments that test us most, character is built. It was a new life, and in the JFK airport, he made up his mind to embrace it. “I realized there was a reset button on life, and I pressed it,” Alan avows. “I had been a smoker, but I threw my cigarettes and lighter into the trashcan in that airport and never smoked again. With the exception of a short trip to France, my entire life until that point had been spent within a twenty-mile radius. I had known everyone, and everyone had known me. On that day, I realized I didn’t really know anything, but I was ready to learn.” Now the President of PC Mall Gov, Inc., that’s exactly what Alan did, and he continues that learning process today. PC Mall Gov, a subsidiary of a California based company called PC Mall, Inc., is headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia, and was formed in 2002, shortly after Alan first joined the enterprise. It focuses on public sector business from the federal, state, local, and education markets across the U.S., offering IT products and services including design, installation, and consultation. From the Library of Congress to Oregon school districts, Alan and his team provide product and services across the spectrum. Alan first found his way to PC Mall in the wake of 9/11, when investment in government technology and infrastructure escalated and opportunities for growth in the public sector space were multiplying. Recognizing
the untapped potential of expanding into that market, and knowing that PC Mall’s expertise in selling to consumer and corporate America could not prepare it for selling to public players, the parent company launched a search for a seasoned executive to create and expand the new business, building the pieces and infrastructure that would allow it to thrive. Having served as Vice President at both GTSI and Insight Public Sector (formerly Comark Government and Educations Sales), two IT services companies serving the public space throughout the DC metropolitan area, Alan possessed just the background that PC Mall was looking for. In the six years he had spent at Comark, a $1.5 billion company operating out of Chicago, he had run their public sector space. During that time, he was instrumental in building up that business from $20 million to $200 million—a feat that initially attracted the search firm looking for PC Mall’s next big thing. “I dismissed the call in the beginning, but the recruiter kept in touch with me, and as time passed, I started to sense that Comark was pulling back from the public sector space,” Alan explains. “They had stopped investing, which led me to question whether it was the right place for me in the long term.” Two weeks after he left to take his place at the helm of PC Mall Gov in April of 2002, Comark was sold to Insight. When PC Mall Gov’s public sector revenue was first teased out from the parent company’s pot at the fledgling business’s outset, it amounted to about $50 million. After ten years of Alan’s leadership, it is now a $200 million business. “We had strong growth through 2009 and have seen a few stagnant years since, but I see the company reclaiming that upward trend in the future,” Alan remarks. Though contemplating the company’s future is intriguing in itself, a look into Alan’s own past is even more riveting. Born in the suburbs of Beirut in Lebanon, he was raised the youngest of seven children by his mother and older siblings, as his father had died when Alan was nine months old. By age four, he had devel-
oped a severe case of asthma that forced him to miss school several days a week, but he continued to pursue his studies and enjoyed the support of an extensive family network. “I probably have around three to four hundred people who I would consider family,” he laughs today. “First cousins, second cousins, acquaintances—in a small country like Lebanon, you’ve got family branches everywhere. It was very hard to get away with any bad behavior, and there was a strong sense of community.” That sense of community was permeated with work ethic and values. Everyone graduated high school, and everyone was bilingual. Alan himself grew up speaking Arabic and French, though English is his first language now. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon enjoys a mild climate and thriving tourism industry, yet growing up there was not without its hardships. Alan still remembers the civil war that erupted after a crisis displaced 600 Palestinians into Lebanon, which escalated into a conflict that divided the country for decades. “Neighbors were killing neighbors—it just depended on your affiliation at the time,” Alan recalls. “School was disrupted, and there was no water and electricity for months at a time. We lived in bunkers and underground shelters for extended periods of time to avoid the shelling that would occur. It builds character—you have no choice but to defend your home, your family, and your business.” Alan was in his late teens at the time and worked a night job in a bakery throughout the conflict. Situated on the main highway that bisected Lebanon from Israel to Syria, business was good even in wartime, and Alan ran the bakery from ten at night to six in the morning selling bread and pastries. Then, during the day, he would attend high school during the academic year or go to the beach in the summers. “None of us ever thought about leaving,” he reminisces. “There was a strong sense of nationalism, and I knew that, as the son of a widow who didn’t have a job, I would hunker down, get the best education I could, find the fastest way to make a living, and raise a family. Studying abroad was not even part of the dialogue.” As luck would have it, however, one of Alan’s halfbrothers had been living in America and returned to Lebanon just before the war broke out. Alan was around fifteen at the time, and the brother invited him to come visit the U.S. in the future. Alan agreed without thinking anything of it at the time, but before he knew it, his brother had launched the immigration process for him. “At the time, when I’d look into the future, my questions were ‘Are we going to the beach tomorrow?’ or ‘Is this 14
girl interested in me?’ Four years later, however, the paperwork went through, and my visa was processed,” he remembers. “By that time, my perspective had totally shifted. With no future in sight, rampant killing left and right, and no functioning government to speak of, that visa was like a miracle.” Thus, in 1980, Alan set out to see how else he might build his character in the world. His friends bet he wouldn’t last more than a month overseas away from his family and country, but his brother welcomed him into his home and gave Alan a job sweeping up at his small TV and video repair shop. At work, Alan would watch the technicians and began begging them to let him try something. He had never seen the inside of a TV or VCR, and the head technician, amused by Alan’s enthusiasm, gave him a chance. Alan began to learn the technology, the trade, and the geography, going out to do house calls with the team and learning English through the snippets of shows he would catch on the same TVs he serviced. He also enrolled in night classes to study engineering. He immersed himself in the culture, the language, the material, the newness. Acclimation bred affinity, and by the time his relationship with his current wife had grown serious in 1986, Alan realized he was here to stay. “I had built a life here,” he affirms. “I had transformed into someone completely different, and I was marrying someone from a different culture. I had come to a fork in the road, and I made a choice.” Alan’s brother had wanted him to stay on and expand the business, but in 1984, he found a job as a technician for a company in Herndon. He finished his degree in 1986, and in 1988, he accepted a position as an engineer for a government contractor. That position immersed him in bid proposals, tech specs, and program management and Alan saw himself evolving away from the technical and toward project and program management. He then transitioned over to a company called Zenith Data Systems, where he worked for four years managing systems engineers until joining GTSI as a program manager for a newly-won contract. After moving from program manager to director to vice president to general manager in the span of five years, he accepted a position at Comark as the Vice President of a business unit. That ascension then culminated in 2002 when Alan became President of PC Mall Gov. It is clear that Alan built his career the same way he built his character, and with the same sturdy foundation of innovation, patience, resolve, and self-reliance. “Growing up in the environment I grew up in, you have to fend for yourself,” he explains. “You have to step up. For me, there was no doubt that I would have to make
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
it on my own. As a result, I’ve never expected anything from anyone. Of course delegating is important in business, but equally as important is the ability to build whatever it is you need.” Now, Alan remains a man of deep principle and rigid commitment. Whatever it is he plans to do in a day, he rises at six and gets started early. In ten years, he hasn’t taken more than four sick days. And above all else, he maintains a steadfast commitment to honoring the promises he makes to his employees. “I have a philosophy that goes against the concept of traditional business efficiency, and it’s that laying people off is a failure of management,” Alan poses. “I do anything humanly possible to prevent it from happening because; if you promise someone a job and then decide you can’t afford them, that’s not their fault. If I am forced to lay someone off, there had better be a good, unavoidable reason.” Beyond these accomplishments, Alan’s greatest pride and happiness are derived from his role as a father to a daughter and son who are incredibly smart, extremely honest, and accomplished in their chosen fields—a
winning combination that would make any parent proud. His wife, an environmental biologist, has also been fundamental in shaping his concept of self by asking challenging questions and cultivating strength of conviction that is apparent in both Alan and his children. His legacy and self-development, however, are far from over, and when Alan looks to the future, he will either move into a CEO position or launch a company of his own. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Alan echoes the advice best learned growing up in a war-torn country, but equally as powerful and imperative when applied in times of peace and prosperity. “Remember that nobody owes you anything,” he urges. “The best gift you can possibly be given is an education, so use it wisely. The world is a place of tremendous challenge, but also tremendous opportunity. It’s up to you what you want to do with those challenges, those opportunities, and that education. Don’t feel entitled. Build the best you can with what you have—the future is up to you.”
Jim Bellas The Most Important Course In April of 1979, Jim Bellas opened his first bicycle store in Fairfax, Virginia. But it wasn’t a love of bicycles that led him to do it; rather, it was a love of business. “My goal has always been to create great places for people to work and to receive service,” he explains today. “Businesses provide an essential avenue for people to utilize their expertise and passions to make a difference—in their own lives, in the lives of others, and in the world at large. By creating great businesses where people can do this, I can do my small part in making a difference too.” Now the Chairman of Diplomatic Language Services (DLS), a company working primarily with the Defense Department and with the intelligence community to provide high-quality, personalized language instruction and cultural education for diplomats and military personnel preparing for long-term assignments abroad, Jim’s current line of work is quite different from that of his bicycle store days, but his commitment to creating the most positive work environment possible remains the same. Founded in the mid-1980s by a career diplomat, DLS was the first business of its kind—a private company focused on addressing the challenges of the government’s in-house language programs. Prior to DLS’s creation, government employees were given a more University-style language education, with rigid semester schedules and group classes. “We teach languages that the government isn’t resourced for,” Jim explains. “Almost all of our classes are one-on-one or very small groups, which offer a very different experience that works much better for many people. The instructors develop personal relationships with the students and teach not only language, but culture as well. They are contract workers, but highly prized, greatly valued, and assigned to students as the need arises. For instance, the Defense Department can call on Wednesday and ask for an instructor by Monday, and with our vast database of native-speaking instructors, DLS is equipped to fill that need.” Jim acquired DLS in December of 2006 when the
company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Under the management of a disinterested, over-committed Biotech executive who had purchased it in 2001, the business had been bled extensively of funds in order to keep his other investments afloat. Two payroll cycles were missed, and the contract employees began to take flight. The students followed soon after, and between $3 and $4 million worth of business was lost at a rapid pace. To some, the rapidly drowning business, unable to make payroll, might not have seemed like a promising investment. It would take perseverance, flexibility, and true stamina to see the venture through. Jim, however, could see the opportunity within the din and knew the service DLS provided was sound. “The reason the company was in trouble was not that the clients had changed, or that the industry had changed, or even that the business model had changed,” he points out. “Sales had sunk from $6 million at its height, to about $1.2 million at the time of purchase, but this wasn’t because the business model itself was flawed. Revitalizing the business wouldn’t be easy, but I knew it could be done.” Jim’s first order of business was staffing. Fortunately, the language training supervisors were still in place, but he had to completely overhaul the accounting department. Adding a few capable staff members, he was able to double sales in the first few months, breaking even. Over the following year, the business earned a modest profit. The accounting department, however, was still a hurdle. After three candidates failed to get the job done, Jim’s youngest son, Chris, took over and proved himself more than capable. “He did a terrific job, systematizing and improving all of our operational processes,” Jim reflects. “It created the foundation upon which we were able to improve everything else in the company.” The meteoric success that followed arose in part from the implementation of a new government program, AFPAK Hands. The Defense Department wanted to send personnel who were so-called “Old Hands” at Afghanistan and Pakistan back into the field, hence the title. “It
was a change in the way they were going to approach the war, which was to put in people that could actually communicate instead of just increasing firepower,” Jim details. The Defense Department needed someone to administer intensive language and culture training to hundreds of personnel, and immediately. “We had to find an enormous number of high-level instructors to begin teaching within 6 weeks without a set curriculum, and without the space to do it in.” Immediately, Chris and Jim set to work accomplishing the feat, securing additional space in their building and acquiring the necessary number of qualified instructors as they pulled together a curriculum. They not only won the contract, but also entered into a collaborative effort with the client to raise the bar and make continual improvements to the program, resulting in an overwhelming majority of the students consistently surpassing the original proficiency goals for the program in their final exams. After the contract was performed beyond expectations, DLS’s reputation soared, with the client describing the herculean accomplishment as “building the airplane while we were flying it.” In that year, the business grew to $13 million from the initial $1.2 million it had started at a mere four years earlier. In 2011, DLS grew at a pace of 60 percent and landed itself in the $18 to $20 million range, and a large special operations program may double the company on top of that growth rate in 2012. With such monumental success, it is important to remember the journey that made it possible, which was not always easy. Precarious time first hit a year after purchasing his first bike shop when, concerned about the long commute from Silver Spring, Maryland, Jim and his wife purchased a new home near the business. Unable to sell their house in Maryland due to climbing interest rates, however, Jim found himself with an embryonic business and two mortgages on his hands when he got life changing news—his wife was expecting their first child. The economy at the time certainly did not invite bold speculation. Other bike dealers had sized their inventory down, knowing that if they undersold, they would be forced to take out bank loans at high interest rates. Jim, however, approached his business a bit differently and opted to nurture it rather than limit it. He boldly increased its inventory, even as his competitors were reducing expenditures. “I believe in my businesses and their ability to take care of employees and customers,” he affirms. “I wanted to feed possibility into the company, not take possibility out of it.” The choice to pursue that business strategy paid off 18
in spades. Competing bike stores, thanks to their conservative orders, had actually created a bike shortage, while Jim’s store had a surplus. “I didn’t even need to cut prices,” he recalls, “I just needed to have the bike.” That spring, they sold every one of the bicycles they’d stocked, tripling the size of the business and pulling in a profit. One year later, they were able to open their second store, and shortly thereafter, Jim acquired a floundering competitor for the price of their inventory alone. “For 30 years, I did one thing—bicycle retailing,” Jim recounts. “This stands in stark contrast to the following six years I spent as a consultant, in which I did about thirty different things!” This variance more closely mirrors his earliest years, which was spent moving around quite a bit. Jim’s Greek-American father met his Italian mother while serving on a US military base in Italy during and after WWII. Born in Italy, Jim spoke Italian for the first years of his life. His father asked to be moved to Greece, where he calculated that, receiving hardship pay, he would do better for his family than he could by returning home. Thus, at age three, Jim and his mother joined his father in Greece, where young Jim quickly picked up his second language. A young child translating for his Italian mother, he would often scold her, “You need to learn Greek!” A few years later, the family came to the U.S., where, at age six, Jim began learning English, his third language. As a military child, he learned to quickly adapt to new surroundings as the family relocated again and again, and in his adolescence, he found himself on a German military base, where his entrepreneurial tendencies first began to show. He took over a TV Guide route from another boy who had become bored with it, and grew his clientele from 15 to 100. Inspired by his success, he began cutting lawns, and saw that being reliable and capable enabled him to edge out the competition. His father, a product of the Depression, was more conservative and less entrepreneurial, so Jim’s own ventures were intuitive and self-taught, with a few hiccups along the way. “Once, I gave $350 to a friend to invest in a stock, and then he just left town,” Jim remembers. “It really colored my view of investing. I trust investing in businesses that I can control, but turning my money over to somebody else doesn’t interest me. If something’s going to be done, I’d rather do it myself.” It makes sense, then, that learning to delegate has been among the biggest trials of Jim’s professional life. He references the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Howard Goldsmith, as he recounts how his micromanaging had to be stripped away over time. “When we were turning the business around and I
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
had limited capital, I told people at DLS that I needed to have everything come through me,” he recalls. “Of course, with four or five direct reports, I could keep up with that. But when you get to thirteen reports, it becomes unsustainable.” In the face of the youthful swindle that lost him $350, leaving decisions to someone else always felt like the biggest risk of all to Jim. However, a wake-up call came from his wife during a critical period for the bike business. In the midst of moving their largest store, she suddenly announced, “We’re going on vacation!” Jim replied that there was no possible way for him to take a vacation, but his wife simply repeated that she and their two sons were going on a vacation. “I hope you’ll join us,” she added. That wise insistence proved to be the turning point for his approach to management and leadership when he suddenly realized the gross imbalance in his life, and within 24 hours, he had taken all the necessary steps to delegate the important work of the next 10 days. The bicycle business went on to become the number one Schwinn dealer in the country, the number one Trek dealer in the country, and the number one Cannondale dealer in the world. Whereas a typical bike shop grossed $335 thousand annually after 5 years, Jim’s stores opened with around $300,000 to $400,000 in the first year, and would crest at around $2 million several years later. Ultimately, Jim’s bicycle business declined, but only after years of tremendous growth brought venture capitalists onboard. He resigned and began working as a consultant, learning about various businesses while also learning about himself before his ultimate acquisition and successful operation of DLS. “Failure for me is when I do something that doesn’t work and fail to learn anything from it,” he explains. “Over the years, I’ve had a lot of learning experiences, but never failures.
If I learn something, it’s not a failure; it just didn’t give me the outcome I wanted.” In reflecting back on those years of learning and success, Jim recalls one particular evening when he and his father were watching television together when his father suddenly said, “I want to thank you.” When Jim asked why, his father responded, “For never reminding me that I told you that you shouldn’t start your own business.” Indeed, Mr. Bellas had pointed out that he had a great job that promised success, stability, and a sure future, cautioning him against giving it all up to pursue a riskier path. “I assured him, however, that it was important for him to be that cautionary voice in the world for me,” Jim says. “Only after placing your own aspirations within a context of reason and sensibility like that can you truly judge your commitment to them. I knew that what I had was great, but I knew that if I followed my inner passion to create businesses where people could best utilize their passions, what I could do was much greater.” To young people entering the business world today, Jim advises two things—persistence, and the wisdom to know when to stop persisting. “Very seldom has there been something that was just given to me,” he acknowledges. “I had to persist, and persistence has its rewards. However, sometimes you have to back away for a while and see if things move towards you. Sometimes, if you stop persisting, that which you pursue will come to you. It’s not giving up, it’s waiting.” Beyond this, Jim also emphasizes the importance of staying committed to one’s convictions. “I have always been driven by the idea of creating companies with frameworks of strong integrity,” he affirms. “Staying committed to this idea didn’t always seem like the easiest or most direct course of action, but I know it was— and continues to be—the most important one.”
Andrew Canter Clear As Glass, Strong as Family Andy Canter’s impact can be seen all over the Washington DC metro area. But if you’re not paying attention, you might look right through it. If you’ve walked past the National Air and Space Museum, stayed at the Gaylord National Hotel, or passed through security into the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill, then you’ve seen the proud work of Ridgeview Glass, owned by the Canter family and led by Andy, its President. Over the years, the firm has installed glass at the Pentagon, the US Botanical Gardens, and even the White House. Indeed, Ridgeview boasts a legacy and success that’s as clear as the glass it installs and as strong as the family that has made it all possible. When asked what he’s most proud of, Andy thinks back to late 2001, when over the course of several weeks, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to US Senate office buildings and news media offices, killing five people and infecting over a dozen others. Amidst the panic, the Department of Defense placed an emergency order to Ridgeview Glass to produce and install glass doors to improve the security of their checkpoints. “We have had an impact on this city that you can see and feel and touch,” Andy affirms today. “Whether it’s for government buildings or Tyson’s Corner, we have played an integral part in the success of these businesses and agencies.” Andy first got his start with Ridgeview Glass, founded by his father in 1981, when he was still in high school. An exceptional student who, in his senior year, managed to achieve a 6.0 weighted GPA even with the added burden of AP classes, Andy was always very confident in his abilities. He would work all summer long for his father at Ridgeview, and when school resumed in the fall, Andy would keep working, first at a pizza parlor and then at a video store. And even with work and school occupying most of his waking hours, Andy used that exceptional work ethic to carve out time to pursue another passion that remains a great source of fulfillment for him today: music. “At thirteen years old,” Andy says, “the year my father founded Ridgeview Glass, I thought I’d be a guitar play
er when I grew up.” He never gave up on that dream and has played in several bands over the years. Today, he’s a member of Chopper Trike Rebels, which will soon be putting out a record. “I reviewed our contract like I would a Ridgeview contract,” he says. “It’s extremely hard to make money in the music business.” In a way, Andy’s success in business has helped him make Chopper Trike Rebels a recognized band in the area. “I manage the band,” Andy explains, “and interestingly, my business experience has allowed me to take measures to make securing gigs and selling merchandise much easier.” With this combination of incredible academic stamina, a flare for music, and an innate proclivity for entrepreneurship, Andy is perhaps the quintessential Renaissance man, yet he ran into friction during his college years when a liberal arts curriculum sought to force him into a mold he didn’t fit in. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Maryland College Park, where he intended to study computer science. When he arrived there, however, he was disappointed. “I realized very quickly,” Andy says, “that the liberal arts approach to education was a terrible fit for me. I wanted to be a computer science major, but instead I found myself sitting down in a dark auditorium first thing in the morning being forced to memorize the dimensions and features of the Parthenon frieze.” It wasn’t long before he realized that college wasn’t for him. “I taught the University of Maryland everything I could in about three months,” he laughs today. Before the end of the first semester, Andy moved back into his parents’ house and started working for his father full time. With a blistering work ethic, unrelenting confidence, and a keen analytical mind, it wasn’t long before he began struggling with his father for more responsibility, and ultimately more control of Ridgeview Glass. “When I came back to the business, my father made me work in the field for several years,” he recounts. “I went through the various levels of the hierarchy and gained experience with every facet of the business. I came into the office at 22, and started off with drafting, Andrew Canter
light project management, and estimates.” This was also a period when Andy had a lot of growing up to do. “Moving out of my parents’ house was an important lesson,” he affirms. “When you’re 21 you might think that your parents’ home is still your home, but you’d be wrong.” Andy’s girlfriend stayed with him at his parents’ house for a time, which made for a lessthan-ideal climate in the Canter household. As a result, tension brewed between Andy and his mother, who also worked for the business in accounting. “My mom is a tough lady,” Andy explains. “She was incredible at collecting payment and fierce in the workplace. Once I moved out of the house, we never butted heads over anything other than work. But she had high expectations of our employees.” Andy and his family, as business owners, were working with great passion and total commitment to the business, and Andy’s mom expected the same amount of commitment from their salaried workforce. This and other challenges spurred Andy to develop a leadership style oriented around fairness and understanding, and to find a balance between work and family within his own life. “It’s important to have a shut off button,” he points out. “You have to have the understanding that you have set work hours. If it’s necessary that you work late, then you’ll work late. We were working 70 hour weeks for the first several years, but when you’re done with the day, you’re done with the day. That mindset has allowed us to have a successful business and also a close, loving family that has never once threatened to buckle under the pressure of the business.” A quick learner, Andy was scheduling and planning by age 24, and in fits and starts the transfer of the business began. Although there was some conflict, neither Andy nor his father ever had to choose family over business. “My father and I are best friends,” he avows. “He was an amazing field mechanic when he first started in the industry, and later he was a superintendent and foreman. But as I learned more about the business side of things, I could see that this would be my forte. I saw opportunities in planning that he wasn’t capitalizing on, and I started pushing and taking over.” Andy was young, but he felt more than ready to handle scheduling and planning. “I didn’t have any ownership on paper,” Andy says. “It wasn’t necessarily about that for me. I saw opportunities, and I was eager to take advantage of them. My dad pushed back, but it was never bad—there were never kick-down-drag-out fights. But there was definitely the struggle of him losing power, and me gaining it.” Despite this subtle challenge, the business was un22
doubtedly growing, and the changes Andy had begun to instill were working. Andy’s father could see that his son was making good decisions. His AP math background aided him immensely in learning both the technical and financial aspects of the business, and before long, the family worked out a way to split ownership of the business. Dividing things up in this way has actually lent the enterprise a stability and resilience that is atypical for most growing family-run businesses—something for which Andy and his family remain thankful today. “Sometimes the problem with a growing business,” Andy explains, “is jealousy over money between the partners. We got to a point where there were essentially three parties: my future wife and I, my brother and his wife, and my mom and dad. We split the company evenly between us, and it may have been the smartest thing we did for the business, as a family. Once we worked that out, by 1995 my father had all but completely handed the reins over to me.” Since then, Andy has kept the business profitable almost every year. The business has had to downsize and grow at points, but Andy has always been able to meet his goal of keeping a core of many original team members intact. “We have employees today who have worked for us for over twenty years,” he remarks. Today, Andy’s brother, Matt Canter, also works for the business as a project manager, and they split majority ownership evenly between them. “I’m best at the big picture planning and strategy,” Andy says. “My brother is better at the nuts and bolts aspects of running the business. He wants to get down to 64th of an inch. But while we have clear, defined roles, we remain cognizant of the fact that you can’t be afraid to step into different roles and put on different hats. In a business of our kind, that’s necessary.” When his parents eventually retired in 2007, Andy overruled their reluctance to get out of the business with anything more than a small retirement allowance. “I insisted that they stay on the books,” he explains. “I told my mom she was crazy. Just like the parents take care of the kids, it’s time for the kids to take care of the parents.” Indeed, when Andy and his brother were young children, their mom left her job to take care of them. When they were a little older, she only worked part time, wrapping up her professional responsibilities by the time they were done with school so she could be available and involved with them. “We weren’t raised by teachers and baby-sitters,” Andy points out, “and I’m sure that made a big difference in my upbringing. I credit it a lot for my confidence level.
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
A singer in my band had a child recently, and his wife left her job to care for their daughter full-time. When you look at the way kids speak and learn to interact, you can see that it makes a big difference.” Two and a half years ago, Andy’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer and given a grim prognosis. Andy and his brother leapt into action and were sure to attend every appointment with their father, and supported him through treatment. Today, the cancer
hasn’t spread, and Andy’s father has lived far beyond his initial prognosis. “Your family is the closest thing you have,” Andy says. “That’s your blood, and I don’t know how people get by without it.” By sticking together through good times and bad and pushing one another to capitalize upon their strengths, the Andy and his family have built Ridgeview Glass into a thriving enterprise that has transformed the city of Washington, and the Canter family itself.
Craig Cummings The Relationships Behind Leadership During the last assignment of his seventeen years of service in the U.S. Army, Craig Cummings ran into trouble completing a project with a subcontractor. Some of his coworkers in the government were quick to lay blame on their contact person at the subcontracting group, but Craig recognized the importance of eschewing negativity in favor of teamwork. “I said, ‘I think you’re doing a great job, and here are some additional things we can work on,’” he remembers. “I very much focused on the subcontractor and us being successful together,” Craig explains today. About a year later, Craig left the Army and helped launch a private business called Berico Tailored Systems, which later became Battlefield Telecommunications Systems (BTS). The fledgling company’s first opportunity to bid on a contract arose, and as luck would have it, the point of contact with the company leading the contract was the same man Craig had defended earlier in their careers. “He was eager to pay back the kind treatment he’d received,” Craig recalls. “It’s such a lesson in life when you realize how quickly tides can turn.” Craig’s emphasis on building personal relationships and looking out for those around him has served him well throughout his career. Today, Craig is the COO of BTS, a company that, since its inception in October 2008, has grown from 2 employees to nearly 100 across three businesses. Spun off from Berico Technologies, BTS is militarizing cellular technology to bring a much-needed tactical 3G wireless network to troops in Afghanistan. “We’re able to collapse all the functionality of a cellular network into a small box,” explains Craig. “That box is mobile and creates a network, or “cellular bubble,” around it. You put the box inside a military vehicle or up on military blimps—anything that flies, drives, or floats.” Before long, individual soldiers may be able to pack the capability as well. The current range of the boxes in Afghanistan is about 1 to 3 kilometers, and the system currently being built by BTS would significantly expand that. Theoretically, the cellular networks could extend as far as 50 kilometers.
Aside from the game-changing cellular technology BTS has brought to Afghanistan, additional technological advances have been made at APX Labs, the company based in Herndon, Virginia that was spun out of BTS in early 2011. At APX, the company is developing software that enables augmented reality vision inside eyeglasses. The glasses boast the ability to identify faces, recognize voices, display video, and other features that have long been the territory of science fiction. “It’s like a wearable computer screen,” says Craig. “That’s where this technology is going. And you’ll be seeing this in the mainstream, I’d say, in about 3 to 5 years.” Along with BTS and APX Labs, the third company spun out of BTS is BTS Software Solutions. This arm of the business upgrades and maintains the software BTS develops and sells to the government, and arose out of a desire to separate products from services. “The idea was that the services company and the product company were two different cultures,” explains Craig. “In the services company, the majority of the workforce is embedded in government spaces or working directly for the government customer, whereas in the product company, you generally have a team working in close proximity to one another and building something that will later be presented to the customer.” After the government purchased the software that BTS had built in the summer of 2011, Craig and his partners decided to spin out the engineering team who built that software into its own company, BTS Software Solutions, which now focuses on maintaining and upgrading that software for the government. As with most of the turning points in Craig’s life, his decision to leave the Army to help create BTS stemmed from close personal and professional relationships. In fact, a friend of Craig’s brother first planted the seed of the idea that would become BTS. The friend was working on extending cellular networks in the Midwest, and Craig wondered whether the technology could be implemented in U.S. war zones. He set up a dinner with Guy Filippelli, a fellow West Point graduate and NSA Craig Cummings
employee, who in turn brought another key player, Sean Lane, on board. An unbelievable visionary when it comes to technology, Sean launched BTS, and when Craig finished out his remaining time in the Army about six months later, he came onboard. While Craig didn’t take his decision to leave the Army lightly, he knew he could make a greater impact outside of the military, which was somewhat bureaucratic and too seniority-based for his taste. “I never questioned my decision to get out,” he details. “I definitely felt like I was in my element when I joined BTS, working with and leading a small team.” Additionally, he felt that further deployments after his stint in Afghanistan would place too much strain on his wife and young children. Still, the lessons he learned and the relationships he built during his 17-year career in the Army have since proved invaluable. Born into a military family himself, Craig had planned to go to West Point from an early age. His father served in the Air Force for 26 years while his mother worked for Army Materiel Command for nearly 30 years, and both his older brothers went through West Point and on to careers in the Army. A natural leader who excelled in sports and served as President of his senior class, Craig was drawn to West Point and considered it the premiere leadership institution in the country. “I’m very comfortable leading people,” says Craig. “I enjoy being with people and working with other people, and just generally taking a step forward from the rest of the group.” His admiration for his brothers and his desire to pursue leadership opportunities brought him to West Point, and his successes there brought him an Army career which included a Ph.D. from Columbia, a chance to teach in the revered Social Sciences Department back at West Point, a Top Secret Government Clearance, and a Bronze Star. The major turning points in Craig’s career happened suddenly and unexpectedly, in what Craig terms “30-second moments.” These chance encounters changed his life significantly, but were not merely the work of luck. Rather, they also grew out of the trust and respect garnered through his exceptional skill and sincerity in connecting with others. After four years as an Armor Officer in Colorado, Craig knew he would soon have to leave the military so his wife could follow her dream of attending law school. There were very few good law schools located near Army bases, and there was no other apparent solution. However, a fateful visit to his brother—who was working back at West Point— intervened, and Craig’s trajectory shifted. While driving back to the airport to leave West Point, 26
he stopped to get gas and ran into a former professor of his, Mike Meese. While catching up, the nature of Craig’s problem came to light, and Mike was more than happy to help. “The next thing I know, I call him up and say, ‘Sir, Georgetown Law School is 18 miles from Fort Meade, Maryland; is there any way you can help me get to Fort Meade?’” Craig recounts. “It was by the grace of God there was one slot open there. There were fifteen in Korea, ten at Fort Hood, ten at Fort Bragg, and only one at Fort Meade, and the Colonel said he wanted me.” As a result, Craig became a Military Intelligence Officer at the NSA, and he learned a valuable lesson about the workings of the U.S. Army. “I didn’t realize the way the military worked,” he says. “You sort of just think you go where Big Brother tells you to go. But more than anything else, maintaining strong relationships and getting to know your coworkers dictates your future.” After his time at Fort Meade, Craig spent three years as a full-time student earning a Ph.D. at Columbia. He credits his wife as the key player in the decision to push beyond a Master’s, as she came from a family of M.D.s and encouraged him to consider a doctorate. “I’m hugely grateful to have been pushed to go for that degree,” he says. Craig recalls meeting his wife with the same reverence for the workings of fate apparent when recounting his professional successes. Both Truman Scholars, she a student at Tulane University, the two met while at a conference for the scholarship winners as junior undergraduates. “I wore my uniform to try and get her attention actually,” he laughs today. “And it worked. We met and became fast friends. The next day I found out she had a boyfriend about the same time she found out I had a girlfriend, and we didn’t talk for the next 36 hours. And then it was midnight the night before the conference ended, and somehow our paths crossed. We started talking and literally didn’t stop until the sun came out the next day. It was love.” They were engaged a mere month later, married a year after that, and remain happily married after almost nineteen years. Ph.D. in hand, Craig returned to West Point to teach in the Social Sciences Department, which was comprised of Political Science, Economics, and International Relations courses. Honored to be asked to teach at the institution, he was particularly thrilled to be a part of what is called the “Sosh” Department. “It has this reputation in the Army as a powerhouse, as sort of a rock star group of Officers who go back and teach there,” he explains today. As Craig then considered his next move after two years of teaching, fate once again brought the helping hand of an old friend. While on the phone with a good friend in Denver, a more senior
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
officer walked in on the call. The officer happened to know Craig from a previous assignment and struck up a conversation, asking suddenly, “What do you think about coming out here to be my deputy next year?” Craig, surprised, considered it briefly and accepted the offer. The job was a promotion, and after moving the family to Denver where, fortuitously enough, his wife’s family lives, Craig was pulled onto a special job in Afghanistan, which in turn led to another high-level opportunity. “It all pivoted off of getting that job in Denver,” he avows. “That was the best opportunity I could have asked for in terms of my next assignment.” Though leadership is certainly a recurrent theme throughout Craig’s career considering his leaps up the military chain of command and his co-founding of BTS, he sees his success more tied to his ability to connect with others than anything else. “I think what I do well, is I’m very good around people,” Craig acknowledges. “I can connect with people, and this engenders those 30-second moments down the road.” Craig’s career demonstrates how building those connections can serve to create greater leadership opportunities. “I don’t think I have all the right answers,” he continues. “I am one of those leaders that solicits a lot of input from others.”
When asked what advice he’d give to young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Craig stresses the importance of finding one’s niche and settling in. “Don’t be afraid to pay your dues early on, and as your career progresses, try to find your wheelhouse,” he urges. “I’m a believer in establishing one’s self in that place where you’re just going to be successful. And I always knew that where I was going to be successful was in leading a group of people toward something we’re all passionate about.” Ever valuing his personal relationships above all else, Craig doesn’t hesitate when asked about his biggest success. “I think without a doubt it’s my family life,” he explains. “I feel like I have this amazing family, this amazing honeymoon-like marriage, crazy good kids, super smart, super loving.” And while he certainly takes pride in the fact that BTS accrued over $70 million in revenue in just its first three years of existence, he mentions in the same breath the Washingtonian’s “Best Places to Work” Award. “It was a scale of 5 and we were at 4.89,” he says proudly. “I believe it confirms that businesses can be disciplined and successful while taking care of people at the same time. In fact, I believe we’re successful, not in spite of the fact that we take care of people, but because we take care of people.”
Steve DiAntonio The End Is Just The Beginning When Steve DiAntonio boarded a plane and picked up a conversation with his soon-to-be business partner, Carole Jackson, he didn’t know just how much his world would change. A Navy veteran with an MBA and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Steve was ready to take on his next big challenge, but he was looking for the right opportunity. Now the CEO and Chairman of Color Me Beautiful, a cosmetics company applying the ground-breaking concepts of personalized color-mapping for a woman’s individualized beauty needs, Steve has risen to that challenge. “Carole Jackson wrote the New York Times #1 bestselling book, “Color Me Beautiful” which, for the first time, took a scientific approach to helping women select their best clothing, accessories, jewelry and makeup based on their skin tone, eye color and hair color. When I met Carole on that flight, I knew that there was an opportunity. There was a buzz and good name recognition because of the book.” When Steve and Carole first started Color Me Beautiful, Inc. (CMB) in 1984, they designed a product for women to use as a shopping guide, with swatches for women to take to the stores with them. They soon realized the economic limitations as these products were just one-time purchases. Steve decided that the next step should be to branch out into cosmetics, but Carole did not want to expand into cosmetics and, in 1989, Steve took ownership of the company. “When we first started, we didn’t know the cosmetics industry. Typically, most cosmetics are sold in department stores where, in order to bring in business, they give away free gifts with a purchase.” CMB knew that they would not be able to compete in the same way as the large multi-national cosmetic companies and, during the early years, CMB struggled to find the right marketing plan to break out of the ‘old model’. That struggle continued through 1992, when the company was on its last legs and almost out of reserves. “I remember when we finally figured out a way to
be competitive with the larger cosmetic giants. We changed our model to focus on incentivizing our sales team instead of trying to draw in customers based on giveaways and ads in the newspaper. We encouraged our sales associates to get out from behind the counter (we called it proactive selling or ‘aisle style’) and approach customers and give them tips on how to use our products.” By 1994, CMB was having big sales gains in large retail chains such as JC Penney’s, Macy’s and Ulta. And, CMB had collected several Supplier of the Year awards. By 2000, Steve began to realize that CMB had a looming problem. They had most of their business concentrated in one particular store chain, J.C. Penney’s, but business was so successful that they continued to develop new products for that chain. Suddenly and unexpectedly in 2004, Steve received a call from the president of the retail chain requesting a meeting. ”We had a lot of success but we were overly exposed to Penney’s. At that point, we had 70% of our business in Penney’s. I remember when I asked the president what the meeting was about, he said they had decided they were going to exit cosmetics.” Not only did they plan to exit the cosmetics market, but the chain planned to implement that exit within four months’ time. “My face went white and my hands got numb, all within seconds. I thought, ‘We’re done… most of our employees, many of which had done good work for years, would have to be let go’. And, I could see my family living in a tent on the street.” CMB went from being a $40 million company to a $12 million company, overnight. Over the next two years, Steve would fight endlessly and tirelessly to save Color Me Beautiful. Despite the very real financial crisis and the realities of layoffs, downsizing, and complete corporate culture revision, Steve found a way to pull CMB through.
“We somehow survived… but during the first 6 months the only way I could sleep was to work myself to exhaustion and then collapse. I didn’t know if we would fold. But, I felt like, ‘if we can make it, then try to make it’.” By 2006, CMB was down to $7.5 million in revenue. It was clear that CMB needed to re-invent itself. CMB changed its delivery method, pulling out of most department stores and focusing on its direct-selling businesses, whether through individuals who sold out of their homes or through entrepreneurs working in kiosks in shopping malls. Today Color Me Beautiful is bringing in $15 million in revenue and has been consistently turning a profit each year. It can be said that Steve’s parent’s influence, his wife’s support and his ability to reinvent himself helped keep CMB afloat during those years. Born into a career military family with a father in the Air Force, Steve learned very early on the importance of hard work and perseverance. “My father was very determined and education was important to him. He did not finish high school until he was 30. He got his GED and then went on to get his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, with five kids, by studying at night.” Though education was stressed by his parents and he wanted to attend the Naval Academy, Steve did not reach his full potential during his early years in school. Says Steve, “While I studied, I put too much focus on things other than academics, such as sports and friends. And, I was too caught up with my friends’ impressions of me.” Steve soon realized that a change was needed when he received his SAT scores during his junior year of high school. “When I received my SAT scores I got a reality check. I realized that I wasn’t going to the Naval Academy based on those results. At that point, I decided that I was going to prove to myself that I was good enough. I picked up an SAT prep book full of academic reviews and sample tests. I stopped trying to be popular and dropped out of the social scene. I dedicated my time to studying. I was focused on reviewing math, reading comprehension and science and taking the sample SAT tests. I studied anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a day, every day, all summer between my junior and senior years. The hard work paid off, resulting in a 4.0 my final year and top 10% SAT scores.” Once Steve turned things around with his SAT scores 30
and grades, he was accepted to the Naval Academy. Steve also excelled at the Naval Academy, graduating in the top 10% of his class and being selected for a MBA and PhD scholarship at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Looking back on the last year and a half of high school, digging in and working hard, I remember as challenging. It was also one of the most rewarding times of my life. I was progressing with my academics. As a result, I gained more confidence. The confidence built incrementally and carried over to all aspects of my life. I felt prepared and confident about the challenges of the Naval Academy. The four years at the Naval Academy were also extremely rigorous – academically, emotionally and physically. I stayed on the same path at the Naval Academy as on my last year of high school. I worked hard and was proving myself and gaining confidence all the while.” After graduation, Steve was a Naval Officer and found himself in an entirely different world. With sixty men reporting to him, from diverse backgrounds and cultures, Steve had to learn quickly how to become an effective leader in a completely different environment. “I enjoyed my time as a Naval Officer. It was a great adventure and I liked being part of a greater cause. And, what better way than serving in the Navy?” After several years, Steve decided he would leave the Navy to try something different and strike out on his own. “But I thought, ‘when I leave the Navy, what am I going to do?’ I grew up in a military family and then spent the next number of years either training to be, or being, a Naval Officer. I was in my mid-20s with no clear sense of what would best embody my skills and interests.” Steve decided to ‘test the waters’ by visiting several of his former Navy colleagues who were working in private industry to see which field he would be interested in pursuing. After visiting a friend who was a lawyer and one who was a doctor, Steve quickly settled on business as his field of choice, because it allowed the most varied opportunities. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with an MBA and a PhD, Steve was hired at McKinsey & Company where he worked in consulting, gaining skills and tools in strategy and organizational development. “At McKinsey, I had to grasp the practical side of what business was all about. My colleagues at McKinsey were well educated, smart and very talented. Working alongside them and solving tough business problems was a great experience and exactly what I needed in order to
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
become an entrepreneur.” “Color Me Beautiful has been a great experience. While JC Penney’s exit from the cosmetic category was a big blow, I learned more during that transition period than I did at any other time running this company. We have great people and we’re doing some exciting things. We’ve been able to rebuild. We’re offering opportunities to women to own their own businesses selling our products through retail shops in malls, as home-based entrepreneurs and through international distribution. I enjoy seeing the women, given this opportunity; make something good out of it for themselves. Many are earning six figure incomes and driving company-paid Mercedes.” One of the recent lessons Steve is learning is the importance of incorporating more fun into his everyday experiences. “During my entire working life, I’ve worked hard. I’ve always equated working hard with success. Now that I’m well into my career and have a successful business, I’m trying to have more balance. Yet, it’s a challenge to change the habits of long hours which made me successful in order to spend more time with family and friends.” Steve has been married for 23 years to his wife, Sue, and they have two grown children in college, daughter Nicole and son, Chris. “I’ve learned a lot from my wife and kids. Sue was a successful business woman in technology sales and, with her great intuition, has given me excellent marketing and sales advice. She’s also been a terrific homemaker and provided a great family environment so I
could put in the effort at work. Both Nicole, a media studies major, and Chris, a business major and Eagle Scout, work hard to get ahead. I’m inspired as I see their determination, how well they face new challenges, enjoy what they do and have a love for life.” Though Steve is finding a balance and enjoying more time with his wife and family, he is still dedicated to putting in the hours needed and finding the right formula to ensure his company’s continued growth. “I’m still driven to make a difference. We have a great opportunity at Color Me Beautiful, Inc. to give women the opportunity to own their own businesses and become financially independent. Once we do that really well and have an outstanding track record, I’ll be content to retire and move on with the next chapter of my life.” Steve has a message to those just entering the workforce, “Working hard is what is needed to get ahead. And, enjoy being with your family, friends and coworkers. Select your friends well. Enjoy the process and adventure of your daily life. Also, be sure to take time for yourself. Do what makes you happy. Don’t wake up one day and have to say that you wish you had done things differently.” Though Steve DiAntonio’s life has been marked with great successes and huge trials, his focus and commitment to achieving his goals, in the midst of those trials, is what makes him the role model that he is today. A self-starter, hard-worker and dedicated executive who never gave up, Steve DiAntonio has certainly colored it beautiful and proved that, in any season, the future can look very bright.
Brian Domschke For the Fun of It Brian Domschke was drawn to technology at a young age. When the family purchased a new computer in the days before the internet, he was intrigued. Tiring of the Atari games in less than a week, Brian found himself wondering what else the computer could do. Once he discovered that he could call other locations around the world to share information and get answers, the computer become a central focus in his life. Using what he learned, Brian developed his first business when he was 13 years old. The non-profit bulletin board system (BBS) he created allowed individuals to call in and share information and topics. They could also acquire additional software and get support. The board became very popular and when large numbers of people attempted to dial-in, the system would slow down. When several users complained about how slow it was, Brian issued them a challenge, “If you love it that much, then donate whatever you feel like donating and all of the money will go right back into upgrading the system”. “The money just flooded in,” Brian recalls. “It started with $50 in a week and within a month I’d already received another $500. I was able to upgrade the hard drive, get additional equipment, and additional phone lines. It was amazing.” This same inventiveness and drive have fueled the success of Brian’s current business, BDNet Corporate Networking, which he founded in 1999. BDNet is a service provider in the information technology (IT) industry providing a full-suite of managed IT service to businesses and organizations in the Washington, DC region. The services BDNet offers include purchasing, installation, maintenance, monitoring, and setup, as well as leading-edge data backup and recovery. “We’re the vendor that helps you resolve all technology issues whether it be security, infrastructure, computer networking, or phone systems,” Brian proudly states. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Brian describes himself as a typical kid up until the fifth or sixth grade. But in his teen years, he admits that he became more indepen-
dent and was a bit uncontrollable. “My parents did a good job raising me. When I look back on it, I think one of the best things they did was gave me choices rather than saying ‘You can’t do that’.” Instead his parents laid out his options, “Here’s the right way and here’s the wrong way. You choose, and you deal with the consequences”. “Even at an early age,” Brian recalls, “there was a lot of personal learning that I was able to do because of being allowed to make my own mistakes. Things really shifted for Brian when he entered vocational high school, naturally choosing the computer track. He soon realized, however, that he already knew a lot more than what they were learning in the classroom. After three weeks, he approached the teacher and asked her what they were going to be doing for the remainder of the year. She informed him that the class was going to go through the remaining chapters in the workbook and do the assignments. Several days later, he came back to her. “Here are chapters 5 thru 56; I’ll be at home if you need me.” Then Brian went back home to work on his BBS system. Later his teacher would tell his parents, “He knows more than I do, I can’t keep him here.” “It was nice to know that I was at that level,” reflects Brian, “and it pushed me even more.” Later, he would get regular calls from that teacher asking his advice on computer problems or technical issues that she couldn’t resolve. With his near-obsession with working on the computer, getting to his other classes was a challenge for Brian. He was just not interested in anything that they did in class. It was around this time that he decided he was only going to do what was necessary in school to graduate. “I knew that I could graduate with a grade of D and I was happy with a D or a C.” So Brian began to methodically work his plan. He would go to class only on test days, and ace the test, knowing that it would offset the low marks he would get for not doing homework.
He calculated that this would balance out to the D he would need in order to graduate. “I would think of ways to do the minimal amount possible,” he says, “but all of this was so that I could stay home and play on my system and work this little business I had. That sums up how my life was.” As high school graduation dates neared, Brian’s father approached him and asked what his future plans were. Brian, who had no idea of what was next for him, responded “I guess I’ll go to college.” When his father inquired, “Who’s paying for that?” Brian responded, “What do you mean who’s paying for it? Aren’t you paying for it?” Brian momentarily toyed with the idea of paying his own way through college, but was fully aware that he wouldn’t go to the class. “My dad knew that, too,” he states. Years later, his father confided, “If you had shown just a little bit of interest, I would have paid for your college, but you had no interest at all.” Brian concurred. “We both agreed it would have been a big waste of money at that time.” That 15-minute conversation with his father, led to Brian’s decision to join the U. S. Army, which he asserts was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. “That was the turning point in my life because I didn’t have too much ability to listen to authority at that time,” he says. “I just wanted to do what I wanted to do.” Brian’s dad gave him some simple advice to help him make it through boot camp. “Stay out of the way. Try to listen. Don’t get in anybody’s face. And don’t volunteer for anything.” As fate would have it, on his very first day, Brian caught the attention of the drill sergeant. “What I did could have either gotten me in trouble or been taken as leadership,” he says. Luckily, the drill sergeant took it as a sign of leadership and put Brian in charge of a platoon. “From that point on I loved it. It changed me so much. I learned what it was like to have people under you and how to motivate them. I surprised myself. I surprised everybody. The Army gave me organization, it gave me leadership, and it gave me a set way of doing things. I loved it.” During his four years in the Army, Brian was assigned to maintain the computer network, where he continued to develop his skills and knowledge of different systems. He also started another small business on the side, building computers and selling them to officers and enlisted personnel. His tour of duty ended six months earlier than scheduled because he had multiple 34
job offers waiting. The offer Brian accepted was with a small government contractor. He worked with them for several years honing his technical skills even more. Although he loved being there, he realized he could make a lot more money elsewhere and left the company on very good terms. So good, in fact, that they later became BDNet’s first customer. Straight away, Brian accepted a position with another government contractor, which almost doubled his salary. When he was finally sent to the client site, it turned out to be at The Library of Congress. His assignment was to migrate data onto a Microsoft network. In three months the migration was complete. What Brian didn’t know was that the project had been expected to take eighteen months to complete. “Suddenly, the contract was gone. I didn’t know it at the time, but it created a lot of waves,” he remembers. Then he was offered a full-time job at The Library of Congress as a federal government employee to take care of the network he’d migrated. “I really didn’t have much to do there. I had already done it. All they wanted was someone who was capable and available to monitor the system. They were very flexible about me taking time off when I needed to. That’s what allowed me to start my business. Things spread quickly to the point that I started pushing more toward my personal business and taking more time off without pay at my job. Finally, I told them that I needed to step down, but it was a good thing.” Brian applauds his wife as a major influence on BDNet’s success. “My wife actually pushed me to start the business,” he relays. “I was very timid to incorporate the business, because once you’re incorporated, there’s no turning back. She told me, “You’re going to be fine. Just keep moving.” By the time Brian left The Library of Congress, BDNet was a year old and in the spring of 2000, he hired his first employee to handle the increasing workload. The business did exceedingly well and the client list grew rapidly, successfully weathering the dot.com boom and failure. “I didn’t have to do any type of sales,” Brian says proudly. Twelve years after opening, BDNet now has 10 employees and is looking toward future growth. “In the first eight years, we didn’t put a lot of effort into growing the business,” Brian admits, “Now it’s just a nice clean machine moving in the direction of becoming a much larger force in the DC metro area.” With the staff taking over more of the technical aspects of the business, Brian is focusing more on build-
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ing client relationships. “I think relationships are the most important piece in life and in business.” As CEO, Brian’s management style is similarly centered on relationships and creating a positive work environment with his team. “I’ve never been ‘the boss’. My guys know I’m in charge, but I never had to tell anybody I’m in charge. Everybody knows their part in what needs to be done; I just give the direction because I’m the one interpreting it from the client.” But as hard-working as they are, it’s never all work and no play for Brian’s team. “For fun, we do things together outside the office, not just as employees, but as friends and colleagues. I have a house in the mountains where we often go to for skiing and we do other activities of that nature.”
In fact, Brian’s advice to new team members, or anyone else starting out in the workforce, mirrors his philosophy. “Enjoy what you’re doing and you’ll always be rich,” he advises, “I’ve enjoyed everything that I do and embraced who I am and the money just comes. Find something that you enjoy. If you don’t, it’s not worth it. Even within a highly technical field where precision, the strictest attention to detail, and sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, are commonplace, Brian Domschke has found a way to make it fun. Blending his passion for computers, his resourcefulness, and his natural ingenuity, Brian Domschke has carved out a place for himself and has ensured not only his own but BDNet’s continued success in the future.
Olugbenga Erinle An Early Start Today, Olugbenga “Benga” Erinle and his family are spread all across the globe, from the United States to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. But at age three, growing up on the West African coast in Nigeria, Benga was inseparable from his older brother, who was about to start first grade. On the morning of his brother’s first day, Benga insisted that he come along with his brother and their mother in the car. When it was time to watch his brother walk into the school, Benga couldn’t restrain himself. He fussed and pleaded until his mother, who was friends with the school proprietor, allowed Benga to stay at kindergarten for the day. Then the same thing happened the next day, and the next. After three days, the proprietor and Benga’s mother could see that Benga could hold his own with the older children. They decided it would be best just to get out of his way, and with that, Benga became a three-year-old kindergartner. Now the President of 3eTI, Inc., they wouldn’t be the last to realize there was no stopping him. “I went through life early,” Benga says today. The kindergarten was part of an elite private school, as Benga’s parents, who were exceptionally entrepreneurial, gladly invested in private education for all their children. In the early 1970s, while his seven children were in school, Benga’s father had left his position at a local bank to import color televisions to Nigeria from Italy, selling them out of the family’s garage. He shortly expanded to kitchen appliances, and then began working with Italian businessmen, importing raw materials and assembling and selling appliances locally. He built a business of 250 people, establishing a factory and shops. Benga’s mother, able to manage a household of seven children with time left over, went into beverage distribution and became one of the largest distributors of Guinness Stout in Nigeria in the late 1970s and 1980s. “I have entrepreneurial DNA,” Benga laughs. “Although my parents had their businesses and were quite busy, they really focused on our education.” Neither of Benga’s parents had attended college themselves, but in the oil boom of the 1970s, they could
see their country developing rapidly around them. They had also exposed themselves through their business ventures to the rest of the world. They knew that a good education would be critical to their children’s success. “Life in our home was very simple,” he recalls. “You went to school, you came home, you studied, you ate, you studied some more, and then you went to bed. The future was not really a question for us. We would of course finish high school, but we were always going to go further than that. College was a given.” At the time, Nigeria was not a highly industrialized nation, but seeing his parents’ entrepreneurial success set a strong example for what Benga knew was possible for an individual in the global economy. His family was very comfortable by Nigerian standards, and they would travel to Europe and the US on vacations, but the number one priority for Benga and his siblings was always education and hard work, and his day-to-day life was structured around this concept. In the summer, they would work at his father’s show room for a nominal salary of one dollar a day. “Our job was school,” he remembers. And so it came to be that Benga was applying to colleges in 1981 at the age fourteen. “After ten years of primary school, I was ready,” he explains. He applied both locally in Nigeria and to schools in the United States. He was accepted to Bowie State College in Maryland, where two of his sisters had gotten degrees in accounting and sociology. Benga decided to follow in their footsteps by accepting the admission, initially planning to study accounting as well. However, his father nudged him toward a different path. He wanted his son to study engineering and later return to Nigeria to help run the factory, so he offered Benga a deal: Benga would study engineering for one year, and if he didn’t like it, he could transition over to accounting. “After that first year, I couldn’t imagine being an accountant,” he avows. “Everything in me is an engineer. I’m very data driven and rational. If you ask my wife, she would certainly say the same thing.” Benga had a strong aptitude for engineering, and Olugbenga Erinle
through a dual degree program he obtained a math degree out of Bowie and an electrical engineering degree from Howard University without much difficulty. But soon he would hit the first great obstacle of his life. While in graduate school, without appreciating the possible applications, Benga found himself studying material that was most relevant to missile defense, like trajectory planning and how to intercept objects in space. It was the era of President Reagan’s strategic defense initiative, also known as ‘Star Wars,’ and it became clear to Benga that he would be unemployed if he did not return to Nigeria. He did not see a path to employment in missile defense in the U.S. being a foreign national. Even worse, a return to Nigeria would not assure employment in his field of study. “Nigeria,” he says, “obviously had no need for missile defense. The problems there were broader than defending against missiles.” It was also around this time that Benga’s father’s business began to struggle economically. Thus, he made the decision not to return to his country of origin but to instead find work in the U.S. He settled on the best he could find in engineering: doing federal highway research and development. “That was a rough time for me,” he remembers. “It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was tough to transition from control systems, which I loved, to highway safety research. I was crashing vehicles into barriers on computers to predict the impact of vehicles of certain sizes hitting various roadside barriers at varying speeds and angles, which wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It was challenging, but I wanted to get back to communications.” However, even though the position was so far removed from what Benga wanted to do, he persevered. “You can’t worry about what you don’t have,” he says. “You have to focus on what you do have. The challenge was that I didn’t think I was any good at civil engineering... but I was able to find a way to apply what I did know to understand what I didn’t. The struggle in those years was not to lose self-confidence, but rather, to be successful in the job I had.” Although it was not his area of specialty, Benga performed so well that he was made a manager of a team of graduate students more highly trained than he was. “My vice president there saw that I was dumb enough to bang my head through things until they got done,” Benga says with a smile. “He gave me a chance to lead projects focused on highway research, and we delivered on time and on budget. That marked a seminal point in my career in terms of setting me up for leadership.” Benga’s hard work on highway safety testing paid off as the company employing him helped him secure per38
manent residency in the United States. And after five years there, in the early 1990s, an opportunity came to join a company doing federal contracting called AEPCO, designing communication systems for the US Navy. After just a few more years, Benga was given the greatest opportunity of his life thus far, in what would begin a career-defining role in wireless communications and systems engineering. It was the mid-1990s at the time, and the dot-com boom was ramping up. As an initiative to tap into the growing tech industry, AEPCO founded AEPTEC Microsystems at the end of 1995 to develop miniaturized sensors that would help improve the performance of laptops. After a couple years, with very little success, AEPCO asked Benga to partner with Steven Chen to re-focus the company towards the U.S. DOD. Benga, Steven, and their team rebuilt the business with a focus on wireless sensor networking and with a new name that it still operates under today: 3eTI. Unlike many Washington DC-area federal contractors that work in technology, 3eTI did not focus on technology services. Instead, it developed new technology for the US Navy in the form of wireless sensor interface devices that dramatically increased the efficiency of control systems on Navy ships with less labor. “During one of my first times actually going to visit a Navy ship,” Benga recalls, “I saw an individual with a notepad walking around, reading gauges and recording data. Then he would go to the engineer’s office and enter the data manually. I asked them, what use is all that information an hour later?” Many of these systems measured temperature, vibration, pressure, and other time-sensitive data. Benga and his team developed systems that could measure and control those facets in near real-time, a capability extremely valuable to the US Navy. From 1997 to 2006, Benga and his team built 3eTI to a $25 million dollar business, as a subsidiary of AEPCO, employing up to 130 people. They extended their offerings beyond wireless sensor networks to include wireless security products that are approved by NIST and the NSA for use by the military and federal enterprises. But as they struggled to reach the $30 million mark, they decided to sell the business. What followed was a series of sales that nevertheless kept Benga and, for some time Steven as well, leading the company. First, they were acquired by a public company, EF Johnson out of Dallas, Texas, in 2006. “It was a challenging time during the EF Johnson years,” Benga admits. “It was our first experience being part of a public company. We realized very quickly that the strategy had
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
to be about meeting certain goals in a 90-day period. When you’re an entrepreneurial bunch used to developing nifty things that solve unique problems, and then you shift into an environment where, yes, you can do great things, but 90 days later you have to meet certain financial targets? An approach like that starts to dilute one’s focus.” About four years later, EF Johnson had to go private, and Benga was part of the team to execute that transaction. They were purchased by Francisco Partners, a private equity firm, in 2010. Then in February of 2011, 3eTI was acquired by Ultra Electronics, an international defense, security, transport, and energy company. In considering the reason for his success and the source of his strength in the face of adversity, Benga says with certainty that it was his upbringing. “My parents never allowed us to rest on what they had,” he says. When he had asked his parents for an allowance when he was little, they asked him what he could possibly need it for. He remembers them saying, “You have a driver that takes you to school and brings you home. You have breakfast before you leave and dinner when you get home. We clothe you. What do you need money for?” On Saturday mornings, Benga’s mother would have him and his brother thoroughly wash the balcony that ran around their house. “She wanted discipline,” he explains. “We worked in spite of what we had, and we worked very hard. It became a large part of who I am.” Equally as important to the fabric of his character is his faith. “I remember very well the single time we missed church on Sunday,” he recalls. “That was the Sunday my father had come back from Europe with a VCR. We were very excited as my father set it up. He had brought back one VHS tape: The Bible on video. We stayed up all night watching it, and by morning everyone was too tired to go to church.” After Benga came to the United States, he began attending church with his brother and sisters in Washington, DC, where he says his personal experience really began. “In my personal Christian faith,” he explains, “you have the latitude to pursue your passions and dreams, but you have a re-
sponsibility to follow certain guidance and teachings as established in the Holy Scriptures. As you give yourself to that, you find discipline and you find you are able to achieve in spite of the invisible barriers we all face. “This applies to business leadership and vision as well,” he continues. “If you can see the end goal with your own eyes, there wouldn’t be much to challenge people. Vision in business is about being able to see something that may or may not be clear. But when you have faith, you have a vision you can obtain.” Today, Benga has a family of his own. “My wife, Cara, has been a stalwart in my life,” he avows. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she gave up her career when she and Benga had children. “She couldn’t stand to imagine our children in day care,” he says. Cara is also the reason Benga has an MBA. As he struggled to turn 3eTI into the mid-$20 million company it would eventually become, his wife encouraged him to go to school to learn how to run a business. “I told her that I was running a business,” Benga says, “and that I knew how to do that. But then she opened my eyes to other truths, and to what I needed to do. And of course, she was right. She supports me, and she is my biggest fan. If I had nothing else to do, I’d want to spend my time traveling the world with her.” Benga sees similarities between his relationship with his wife and the marriage of one of his role models, Colin Powell. Benga, who was considering quitting his job to work for Powell’s presidential campaign if he were to run, had always admired Powell’s respect for his wife and his soft-spoken nature. “When I talk to Cara, I say that you have to watch people who are accomplished and face adversity,” he says. “They handle themselves well and don’t get belligerent. They don’t get overly emotional or misspeak or say things they will regret. That’s how I aim to operate as well.” He would urge other young entrepreneurs entering the business world today to maintain that same level-headed, downto-earth character, and, of course, to propel forward with the same intransigent attitude that started him early through kindergarten, through his professional development, and toward success.
David Harbourne The Victory Lent from Values “Okay,” said David Harbourne, accepting six extra pounds of sausage into his delivery basket. The little boy was only ten years old, but there was something about him—the sense that he was reliable, honest, hardworking, and full of potential. Cowall, a small rural community in Herefordshire County, was a close-knit community hidden safely away in the hills of England, and its strong values seeped into its inhabitants from the day they were born. That’s why the local butcher in the small rural town first recruited David to deliver meat despite his young age— indeed, he knew the child he saw before him could be trusted. “Why don’t you take some extra meat while you’re out making deliveries and see if you can sell anything else?” the butcher asked. It was David’s first day on the job, but he had never been one to turn down responsibility and wasn’t about to start now. When he showed up at the end of the day without a single sausage left in his basket, the butcher was incredulous—David had sold each extra piece of meat, and in the months that followed he would become an expert at crisscrossing the countryside on his bicycle, returning to the shop for more sausages after he’d sold everything he could carry and often clocking twenty-five or thirty miles of travel in a single day. Now living in the D.C. metropolitan area and serving as President of Fusion UV Systems, Inc., those early days selling sausages were the first expression of the innate and invaluable skill set that would set David apart from his peers and propel his ascent up the ladder to the pinnacle of professional success and satisfaction he has reached today. Spurred by the first oil crisis that shocked the nation in 1972, Fusion was founded by five physicists all working in Rockville, Maryland, in the area of alternative energy. Cold fusion was among the energy sources they were examining, and during those studies, they discovered they could generate UV light using microwaves. Shocked and fascinated by the discovery, they seized the opportunity to explore that technology and
founded the company, and Fusion has been growing steadily ever since. Where do we reap the benefits of the products of Fusion in our daily lives? Today, the company specializes solely in UV curing technology—a lesser-known but startlingly prevalent component of many of life’s most common objects. Fusion uses its technology to cure, or polymerize, adhesives, coatings, and inks on various substrates like glass, plastics, and woods. A significant proportion of furniture, for instance, has a UV curable varnish. All no-wax floorings have UV curable clear coats that give them their high-gloss, stain resistant quality. Every piece of optical fiber in the world has a UV clear coat to give it strength. The black borders of car windshields are made of UV-curable black ink. CDs and DVDs have UV-cured ink and a UV-cured lacquer. Every flat panel display, from cell phones to iPads to TVs, is manufactured through multiple UV-curing applications. When David first joined the company as the North American Sales Manager in 1981, the enterprise was called Fusion Systems Corps and had two business units—one specifically using UV light in the manufacturing of semiconductors, as well as the UV curing business that is Fusion UV Systems, Inc. today. David soon advanced to international sales director, then to marketing, and then to President of the UV curing business in 1992. The company went public in 1993 but was then acquired by a UK holding company in 1996. The other business unit was sold two years later, and the business that David had been running then became Fusion UV Systems, remaining a subsidiary of the UK company today. Today, Fusion is set apart by the breadth of its clientele, serving a wide range of industries and market segments after gaining a global reach over the years. It boasts a diverse revenue base in terms of both geography and industry type, which has held it in very good standing for several decades. The enterprise has approximately 200 employees, 110 of which are based in the US. All of its standard product manufacturing is
done in Maryland, while the customization integration engineering that comes afterward must be done locally at job sites across the world. “We learned the hard way that it is not optimal to do a custom integration for a client in Japan when you’re sitting here in Gaithersburg, Maryland,” David explains. “If you want to do the job right the first time, you need to be close to the customer.” This proximity to his clients, both geographically and relationally, is a lesson that can certainly be traced back to David’s earliest days selling sausages in the rural hills of England, and he credits the knowledge for why he was the most natural choice for President when opportunity presented itself. “In order to be successful at running a business and making it grow, you have to have a firm understanding of the customers’ needs,” he affirms. “That’s my basic philosophy. You have to be out there with the customers, which I was. Working in sales for Fusion, I was in the right place at the right time because I was working so closely with the customers. Not only was it the aspect of the job that I most enjoyed, but it also put me in the position to serve as a liaison between the client and the company, enabling me to really keep a finger on the pulse of what was working and what wasn’t.” Not only was David ideally suited to develop an expertise in reading his clients, but he also has a strain of opportunism in his blood that extends through his lineage. His grandfather and great-grandfather had a business breaking horses for the Army and were exceptionally busy during the First World War, and his father carried on the business until its functionality trickled away and he transitioned over to delivery services. This perhaps explains David’s innate sense of how and when to lead—an inner sense that is influenced, as well, through the values instilled in him by the surrounding community. “In a small village like mine, you couldn’t do anything without getting found out, so we learned honesty and integrity very quickly,” David laughs. “Whether it was a prank or something more serious, you always got caught! I also learned gentility and kindness from my mother and her side of the family, which have certainly come into play through my experience with sales.” Aside from the meat selling stint that kept him busy throughout his youth, David’s first job was at age eighteen as a laboratory assistant for the Severn River Board, which monitored pollution in river water. He made a habit of saving the money he earned as a young man and continued along the professional path he was on until one of his mentors, William Winn Williams, 42
called him into his office and blatantly proclaimed, “David, the work you’re doing is okay, but this isn’t you.” Williams pointed out that David should really be in technical sales, handing him a newspaper advertisement for a job in the sales of medical diagnostics and encouraging him to apply. As luck would have it, David won the position, launching him into his first full-time position in sales. “It was a natural fit for me because, being from a small community, I really developed my sales skills in a friendly, personable environment in which I felt completely encouraged and completely at ease,” David acknowledges today. “I’m a natural introvert, but that genuine and friendly atmosphere really fostered a confidence and sincere affection for people. I sang solos in church in front of hundreds of people, and everyone would always say hello to each other on the streets. I learned my relational skills in this close-knit community, and that sincere style of interacting with other is translated in my work today, despite its international breadth.” David began with a small territory as a regional salesman, and two years later he became an area salesman with six people reporting to him. He was then summoned to the company’s headquarters, where they told him he would be traveling to Romania and Hungary. Before long, he had assumed responsibility for the entire Eastern European territory, and he was then hired by the largest manufacturer of laboratory equipment and supplies in the UK to serve as Director of Sales for a number of years. That company handled a product line based in Maryland that made infrared equipment, and the enterprise that manufactured that product line actually approached David and asked him to launch their European operation. David accepted the offer and advanced to even greater horizons. “It was like running my own business because they basically funded it and then gave me free reign,” he remembers. “I felt as though I was still young and had enough time left in my career for potential failure, so I gave it a try.” His efforts were so successful that, after three years, the company moved him to the U.S. in 1979 to strengthen that operation. The enterprise was then acquired, and it was time for David to plot his next move. Confronted with a blank slate for the first time, David received a call from Korn/Ferry International asking him to come interview in New York. Never one to turn down an opportunity, he accepted and soon found himself in the interview, faced with the challenge of explaining how he knew when to close a sale. “I can’t
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
tell you that,” David had replied. “It might be the movement of a hand, the twitch of an eye, the touch of an ear, or something somebody says—when I see it, I absolutely know it, but I couldn’t put it into words.” With that, David was offered the position at Fusion, and the rest is history. “Today, I still couldn’t put the closing of a sale into words,” he avows. Indeed, the process is so intimate to him as to be second nature, and so fluid and organic as to defy dissection and classification. Under David’s leadership, Fusion’s track record of prominence has risen from its invincible trifecta of core values, which is composed of product leadership, operational excellence, and customer intimacy undergirded by a foundation of integrity that relies on the commitment of each individual team member. Operating with honesty and integrity has always been a core value of the company, and a defining aspect of its business practice. “In an ever-changing world, it’s of paramount importance to us that our core values remain a constant,” David explains. “That constant thus forms the foundation upon which we perform business and upon which we conduct ourselves. It’s what we are, who we are, and what we stand for.” David’s leadership philosophy today is centered around his adherence of these core values and around his innate ability to read a situation, allowing him not only to close deals with exceptional proficiency, but also to pursue opportunities that optimize success while minimizing risk. “An important part of leadership is to create a safe place for one’s employees and clients— a low-risk, stable environment that is most conducive to security and growth,” he explains. At the same time, David has always operated with a deep sense of curiosity that allows him to push the limits of what Fusion can offer its clients. In this manner, he is able to offer solu-
tions that are visionary and innovative. “The fact that Fusion is still here today, is still growing, and is a fully international company is an achievement I’m proud of,” he acknowledges. “Most companies our size haven’t done what we’ve been able to do.” Perhaps the most compelling example of these accomplishments came several decades ago, when Mitsubishi Electric tried to stop Fusion from doing business in Japan by essentially waging a patent war with the small company, usurping its designs and patenting them for itself because patent law at the time did not necessarily protect the actual inventors of a design. Most people said the game was over for Fusion, thinking it had no chance in a fight against Mitsubishi, but Don Speero, who was President at the time, wasn’t going to let his brainchild go under without a fight. With that, Fusion launched a plan to go up against Mitsubishi. Don knew Ralph Nader and began focusing on patent reform, while David decided to go over to Japan and win Mitsubishi’s major customers over to Fusion— a truly David-and Goliath feat that he accomplished within eighteen months. “We knew right was right, and we were going to do whatever it took,” David said. Patent law was, in fact, reformed and universalized worldwide, and Fusion is still around to tell the tale today. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the workforce today, David sums it up in one word: values. “What do you stand for?” he queries. “What do people expect you to stand for? I think that, in today’s world, this is even more important than it used to be—that you know what you stand for, that you have high values, and that you refuse to compromise those values.” It is precisely those values that have led him to victories both small and grand, and they continue to serve as a compass as he leads Fusion into the future.
Boyd Harter The No-Regret Path Six days after graduating from college, Boyd Harter landed in Heathrow airport in London with a small suitcase and a few dollars in his pocket. He had no place to go, no job, and no immediate plans. “In those situations, you just find out how to make things happen,” he reminisces now. “No matter where you are, there is always somebody who knows how it works, and you just have to find that person. “It wasn’t long before I discovered that there was a whole infrastructure in place there to support student workers who came in for summer jobs. I tapped into that network. I ended up being one of twelve people packed into a row house of international students from all over the world. I found a job and made friends with people from all over the world.” For Boyd, it wasn’t just a summer to remember; it was a lesson in risk-taking to remember. Now the Executive Vice President, CFO, and co-owner of Guident, a consulting firm that specializes in the use of technology to help clients in the Washington metro area better manage their mission, his life is a calculated sequence of risk and reward, flecked with once-in-alifetime experiences that only belong to those who dare to forge a path all their own. Guident has made quite a name for itself in recent years, setting itself apart as an expert in business intelligence, data warehousing, predictive analytics, traditional systems engineering, and application development. Whether they’re helping a client handle supply chain management, finances, work management, or something else, Boyd and his team help them deliver on their mission. They take data in its raw form and package it into an output that makes sense, looking for trends to identify causation and providing their clients useful, actionable information. In essence, they create meaning out of madness. In 2000, Boyd was employed by Price Waterhouse. He was very content there and believed he would spend his entire career at Price, even after Guident made a big push to bring him over to its team in 1999. In 2000, however, Boyd’s first child was born, and he realized his
current lifestyle would not allow him to be the father he wanted to be. “I was all over the place. I was working from five cities in five days and managing multiple large projects within the utility and energy industry,” he recalls. “When my son was born in June of 2000, I almost missed his delivery, and I realized it wasn’t the life I wanted to lead.” With that, Boyd began seriously considering a transition. After accepting a position at Guident, he left Price Waterhouse and took several months off to travel up and down the East Coast with his wife and newborn. Boyd officially started at Guident in January of 2001. He thought his time there would simply be a temporary step—a catalyst to leave a company he loved. Yet now, twelve years later, he remains an integral part of the Guident team. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, however. The company went from around $2 million in revenue when Boyd joined to $1 million after the Tech Bubble burst in 2002. During his first year, he had been charged with heading up the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) division. After the collapse, the company’s investment in the high cost, long duration ERP implementations dried up. As a result, Boyd established the Business Intelligence division at Guident, and it remains the core of the business today. Before long, large business intelligence projects at Nextel and Fannie Mae resulted in quickly quadrupling revenues for the firm. Guident then invested the profits back into the business intelligence practice, instigating tremendous growth that has allowed their revenues to reach around $55 million today. Despite its wildfire success, Guident has never been bottom-line focused. Rather, its emphasis is on company culture, even as their staff topped 200 employees and 50 subcontractors. “Our leadership team is very much aligned on the fact that Guident, is a means to an end,” Boyd points out. “We don’t live to work; we work to live. I’ve got young kids and a family, and my wife and I are extremely wrapped up in their activities, whether it’s Boyd Harter
coaching soccer or helping with Boy Scouts. We also make a point to do a lot of traveling to help our kids experience the world first-hand. We try to give them more than just a picture in a book—we want them to be there and experience it themselves, which gives them more perspective on what they’re learning. This balance is embodied in the personality of the company, and encouraging this work-life balance in Guident employees is one of my highest priorities.” Company culture isn’t the only thing that Guident’s management team sees eye-to-eye on. Boyd and his two co-owners, Dan Ackerman and Teddy Matheu, all have a strong drive toward entrepreneurialism in their blood, and as a result, there is no hierarchy among the ownership. They remain equal owners in the company, and each one brings their own unique backgrounds, passions, and skill sets to Guident. Dan, for example, boasts a highly seasoned technical understanding of the industry, while Teddy excels at cultivating relationships. Boyd, on the other hand, has a background in finance, accounting, and IT, which gives him a good sense of how to transform a strategy into reality. “Every decision that we make must be cost-justified,” he affirms. “The checks and balances among the three of us work out really well. We don’t make decisions on a whim. Change comes slowly, with the three of us needing to justify our choices to the each other. It can be infuriating, but at the end of the day, I think it’s a great practice.” Boyd was born and raised for the first nine weeks of his life in Evanston, Illinois, as his father finished up PhD work at Northwestern University. The family then moved to Boulder, Colorado and five years later to San Francisco, California. It was still a growing city at that time, and Boyd remembers it as a fantastic place to grow up until the family relocated across the country to Northern Virginia when he was in fifth grade. Boyd’s first job came in junior high, when a friend wanted to get rid of his paper route. “I didn’t know that it was a hot commodity at the time, but I really wanted to deliver that afternoon edition of the Washington Star,” Boyd recalls with a laugh. He acquired the route through a trade, added a slew of customers, and grew the route quite a bit, and he can still remember that adrenaline rush of winning over new customers for the first time. “Several years later, I sold it to a neighborhood kid and made quite a premium,” he continues. “That’s when my eyes really opened up, realizing that the real payoff was not the incremental day-to-day revenue that came from adding new customers. It instead came with selling the route, which had become more profitable as a 46
whole. I learned to invest back in one’s company, because if you can delay that payoff, you’ll benefit exponentially. That was my first accidental lesson in entrepreneurship, and the flame was lit.” Boyd also learned a strong work ethic from his father, who was an executive of Fannie Mae. His father essentially came from nothing, working hard to change the course of his life and provide a better experience for his family. “He taught my sister and me to make sure that we were striving to give the next generation a better quality of life,” he remembers. “There were strong currents of integrity, pride, and responsibility woven in to the way my parents carried themselves, and that made a strong impression on us.” Boyd later attended the University of Virginia, where he was an accounting and finance major, and then rejected an array of job offers to remain for graduate school to earn his Masters. Subsequently, he accepted a position at Price Waterhouse on the consulting side of the firm, where he met his wife. “I knew she was the one for me when we were on a bike ride one day and I said I wanted to step off the traditional path, leave my job, and backpack around the world,” he recalls. “For a split second she thought I was crazy, but very quickly she jumped on board. Six months later, we had saved every penny so we could resign from our jobs and spend a year traveling around the globe. We had saved up $25,000, and we were going to make that last as long as we could.” Both of their employers begged them to take a leave of absence instead of resigning, so with jobs to return to later, the young couple traveled around the world for a year, beginning in Turkey and ending in Hong Kong after visiting 25 countries, including Syria, India, and Nepal. Later, they visited Croatia shortly after the Yugoslav forces had retreated. “My wife and I went strolling in, and the hotels were dirt cheap, and we loved it,” Boyd details. “There are two different kinds of people: people who have more money than time, and people who have more time than money. It’s the people who have more time than money who are genuinely the happiest. It’s not even close. We live in a consumer-driven society where money is extremely important, but it’s important to escape it and achieve that different perspective.” Echoing his brazen trip to London after graduating from college, Boyd’s later escapades are far from out of character, and that same adventurous spirit defines his professional life just as it does his personal life. The popular route out of UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce was public accounting, but Boyd went his own route. “I’ve always been a contrarian,” he affirms. “I
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
don’t just step to the side a little bit, I try to step way out there, putting myself in situations that test me. I’m not afraid to take risks, even risks that may appear reckless to others. I believe this makes me a better employer and better leader. I’m very conservative financially, and I have a very educated approach to the risks I take. It’s that combination of being analytical and being brave that creates success.” In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Boyd stresses the importance of balance in all things—whether it’s work/life or confidence/ humility. “Unintended consequences are the root of all evil, so try to analyze all possible outcomes and make sure that you’re comfortable living with whatever the consequences might be,” he urges. “You have to be unshakably confident, but never arrogant. Always educate yourself, but know that you’re going into any situation with naivety. Embrace that—you’re there to learn first-hand, not from secondary sources. And
remember that life is long, so don’t be a short-term thinker. You’ll have a lot of pressure to live for the day, and that mentality has its time and place, but thinking for the long-term is the most important thing you can do.” Beyond this, Boyd lives by advice that he received from Mammy, his grandmother, who told him not to take life too fast. “She used to tell me not to climb the ladder too quickly, or I’d miss certain experiences,” he explains. “That’s why I’m constantly giving myself what I call the Rocking Chair Test—when I’m eighty years old and sitting on the front porch in my rocking chair, looking back on my life, will I regret this decision or won’t I? I like a world with little grey. Once I decide, I don’t want to go back. Life is easy when you follow a no-regret path.” For some, this no-regret path is not the road well-traveled, or even the road less traveled. For Boyd, it’s the road no one has traveled yet—a road all his own.
Richard Hayes Measurable Success If you’re one of the government’s top agencies and you need to solve the world’s next greatest problem, the person that you need to speak to is Dr. Richard “Dick” Hayes and his company, Evidenced Based Research, Inc. (EBR) whose all-star team has taken on issues such as terrorism, political instability, currency movement and measuring successful careers in the intelligence community, just to name a few. Founded in 1987, EBR serves their clients by gathering data, analyzing that data and developing models to create better answers for the initially presented problem. By 1988, the company had developed to the point where Dick needed to place an ad in the Washington Post to recruit enough talent to handle the company’s growing needs. For EBR, everything was looking good and all signs pointed to go. Three years in, Dick received a call from an employee at a large defense firm. Dick recalls, “She said, “Let me introduce myself. I want to join your team for the Army’s recompete of a contract for the Army’s Command and Control Evaluation System.” This was a system that I had invented while I was at my previous firm and had lead the team on, but I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to work on any projects with the Department of Defense (DoD) at that time. So I said to her, “Why would you want to join my team?” and she said, “Because the story is that you’re going to win the contract,” and I thought to myself, “perhaps we should bid this contract.” “The contract was to update the system for the Army but the problem was that we were very small and we didn’t have enough people who ‘speak’ command and control. We needed to be at 51% in order to qualify as a small business prime. So I subcontracted with her company and some folks out at George Mason University. I ended up having to give away 49% in order to get the talent needed for the project.” Today, EBR has created its own specialty brand, with a senior staff boasting a broad range of expertise and specializations alongside young, bright, and energetic
researchers. In 1988, EBR had five employees and today they have twenty-five, though at one point they had as many as 60 staff members. Unfortunately, due to an insurmountable disparity in belief systems, a branch of the company transitioned away by mutual agreement. “I am more interested in doing interesting work with interesting people than I am with making the company as big as possible,” Dick states, “I don’t mind growth; I know how to coach it. I think it’s more important to do what you find interesting and important and to follow your own rules; and our rules are that we want to be a financial, moral and technical success. If we get outside of any of those boxes then I think that we have to make some adjustments and change the company.” Another of EBR’s rules is that they strive to hire good people and then help them to grow. Born to parents who stressed the importance of education, Dick’s father was a senior Navy Warrant Officer, who was regularly away at sea. His mother was a homemaker who took a very active role in the community on the naval base, often known as the best lady plumber on the base and serving as catcher on the baseball team. “My father set the tone but my mother ran the house. She was a little bitty woman, but she was the disciplinarian. When she put up one finger and came at you, you knew you had done something that you shouldn’t have.” Though his family moved around quite a bit during his early years, his parents decided that they wanted to establish one home for Dick and his brother through their high school years. They choose to buy a house in Norfolk, Virginia because it was well-positioned for Dick’s father to be able to get either a sea-based or landbased post and they would still be able to spend the 6 years of their two sons’ high school education in one place. Unfortunately, in the summer between Dick’s sophomore and junior year, the city of Norfolk decided to Richard Hayes
close the doors of its junior and senior high schools rather than integrate eleven students. When Norfolk closed down the schools, everyone assumed that the Navy would open schools on the base to educate the children of their service men and women, but the federal government overrode any decision, because they did not want to support the city and its actions, so there were no schools. When no resolution had been found by mid-September, Dick’s family discussed the options and it was decided that Dick would move back, alone, to his parent’s home town of Wheeling, West Virginia to complete his schooling. “So I got on a Greyhound bus to Wheeling, West Virginia and when I arrived I was picked up by my greatuncle, who was in his mid-80s. I remember being terrified as we drove to his house because he didn’t drive very well. He was generous enough to offer me a place to stay for a couple of weeks and I went down to the local high school and enrolled myself. It turned out to be a wonderful school. Most of my teachers had taught both of my parents. And so, in those two weeks, I found a place to live and set myself up and for the next two years I lived, really, on the generosity of the community. The families in Wheeling were very nice. I had an uncle who lived a few miles out of town and I would go to visit him on some weekends. The teachers in the high school and the other students all welcomed me on sports teams and in theatre, debate and other activities that were being held at the high school. I had to work hard, because I was behind from the time that I had missed of the school year already. I was able to pick-up some part-time jobs at Oglebay Park, like waiting tables and working at the concession stand and then later on, when I could drive, as park ranger, and in the summer I could stay up there (they had housing for employees) and I could eat in the lodge, which made life a little easier. It was a wonderful adventure, but I wouldn’t wish it on a kid, because you have to solve very difficult problems and for a 15 year old, they are hard problems… But it was an opportunity to grow and when I graduated, I’m proud to say, I was a National Merit Finalist.” One day, while in high school, Dick was called into the Dean of Boys’ office to discuss his future plans. “I was a smart kid and so most adults would ask me what I planned to do after high school; what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I would tell them that I wanted to be a chemical engineer because that would usually shut them up. Well one day, I was called into the office of the Dean of Boys who had picked out the top 5 schools for 50
chemical engineering for me to apply to. I’m sitting on this Naugahyde couch and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, these people are serious.” But they were flexible enough that when I figured out that I was really interested in the foreign service, they identified the top 5 schools for foreign service.” Dick was accepted at Georgetown University and after graduating from high school, he matriculated, majoring in foreign service. It was while at Georgetown that Dick joined the debate team learning some of the very skills that he puts into action today. “On the debate team I was the first negative, whose job it was to quickly overwhelm the opponent’s argument, which meant that you had to be a good researcher, think well on your feet, and talk fast. By the time I graduated, I was able to defeat anyone on the team at Georgetown and they had one of the top teams in the country. Debate gave me training in argument and research and getting up in front of a group of people.” It was during his mandatory years of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) training at Georgetown that Dick decided to accept his commission and went on active duty with the Army. Within two months, he would be sent to officer basic training. Dick chose the artillery school track, hoping to be further away from the action, but, in fact, ended up being in the thick of things with his specialization. After completing his basic training, Dick was deployed to Vietnam. Dick rose in the ranks, building upon his leadership skills and utilizing his varied knowledge and education to benefit his missions and his unit. Once, when he was a Fire Direction Officer, Dick and his unit were working in a swamp, preparing the area for their artillery use. Normally, they were picked up by air transport by late in the afternoon, but on this day they couldn’t be pulled out. They were informed that they were going to have to stay in the swamp overnight. Dick assessed the situation and, after nightfall, made everyone move the howitzers and equipment away from the position that they had been in during the day and, once that was completed, they dug the holes that they would sleep in that night. Because of the cold and muck in the swamp, many of the men didn’t dig their holes deep, so Dick made the entire unit correct their holes in order to provide protection and be a good defense. As he predicted, the area where they had been positioned during the day was mortared that night, and though they were a short distance away, no one was hurt or killed in action. Several months later, one of the men from his unit was being rotated out and in his exit interview Dick
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
asked the soldier what he was going to do when he returned home. The soldier responded that he was going to go to college and when Dick asked why, the soldier reminded Dick of that night in the swamp and he said, “I swore to myself on that night that instead of being the SOB what’s digging the holes, I’m going to be the SOB what’s deciding how deep the holes are going to be.” While he was still on active duty, Dick decided that, after he got out of the military, he wanted to go to graduate school and study government. He reached out to two of his previous professors and visited them to discuss where he should apply. “One of them asked me where I stood on the behavioral revolution and I said, “what is the behavioral revolution?” He went on to tell me how the study of government was changing and that people were using science (they called it political science not government) and scientific tools to build databases and models and provide research that was really formal and quantitative. There was a split going on within scholarly departments between the quantitative guys and those who were resisting and still studying government. He told me that I needed to decide which I wanted to study. I couldn’t choose so he provided me with a list of schools that had both approaches. I picked five schools, applied and was accepted at Indiana University.” While studying at Indiana University, Dick met and married his wife, Margaret, who was studying at the university as well. Upon graduation, they decided to seek work in a city where they both could find employment. Eventually, they ended up both interviewing for positions in Washington, DC; Dick at American University as a professor and Margaret at CACI, a professional services and IT solutions company. Margaret was offered a position at CACI and the company reached out to Dick to ask him to come in for an interview. During his interview, Dick detailed the many ways that he would improve on the organization and structure of the company. Unfortunately, the executive who handled those areas within the company was in the room and he felt threatened by Dick and his suggestions. A few days later, Dick received a call from CACI offering him the position of the executive (who has quit). Dick and Margaret discussed it and Dick accepted, contingent upon
the stipulation that his wife wouldn’t report to him. They started working together but, within six months, the head of the other department quit and CACI moved both teams under Dick, meaning his wife was now reporting to him. The new arrangement did not work, and a year and a half later, Margaret accepted a position at John’s Hopkins Center for Brazilian Studies. After seven years with CACI, Dick became concerned with the company’s rate of growth. He decided to step away and look for other opportunities. He was soon approached to join a colleague at his company, Defense Systems, Inc. (DSI) to help diversify the company. DSI worked in defense and intelligence analytics. After a few years, Dick’s partner wanted to move into the field of low-orbiting satellites, and Dick took his stock options and decided that he was ready to create his own company, EBR. “I decided to do what I knew best – to sell and deliver analytical products to the defense and intelligence agencies. At that point I had 15 years in the business and I believed that I knew how to run a company and so I set-up a one man company. A year later I hired my first five people and so we were launched.” Dick shares that he is most proud of his wife and son and what a great young man he is growing up to be. In business, Dick is proud of the impact that his company and his team have had on policy and government; how they were able to provide tools so that better decisions could be possible. “When you build something that people can use, and they keep using it, that is success. The fact that people now believe that they need to do the quantitative study, that they need to take the case studies and find out what they have in common, find out what is different, and build a model of what is better, so they can have a tool to solve new problems, that is success.” Dr. Richard “Dick” Hayes is an extremely intelligent, well-educated, fair and just leader, who is not only interested in data and the acquisition of better answers but also in people and finding out what makes them tick. A proud husband and father and an expert scientist, Dick has created success with whatever cards he was dealt. No matter what scale or unit of measure you use, Dr. Richard Hayes is the marker of success.
Abrahem Helal Earning It As a young man coming out of college, you might say Abrahem Helal had commitment issues—not to relationships, but to his family’s business, a small printing, publishing, and document management outfit serving the federal marketplace in Washington, D.C. “At that young age, I didn’t know how to work, how to be the strongest employee, and how to lead a company,” he remembers. “It was a little rough at first. I had just given up my dream of becoming a professional tennis player, and it wasn’t until later that I realized I had had great experiences pursuing that goal, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing and accomplishing bigger things.” Now the Vice President of Operations for Gray Graphics, those bigger things are now coming to fruition. Gray Graphics started as a small letterpress shop launched by Clarence Gray during the Great Depression. He grew it slowly, and the company was still small when Abrahem’s father purchased it from Mr. Gray in 1975 to the tune of $25 thousand. “I remember having to tediously line up the individual silver letters to form words,” Abrahem reflects. “From there, we’ve grown it little by little over the years, and we’ve evolved with technology over time.” Now, everything is digital and direct-to-plate, and today, Gray Graphics is worth around $16 million. The company’s bread and butter is off-set printing, both large format sheet-fed and web-press, but they’re getting much more entrenched in the digital realm of technology as well, delving into e-publishing and records management services for judicial, government, or health organizations that need services like litigation or medical records management. For example, they currently have a contract with the Air Force to scan all of their old case files to clear out warehouses. “We’re having to diversify our offerings,” Abrahem explains. Gray Graphics has since grown from a one-man operation to a staff of around 65 operating out of a 55 thousand square foot facility with an adjoining 24 thousand square foot facility on a six-acre campus. Abrahem’s parents immigrated to the United States
from Egypt in the late 1960’s after traveling to Germany to study printing. He wanted to leave the country to give his children a real opportunity to succeed in life and was somehow fortunate enough to find a way out. “America truly is the land of opportunity,” Abrahem avows. “Had my sisters and I grown up in Egypt, we would not be where we are today. I’d have a different perception of the world and a different idea of what’s possible, and I’m very grateful.” Mr. Helal worked for a printing company operating out of Ohio when he came to America and was actually offered a high-paying government job at the same time he came across the opportunity to buy Gray Graphics. “He had always been someone who wanted to work for himself and set his own destiny,” Abrahem reflects. “When confronted with the choice between a secure yet limited government job versus entrepreneurship and the American Dream, he chose the latter.” From the very beginning, Mr. Helal was working at Gray Graphics day and night, leaving his children and wife at home. When Abrahem was six, he’d come in to help with collating, and by the time he was twelve, he was operating major pieces of equipment. “I hated it,” he laughs. “I wanted to be outside playing, though I’m certain I wouldn’t have the work ethic I have today if I hadn’t helped my father when I was young.” The family soon realized, however, that the current system of running Gray Graphics wasn’t sustainable. “When you’re one person bringing in the work, producing the work, invoicing the work, and with a skeletal crew of people around you, eventually people realize you can’t watch everything, and they start to take advantage of your trust,” Abrahem says. “Money started disappearing, things started getting late, and my father ended up with a lot of debt he didn’t realize he had.” When that debt came to surface, his mother stepped up to the plate to help fix it. She didn’t speak English well and didn’t have a strong educational background, but she was determined. She had a family to provide for and wasn’t going to be run out of town, so she told her eldest Abrahem Helal
daughter to care for her younger two kids and dove in. They sought advice from a close family friend who was an attorney and borrowed money from other friends to pay off their debts. Mrs. Helal stayed with her husband day and night, handling his accounting and recordkeeping, ensuring jobs were getting out on time, and overseeing employees like a hawk. Her stern yet just demeanor garnered an unparalleled respect and fidelity from their employees, and many of those individuals still work for the Helals twenty years later. Thus, when Mr. Helal’s big picture, visionary brand of entrepreneurship combined with the detail-oriented, cost-conscious, structured style of his wife, the result was unstoppable, and Gray Graphics was never in debt again going forward. The turning point for the company really came in the 1980s during the Reagan years, when the Internet hadn’t yet taken its toll on the printing market and the government was spending a lot on prints and reprints. “Printing was the number one industry to be in at that time because everyone needed it,” Abrahem recalls. “You couldn’t communicate without print.” Gray Graphics brought on new technology that extended beyond the letterpress style of previous years, and their quality vastly improved. They had always been a government contract printer, but today, their printing quality is among the best in the government printing landscape, ranking them number seven on the Government Printing Office’s list. After that turning point, growth and quality were maintained through his mother’s oversight, his father’s work ethic, and the company’s willingness to evolve and embrace new technologies and services. It’s a tough industry to be in today, but Gray Graphics perseveres. As Abrahem helped out through high school, his parents paid him not through traditional wages, but through allowing him to pursue his love of tennis. After excelling at the sport, he requested to attend a tennis training facility for a year, which they paid for. He rose quickly to the state and then to the national level as a junior. Then, after high school, they supported him as he competed for several years before pursuing college. He traveled worldwide, achieved world ranking, and trained with Bonnie Gadusek, who had been sixth in the world in women’s tennis, until he felt he had pushed his game to the brink of his abilities and was ready to try something new. Two weeks before the fall semester of 1992, he began contacting college tennis coaches in Virginia and Maryland to explore his options, and Virginia Tech leapt on the opportunity immediately. Within a week, he was registered for classes, had a dorm 54
room, and was ready to start his college career. Abrahem spent his first two years at Virginia Tech pursuing electrical engineering before realizing it was not for him, so he transitioned over to forestry and wildlife. Wood science was applicable to engineering because he learned how any wooden structure was built, and it related to printing as well because he learned about paper production. “I knew it would help with Gray Graphics if I wanted to go into that in the future, and I wanted to keep that option open,” he says. That intuition proved accurate, and Abrahem formally joined the family business after graduating. He then decided to pursue his masters in homeland security management—a fortuitous choice considering the company now holds a security clearance to better serve the GPO and relies on him to serve as facility security officer. “I never thought we’d have a clearance or that I’d serve as the FSO,” he muses. “I’m having to learn a lot and work with people in the intelligence community, and it feels like I’ve really found my niche. Ever since I’ve started the homeland security track, I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s a career I really believe in, and you can do a lot with it, from cyber security to intelligence to language services to signals.” Looking into the future, Abrahem hopes to channel the growth of the company around that clearance, pursuing more records management contracts and printing and publishing opportunities along that vein. Today, in his day-to-day experience, Abrahem is challenged with a wide array of responsibilities as he manages people, projects, certifications, and the company’s clearance. It’s a delicate juggling act, and therein lies the excitement of his profession. “I enjoy the fact that I have all these different responsibilities that nurture the growth of the company,” he observes. “At our company, you’re not confined to job descriptions by rigid task delineation. Instead, you’re doing anything and everything to keep the ship moving, and that in turn keeps me moving. The only person that could keep me from being challenged is myself.” At forty, Abrahem sees himself continuing that focus on challenging himself for many years to come. “The future of Gray Graphics is me and my sisters,” he says. “I create structure, follow up, and am very detailed about things, delegating and helping with future development and growth.” With technology changing so rapidly, he has to be, as the investments they make going forward must be in the right digital technology, the right IT, and the right people. New orientation around e-publishing and workflow management will continue to take hold, with a special focus on building the right team
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of people around those areas of expertise in terms of implementation, development, and marketing. “My parents built this business,” says Abrahem. “They really accomplished something, and I want to accomplish as much as they have. What I will accomplish remains to be seen, but it would never happen if I just sit on my hands. So I’m using what I have, looking for where we can go, and constantly thinking about how we can create a bigger future from what we’ve already built together.” Beyond the hours and manpower he invests in Gray Graphics and the sustained commitment to tennis, Abrahem has been involved in the Washington, DC Rotary Club over the years, and in that capacity he’s been able to give back to the community through a number of different projects, from water quality improvement to polio eradication. “Many times, you get jaded because you hear about people who get their hand in the pot and steal,” he remarks. “You get a tainted perception of how human nature truly is, but in reality, there are a lot of people who go out of their way to give back and to do the right thing. Rotary Club is a network of people who continually impress me with their passion for improving the world, and I’m ever honored and humbled to be a part of it.” In advising young entrepreneurs today, Abrahem recalls a piece of advice his own father gave to him
when he was younger. Mr. Helal was so generous that he’d give you the shirt off his back, but when it came to success in business or in life, he had one thing to say. “You have to earn it,” he would tell his son. “You have to think about what you want and you have to commit to working hard and getting it. No one is going to give you a free pass. If you want to get something or somewhere in life, it’s hard work that’s going to earn you that thing or that place.” It comes as no surprise, then, that when asked to put his finger on the most important thing he got from his tennis career, Abrahem names “discipline” without missing a beat. After training ten hours a day, giving up mornings and evenings alike, and after pursuing perfection on the court that bled over into the classroom, he has an especially literal example of what “earning it” really means. That’s why, since assuming a leadership role at Gray Graphics, he’s focused on setting up a clear management structure and taking the initiative to promote the company’s growth. “No one’s just going to hand you business,” he says. “You have to get out there and earn it, whether that’s attaining the certifications that will make you competitive or spearheading new marketing campaigns that draw in business. Both personally and professionally, I live by looking for what isn’t getting done and then doing it. To me, that’s earning it.”
Richard Hendershot Abundant Faith One day in 1983, Rick Hendershot had a light bulb moment. After six years working as the Controller of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy institute, he realized how frequently he fielded calls from other not-for-profits looking for referrals for tax assistance, audit services, or basic accounting. Normally, he would refer them to Deloitte & Touche if they were a larger firm or to a local company if they were smaller. But on that day, Rick, a certified public accountant licensed in three states, recognized an opportunity and a way to supplement his income by providing accounting services outside of his full-time position. In other words, his entrepreneurial eye saw a need begging to be filled. Nine years later the sideline business had grown steadily. Rick even had two people working for him full-time. Although net revenues were substantially lower than his salary from his full-time job at Heritage, Rick decided it was time to take the leap. “I would be moving to a position that paid less, offered no insurance, and provided few employee benefits, so there was some hesitation,” Rick recalls. “But I felt the Lord was leading me. I prayed about it and had a lot of discussions with my wife.” Once he stepped out to lead his business full-time, Rick knew he made the right choice and never had second thoughts about the decision. Today, as president, founder, and owner of Hendershot Burkhardt & Reed, a Manassas-based CPA firm, he provides professional accounting, auditing and tax services, strategic business planning, and consulting to a wide range of non-profit and corporate organizations. Hitting the ground running, he used his tenure at Heritage to tap into the professional connections he had made in the non-profit sector. “I knew a lot of people, so for the first two months I focused on setting up meetings introducing my business, specifically targeting smaller non-profits.” Not long after going full-time, Rick received a call
from his former employer asking him to come back as a consultant during their busy budget and audit season. He contracted with them for six months. “It was a nice solution, especially since my rates were higher than my previous salary and benefits package.” In an interesting twist of fate, one of Rick’s first organizational clients was Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit founded by Oliver North, who was at the center of national attention in the Iran-Contra political scandal in the late 1980’s. “I went from representing a conservative policy organization to representing one of the most controversial figures in the United States,” Rick laughs. “I knew every financial statement, every audit, every note, every Form 990 was going to be highly scrutinized.” It turned out to be a non-issue because of Ricks’ sterling reputation and the quality of his work spoke for itself. He soon added several conservative non-profits to his growing client list. The business continued to expand, and later he acquired a small tax and bookkeeping business from a member of Rick’s church, who was retiring. “The owner agreed to work with us for three years during the transition,” says Rick “and he still works with us as a sub-contractor, fifteen years later.” Born in Akron, Ohio, Rick was seven years old when his family moved to northern Virginia so his father, a carpenter in the building construction, could find more plentiful work. His mother was a secretary who later became a bookkeeper. “Both my parents worked very hard,” Rick says proudly. “My outlook on life and the way I run my business really did come from my parents. My mom was extremely competitive, that’s where I get my competitive edge. My dad was a sergeant in the Army and he taught me to be faithful to the task at hand; to be a very hard worker, to get it done right and to get it done on time.” In junior high school, Rick knew that he would go Richard Hendershot
into accounting. At that time, his mom handled the financial records for the mayor of Manassas, Virginia and Rick found it totally fascinating. He really enjoyed talking with her about the work she was doing and learning about “keeping the books”. But Rick also had aspirations of playing professional baseball. During college, his entrepreneurial leanings spurred him to initiate the formation and administration of the first baseball team in the history of Strayer University. In his junior year, he also tried out for the former Washington Senators. He didn’t get into the majors and decided to focus on finishing his accounting degree. After graduating from Strayer, Rick attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, pursuing a master’s in Christian Education. In grad school, he worked at Pepsi Cola moving up to the position of assistant controller. He also met his future wife, Libby, while attending Liberty University. With a master’s in hand, Rick accepted a position teaching high school accounting and bible courses in Florida. After a few years, they returned to Lynchburg and he was invited to oversee the accounting in a government job skills training program. When that program was audited a few years later, the partner of the firm in charge of the auditing was so impressed that he asked Rick to come work with them. “That’s how I got my feet into public accounting,” he muses. “That was when I sat for the CPA exam.” In his new job, Rick was required to travel frequently. Two years in, his son was born so he began looking for a job that would keep him closer to home and applied for a position with The Heritage Foundation. “I knew family had to come before a job,” Rick states, “my parent’s instilled Godly truth in me.” Rick’s first wife, Libby, had a tremendous influence on him, “She literally changed my life,” he shares, “she had the spiritual gift of giving. She gave her time, her money, her resources, her talents, and was the most giving person I’ve known.” Unfortunately, in 2006 Libby fell ill one night and as they were preparing to go to the emergency room, she died from an aneurysm. Rick was devastated, but even in grief he held onto his faith, ministering to his son and to Libby’s family to help them through their heartrending time. Her passing didn’t really hit him until a few weeks later. Libby was gone, and so were all of their dreams and plans. It was then that Rick realized even more the insignificance of material things. In that pivotal moment he also made a choice. 58
“There were two roads I could have taken, one of despair and gloom with no joy in life or one that recognized that there’s still a lot I can do, a lot of lives that I can still touch.” Over the course of the next few years, Rick dedicated himself even more to making a difference, honoring Libby’s caring spirit. It was during this time that he met another woman with a heart for giving, Serena, who would later become his second wife. Not only did Libby and Serena influence Rick personally, they also had an impact on his business practices. Hendershot Burkhardt & Reed gives regularly to Christian-based ministries and community organizations such as the Hospital Foundation, CASA, The Rotary Club, a homeless shelter in Manassas, and other efforts. Approximately 20% of the company’s net profits are donated so lives can be changed. “We started Concerned Christians for America, a non-profit which provides benevolence and scholarships.” “My partners agreed with me our best strategy for success has been giving back to the community. One partner is treasurer of the Red Cross in Manassas. The other has started many churches. Personally, Rick has served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Prince William, The Prince William Hospital Foundation and The Rotary Club, to name a few. We not only want to make a difference in our own lives and in our families’ lives, but to make a difference in our community. That’s how we’ve grown the business and it’s been pretty amazing.” Rick also gives back through his alma mater and for the past 15 years has taught accounting at Strayer University. He also teaches comparative religion, a topic that’s close to his heart. “The average student at Strayer is 32 or 33 years old. Many are looking for a new career or to upgrade their skills, and I can make a difference in their lives,” he says. In fact, Rick often gets phone calls and emails from students thanking him when they get a new job or a promotion or pass their CPA exam. “Both worlds just bridged together. It’s fun, it’s a blast and at the end of the day I can say ‘you’re making a difference.’ There’s nothing better than that. I enjoy life, enjoy my family, and love my Lord.” Rick’s counsel for having a blessed life is threefold. First, be true to Christ and don’t settle for anything less than your idea of what is perfect. Second, he offers the advice he received from his mother who told him that there would always be obstacles, but to never let them
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
stop you because there are always solutions. And lastly, Rick suggests that you find a career that brings you great joy and makes a real difference. Making a difference in the lives of others, Rick, shows
just how far his principles of hard work and compassion have taken him. A faithful steward, Rick gives back with a prayerful attitude. A loving father, husband and a very good person, Rick reflects the epitome of abundant faith.
Arthur Hurtado Faith In Action Night had not yet given way to dawn as Art Hurtado climbed up the ramp to board the silver bird bound for Vietnam and the war that awaited 10,000 miles away. A chill ran through his body from the cold night air or maybe it was the thought of what lay ahead in the foreboding jungles halfway around the world. The weight of his pack cut into his shoulder. He comforted himself knowing that in that pack were two books. One he had carried with him for many years – his Bible, a treasured companion with notes overflowing around the edges of each page and many words underlined. To him, that book was a constant reminder of God’s divine viewpoint and the plan for his life. The other was “A Tear and a Smile” by Kahlil Gibran – a book of poetry and musings about life and love. As the silver bird flew silently through the night, Art sat quietly reading his most favorite passage, Psalms 91. In his mind words to a poetic message began to form – a message he scribbled to himself on the flyleaf of “A Tear and a Smile”. Art made a commitment to himself, a promise and a conviction that he would return. That conviction carried him through the many nights spent under attack, but it was one night in particular that Art recalls quite clearly. “I remember the night that I was wounded in combat, when the message that I wrote on my way to Vietnam flashed across my eyes. An instant later I felt an inner assurance and peace that it was, in fact, true. That I would be okay and that I would return home.” That inner peace and knowing is something that Art is very familiar with from his youth, growing up with missionary parents. Born in Taos, New Mexico to a Bolivian immigrant father who had been a Jesuit priest and a Protestant mother of Swedish ancestry who had earlier established a mission school in Bolivia, Art learned religion and theology at the feet of his devoted parents. “My mother was just an incredible woman of faith. I saw her put more meals on the table, and more clothes
on my back from I don’t know where. She had a strong gift of faith and she just had a strong sense of God’s provision. My father brought the practical side of life to us and taught us more of ‘the ropes’ and the things to look out for.” After his parent relocated to Taos, New Mexico, where they not only built a family, but also built and pastored the local Southern Baptist church, Art recalls the hardships of growing up poor in a new and burgeoning land. “Some really great things happened while I was growing up, but that was amidst the terrible cold and lots of poverty and living out of missionary barrels and cutting up pieces of leather to put inside my shoes so the snow wouldn’t come through the holes; maybe getting one new pair of shoes a year. It was hard.” Today, Art is the Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Invertix Corporation. Founded in 1999, Invertix began with the goal to develop quality of service telecommunications tools. Its business model was to build innovative technologies targeted toward the commercial wireless carriers and then convert them to companies that could be sold in the wireless marketplace. Art and his partner raised $15 million from investors and private sources to get their business started. “My first partner and I would meet at a small restaurant in the city of Vienna, and we would plan out how we were going to form the business. After two years, once we had raised enough capital, we broke open a little champagne and celebrated – but we were absolutely terrified.” The first company that Invertix created was Re-route, based on an email forwarding technology they developed. They sold Re-route and then began working with quality of voice tools and instant messaging technologies. Invertix was doing well when suddenly the wireless market crashed and the “dot-com” boom burst. In an instant Art and his partner found themselves without
revenue and without a way to repay their investors. “And so we were faced with the collapse of the company or the need to do something else with it. I came up with a new business model to transition from the commercial wireless world to the government sector, but when I approached our investors to put more money into the new venture, it was too risky for them. We had to close down 13 locations and I’ll never forget when I had to let go of 40 people in one day. I talked to every single last one of them myself. It was one of the hardest days of my life.” Art lost his partner and many of his investors, but he didn’t lose his conviction; keeping the business afloat while trying to find ways to utilize the technology that they had to best serve the government. Then the September 11th attacks occurred and Invertix found themselves with essential technology for the new protective measures the government was undertaking. Invertix won their first government contract and almost overnight the company went from not turning a profit to breaking even. Though the going was rough, Art’s dedication to keeping the business open has been motivated by his strong ethics and value system and his commitment to not only succeeding, but to also reward his investors for sticking with him through thick and thin. “As for our shareholders, we hope that one day in the end we will be able to thank them monetarily. And that’s one of the reasons we wanted to keep the company going. It would have been so easy to shut the doors. All the right reasons for closing the company were there but I felt like I was really going to be letting down some wonderful shareholders, my new partner and CFO, Bryan Judd, the handful of four or five others, including my incredible and faithful executive assistant of many years, Gail Stamm, all who really believed we could turn this around and mostly I was going to let down myself and my family. So, Bryan and I teamed together on a management buyout. A short time later we asked Craig Parisot to join us as a partner and our COO. He was followed by Dr. Dan Law our Chief Scientist who has masterminded our technology roadmap. We never looked back.” Today, Invertix provides technology and services for the government sector including the areas of advanced analytics, mobility messaging platforms, big data and cloud-based technologies. A far cry from the days when he could have easily shut the doors, now Invertix is a contender in the global arena, living up to their vision of engineering national security. Art’s love of engineering and all things creative and 62
innovative first began while watching his father fix radios and other electronics and creating small toys to make money to support the family. When he graduated from high school, Art went to college continuing his studies in the sciences, while also continuing on his spiritual path. “I supported myself through a number of my college years, by preaching at a migrant cotton workers church in Sweetwater, Texas. Then later, when I moved to Missouri (to continue my studies), I had many engagements in local outlying churches where I substituted in the pulpit for pastors that needed to be other places. But it was never my intent to leave college and go into the ministry, it was my intent to leave and go into the military – that was really my desire. I felt like that was where God wanted me, He wanted me to take whatever spiritual underpinnings that I had and go into the military and learn something about life.” After graduating as a distinguished military graduate, Art received a U.S. Army commission in the Infantry and was shortly deployed to the Vietnam War with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Some years later, after that fateful night, Art, since assigned to Military Intelligence, was sent by the Army to pursue an advanced degree in electrical engineering. It was there that he realized just how much he loved the creative aspects of engineering. It was then that Art decided that he would one day start his own company after he retired from the military. That day did not come quickly, as Art served for 26 years, with honor and distinction, before he retired from the military. After retirement, Art decided to work for another company before starting his own, in order to gain the much needed skills to run a business. First hired by a high-tech research and development consortium to address the next big threat in the computing world, Art was then invited to come back to Virginia to join CACI to help build their telecommunications practice. Once he had gained the knowledge and skills that he needed to start and run his own company, Art cofounded Invertix. “The reason that I didn’t start my company right away is because I had seen a number of people try that and I watched their demise almost immediately. I thought to myself that they really didn’t understand how industry worked and how business worked and they tried to succeed by a sheer force of will, without the necessary tools to be successful. I decided that I would do it differently. And so for four and a half years I worked for others and learned a lot. I got to build some business and learned how to hire, how to manage profit and loss, I got to sit in a board room and have to account for my
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
numbers, all of the things that business is about.” Art approaches all aspects of his life like he started his business, with planning and foresight. Early on in his adult years, Art created a plan for his life that encompassed three phases: first serving the country in a military career, then starting and running his own business, and finally returning to his original passion of theological study and teaching. Eventually, Art would like to translate English theological texts into Spanish to help fill the gap in the scarcity of those texts for native Spanish seminaries, pastors and teachers. When asked what he does in his free time, Art, an avid sailor and racer, explains his favorite pastime. “I spend as much time as possible with my family on our sailboat, named Xaris (grace), out on the Chesapeake Bay.” A natural leader and motivator of young people, Art and his wife, Dianna, have a passion for higher education. Serving on the Board of Visitors and Advisors and having created numerous scholarship opportunities for Virginia Commonwealth University, Missouri State University, and New Mexico State University, Art and his wife love meeting and talking to the students they have helped and hearing their stories. His advice to those young people is to pursue their dreams, especially if they have an inkling for entrepreneurship, and tempering their passion by gaining real world experience. When discussing leadership and leadership qualities, Art describes it as being almost immeasurable.
“Leadership is an enigma, it’s a mystery; it’s a powerful word until you try to put meaning to it. Management is easy to form metrics, it’s a number. Leadership is about striking out, it’s about vision, it’s about insight, it’s about courage, and it’s about determination. When you are a leader, you’re trying to compel, to inspire, to align, to draw collaboration, to bring gravity around an idea that will take life. That’s what a leader is.” Most proud of his wife and the family they have created with his daughter and grandson, Art also speaks of his mother and the determination and hard work ethic that she instilled in him and how it has paid off in his life. Art reminisces, “I can just hear my mother saying, ‘You never walk alone. You may not have human companionship, but you do have the power of the Spirit of God in your life and so you’re never alone… so go and determine to succeed, go and determine to make it happen’ and I can hear my dad saying, ‘and by the way there are a lot of creative ways to get there…” With a combination of faith and action and faith in action, Art has taken the advice of both of his parents coupled with his own desire to serve and plotted a course for his life. With his deep roots in theology and an ethical code that steers his course, Art is well on his way to the “phase three” he has so determinedly moved towards his entire life. A celebrated soldier, respected businessman, and a stout believer in the power of education and giving back, conceivably Art Hurtado is already there.
Moe Jafari Running Toward Something In 1998, Moe Jafari had almost everything—success, stability, security. The one thing missing, however, was the most important thing of all: satisfaction. It hadn’t always been that way, but Moe’s employer had recently sold out to a larger business, and the change in corporate culture proved to be anything but welcome. “The company that acquired us had more reporting mechanisms, bureaucracy, and paperwork,” he reflects today. “The first company I was with was great, personal enough to pay attention to the value each employee contributed and the skills each of us brought to the table. But after we were acquired, I found myself doing reports more than I was doing business.” Moe had a pregnant wife to support, yet he believed enough in himself and his mission to take a gamble on venturing out on his own to become his own boss. “I went to all the clients and they said they would come with me, so I took the risk,” he explains. “Shockingly, I made more money in that first year of business than I had ever made in my life before.” With that, HumanTouch was born, and after a decade and a half of evolution, Moe remains the President and CEO of a place to work that is not only successful, stable, and secure, but satisfying as well. Today, HumanTouch employs over a hundred people and brings in over $20 million in revenue each year. First launched as an HR service for government contractors, it initially provided resources to government contractors. Over the years, however, it became a government contractor itself, providing resources to the federal government. HumanTouch evolved from recruiting to staff augmentation, and Moe later decided that he would take the brainpower they were channeling outward and instead begin channeling it into business itself, building a team of the best and brightest to start creating solutions for their clients. “That’s where we are today, focusing primarily on building solutions in the IT, management, and consulting side of the equation,” Moe explains. “We’re now focused heavily in the healthcare market, with the FDA as one of our largest
clients as we also gain standing with the IRS and FBI as we hone our expertise in network security projects.” Some might consider his decision to leave behind a secure future a bit crazy, especially with a baby on the way, but for Moe, staying where he was would have been counter-intuitive. “Being uncomfortable is a good thing,” he avows. “I like taking risks. They don’t always pan out the way I want, but I always feel better and learn a lot.” It’s a philosophy that has taken him far throughout the entirety of his life: rather than resting on your laurels, run toward something new and different—something better. Reflecting back from where this philosophy stems from, Moe recalls his earliest days and credits his parents for his work ethic and tenacity. Born in the West Bank of Israel, he came to the states with his mother at the age of four in 1970. His father has been in the US since 1950, living variously in Indiana, Iowa, and finally in Arlington, where the Jafari family settled and Moe spent his childhood. Comprehensively stressing the importance of work through words and action, his father worked up to three jobs at a time and rarely took days off to rest. A barber by trade, he would bring Moe into the shop on Sundays to help him clean and maintain the store. “He would always tell me that I needed to do something to contribute,” he remembers. Consequently, Moe worked every summer from a young age. His first job was in an auto parts shop, which was ideal considering his innate interest in cars. After a time, he and a friend pursued that interest further by starting a business buffing and waxing cars in his friend’s driveway. “His father had a double driveway, and he would make us pay for the soap and water we used,” Moe reminisces. “He also told us we’d need to replace his tools if we broke any. They were equipping us with real-world expectations, and we became very self-sustaining.” The pair made good money, recruiting customers around the neighborhood and working late into the evenings. “I remember being really tired at the end of
the day,” he says. “I kind of started figuring out that physical labor is not an enjoyable lifestyle in the longrun.” It was then that Moe’s natural salesmanship came to light, but years would pass before he considered using his sales ability professionally. “I didn’t want to do it because everybody painted it in a bad light,” he continues. “I was very good at sales. Even when we were buffing and waxing cars, somebody had to go out and hit the street to find customers, and I was pretty astute at doing that.” Beyond the surfacing of his innate talents, Moe learned valuable lessons that summer. “The experience taught me that, if I didn’t want to do that again, I needed to figure something else out.” The following summer, Moe abandoned car washing for lawn mowing, but when he turned seventeen he found a different type of work all together. At the time, Moe’s sister worked at the Marriott downtown and called him to ask for assistance bartending an event. Finding that he enjoyed serving drinks and conversing with the attendees, bartending became his major source of income through college at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He was a full-time student and full-time worker, expanding both his mental and professional horizons simultaneously. “I really enjoyed the bartending business and got into hospitality for a number of years, and by the time I was 22, I was managing thirty- and forty-year-olds, some of them married with kids,” Moe affirms. “Through that experience, I began to understand the basics of how to manage an organization.” In that capacity, Moe’s natural talent for sales proved tremendously helpful. “The concept of up-selling is the practice of providing a more costly alternative to the customer’s original selection and explaining its value,” he explains. “It’s crucial in bartending and translates to almost any sales arena.” After college, Moe continued feeling out his strengths and weaknesses. His career path was uncertain, but he certainly didn’t sit still. “I thought I wanted to be in the finance field, so I earned my Series 6, 63, and life insurance licenses, and then went after my Series 7 license,” he recounts. “But I realized the vocation wasn’t for me after good friends and a new client taught me a very valuable lesson. I was struggling with educating the client on some of the financial instruments that could be utilized, and I quickly realized that I didn’t have the patience for it. It wasn’t a quick turnaround, it was a teaching environment. I’m not a good teacher. And after picking up on that weak area, I don’t worry about it anymore. It’s best to focus on your strengths and hire others who are strong where you’re weak. After finding 66
out what I like and don’t like, I now see myself much more as the 50,000 foot visionary versus the hands-inthe-guts guy.” Indeed, Moe won’t be the one instructing his employees on a day-to-day basis; he’s the one determining the direction of the entire business. After his experiences in the financial field, another opportunity quickly presented itself when a friend of his stopped by a nightclub he was running and observed, “You’re one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever seen, but it looks like you’re spinning your wheels.” The friend advised Moe to take some time learning his business—IT recruiting—to see if he enjoyed it. “After a couple weeks of getting to know that industry with him in his office, he said he just got an offer from a company to go help them grow, so he planned to wrap up his little company in his house,” Moe says. “And he told me I was coming with him.” Never one to sacrifice good potential for stability, Moe left his job and learned to excel at the business of recruiting. “I got very adept at running accounts once I came to understand that it was all about a systematized process,” he affirms. “It’s about face time, understanding what the customer wants, finding the solution, and bringing it to them. I started with a couple of projects with two or three people, up to projects of fifty rather quickly.” However, the buyout transformed his work environment into a more anonymous corporate behemoth, leaving Moe unsatisfied. “After rejecting a career in accounting or finance, I didn’t want to be pushed to the back office. I think that was just the salesman in me.” With that, it was time to run toward something new. With the assistance and support of his wife, who had worked as a consultant providing Human Resource support for years prior, and who became an integral part of the business, HumanTouch was created as an LLC, and Moe’s ability to sell himself quickly made the business a success. While HumanTouch was doing staff augmentation, Moe called Nextel to check on a reference. The man who answered gave him more than he bargained for, referring to Moe as “the guy who’s taking everybody from my division.” The good-natured accusation was followed by an invitation to come into the office and meet, and while there, Moe secured Nextel as a client, one of HumanTouch’s largest for a long time. In fact, the business grew from five employees to 65 in less than a year. Looking back on his career, Moe’s greatest point of pride is the people he hires and the culture he encourages. Having had both positive and negative work environments, he’s eager to encourage the former. “They’re good people, they work hard, and we’re imparting a
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
good culture that espouses the importance of having a good work / life balance,” he stresses. “In life, you have to be able to enjoy both, and maintaining that balance between personal and professional is one of the greatest professional challenges anyone can face.” It’s a balance Moe himself works hard to maintain. When out of the office, he can be found in the stands at hockey games, a sport both of his sons now play, and working with Decorate a Vet, a charity founded by a personal friend. The group cleans and decorates veterans’ homes for the holidays, providing landscaping services, putting down gravel in driveways, and taking care of anything else that is necessary. “My entire company is involved in it, and I’m glad to say we usually end up with about fifteen or twenty volunteers from our company alone helping out every year,” says Moe. “Others who can’t be there help out with money as well. We put together a 501(c)(3) and I’m sitting on the board, so I’m enjoying that aspect of being able to help where I can. From a giving back perspective, I like to do things where we get our hands dirty.” And, of course, making time for his three children is always a top priority. Between work commitments, he’s somehow found the energy to coach both of his daughters’ basketball teams and his younger son’s soccer team. When asked about the legacy he hopes to leave them, he asserts, “It’s always in my mind not to over-spoil my kids, and one of the things I want to impart is that the greatest thing about this country is that they have op-
portunity. They have the opportunity to do whatever they want, and they have to act on it. Action, then, is the most important thing I could possibly teach them—to go out and get something done. Don’t just sit and wait. Don’t whine about what did or didn’t happen. I think we get caught up in those things and it just doesn’t do anything for us.” Similarly, his advice to young entrepreneurs entering the business world today is action-oriented. “Go try it. Don’t let somebody’s influence keep you from trying something,” he emphasizes. For example, Moe recently hired a young man who had been temping with an auditing firm next door. After exchanging pleasantries in the hall several times, the young man got up the nerve to ask Moe, “What is it that you do? And would you look at my resume?” After reviewing his credentials, Moe was impressed. “He’s a very bright young man, a graduate of San Jose State, with master’s degree, who took a job temping,” he explains. “What if he hadn’t taken it? What if he had thought it was beneath him? By taking it, he landed in our lap. He’s got a great personality, he fits with the team, and they’re excited to have him on board.” Thus, doing something or running toward something is always a better alternative than doing nothing or staying standstill. “Even small opportunities like temp jobs or waiting tables can lead to bigger ones,” he reaffirms. “It’s always surprising who you meet or what direction life takes you, as long as you’re willing to move forward.”
Bob Kettler One Passion, One Road Though most young entrepreneurs today will experiment with many different careers before settling into their preferred industry, it seems as though homebuilding was Bob Kettler’s destiny. His father’s claim to fame, Kettler Brothers, was founded in 1952 and was the largest private homebuilding company in Maryland through the 1960s. This giant was among the first to build large planned communities in Maryland and Northern Virginia and brought Montgomery Village into existence. “You don’t respect it as much when you’re younger,” says Bob, Chairman and CEO of Kettler. “Still, I had this knowledge that they were onto something new.” Bob heard his father discussing the innovative planned communities and how some viewed them as close to utopian. Kettler Brothers was creating towns, and Bob overheard conversations about the entities that ran these new communities, which seemed to resemble governments. Some of these foundations and homeowner associations even oversaw land use and involved themselves in aspects of development. Bob may have been young at the time, but even these snippets helped to form ideas and understandings that would lay the groundwork for what would quickly become his accelerating career in homebuilding and real estate development. In fact, his father started talking to him about financing when he was still young. “This is what would qualify as conversation on fishing trips,” Bob recalls with a laugh. But before he would ever apply the higher concepts of development, Bob would apply himself—and with gusto—to the grit of construction work. By sixteen years of age, he was pounding nails as a laborer or carpenter’s helper. He knew that understanding the process literally from the ground up would be necessary if he wanted to go further in the future. And what would this “future” look like? Today, Kettler has developed over 25 planned communities and more than 46,000 homes, including the 6,050 home community Cascades in Loudoun County, VA; the 2,434 home
community Piedmont in Prince William County, VA; and the 2,600 home community Lorton Station in Fairfax County, VA. The company has developed more than 5 million square feet of mixed-used commercial space, including the 1.2 million-square-foot Trinity Centre mixed-use office park in Fairfax County, VA and the 1.3 million-square-foot Villages at Leesburg Town Center in Loudon County, VA. In 1987, Bob established Kettler Management, the property management division of his company. The wholly owned subsidiary manages more than 19,000 apartment units in 85 communities from North Carolina to New York and over 1.7 million square feet of office and retail space. Furthermore, since its inception in 1977, Kettler has developed some of the DC Metropolitan area’s most successful multifamily communities, including the nationally renowned The Metropolitan at Pentagon City, The Metropolitan at Reston Town Center, Midtown Reston Town Center, and The Millennium at Metropolitan Park. The company has developed more than 15,400 apartments and condominiums within 65 communities. Over the last five years, Kettler’s condominium communities were the area’s top selling projects, with gross sales in excess of $700 million. Additionally, Kettler is the largest developer of affordable housing in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area. The company has a portfolio of 33 properties with over 6,500 bond-financed apartments that it owns and operates, and the company was ranked one of the top 30 private companies in the DC Metropolitan area by the Washington Post. Though young Bob couldn’t have pegged exactly how the company’s legacy would unfold all those years ago, he knew he wanted to be part of it. By 19 years old, Bob had no doubt that he wanted to be in the family business of homebuilding, but Kettler Brothers had a strict no-nepotism rule. Considering the company’s six partners with as many as eight kids each, the policy was a necessity. Bob’s generation would have to find their own jobs, yet this didn’t deter the young man in the slightest. “I’ve always been very competitive,
so that was fine with me,” Bob remembers. After returning from a trip to the Caribbean in 1973, Bob bought his first building at 21 years old, a small apartment building in Adams Morgan that cost him about twenty-nine thousand dollars. He renovated it with his cousin, sold it, and used the money from that sale to buy 13 lots off of 16th Street from the Catholic Church. This commenced a series of bold and escalating ventures that would take Bob to great heights. At the same time, he was taking night classes at George Washington University in real estate and business. “Finance is a vocational education,” Bob explains today. “Some of my classes covered the documentation of real estate transactions, and I found those truly essential to my education.” One of his teachers, Maury Seldin, had published Real Estate Investment Strategies in 1970, and Bob wore it to pieces. “It taught me how to model things and how to evaluate assets,” Bob says. “It was simplistic, really, but it taught me an excellent framework for organizing and evaluating data.” His next jobs were building retail stores and renovating basements as a contractor. Bob did about ten stores and restaurants in Georgetown and suburban malls until 1976, at which time his business started to grow at a new clip after building brick houses on a new street put in by the city at 16th Street and Military Road. While running through so many projects of his own, Bob also began working as a researcher and project manager for his dad and uncle at Kettler Brothers. One project Bob worked on was meant to be a modest investment partnering with Gladstone Associates to build apartments and townhouses, but a sudden turn of events gave Kettler Brothers the whole project instead, giving Bob an excellent opportunity to work on something big. “To make a long story short,” Bob explains, “Gladstone lost his apartment partner, and Kettler Brothers ended up with the whole site. Kettler went from being a purchaser of lots to being something much more.” At age 23, Bob was suddenly a manager on a major project. Seizing the solid opportunity, he went deep into planning and architecture for the 150-unit urban project, which was ahead of its time for DC. Specifically, he focused on the modeling and analyzing of a large land asset, which he then developed. “That type of planned community work is still a part of the work that I do for a living today,” he points out. To encounter this opportunity so early in his career set him on a path to grow into the business of development that would then take him to his highest point yet. Before making the leap into developing big land, though, Bob would reach back into 70
family. “My sister was the oldest,” Bob says. “She’s a brilliant woman—brilliant and talented.” After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and then earning her law degree from George Washington University, she was hired to be the first General Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and wrote tax legislation for them. She then got married, and her husband, Scott Paseltiner, became Bob’s partner. Together, they founded Kettler and Scott when Bob was 25, completing a number of small projects leading up to the early 80s. Ultimately, Bob credits his success to this early start, but he also says he can’t deny that he found himself in a good market. He began land development in the early 80s and was mentored by several established and talented individuals at the time, such as Frank Saul, Ted Lerner, and Til Hazel. By making connections and seizing opportunities, Bob was able to operate in the same space as his mentors, and in a few short years he went from being a small homebuilder to one of the largest developers in the DC metropolitan area. The first big development that spurred this surge was a planned community venture with a savings and loan that was a DC-area fixture at the time—a project that spanned from 1982 to 1988. In this endeavor, Bob took a large amount of back-acreage that was difficult to access and connected it to the area’s main road with a new road by amending the county master plan. He put in a mixed-use office park, two big shopping centers, and about 2,800 lots. He completed the development at age 34, and flush with capital, he turned around and began purchasing all the land he could find. By the time he was 40 years old, he was worth approximately $150 million. But then would come a career-defining moment when the real estate climate as a whole would experience a paradigm shift as the savings and loan crisis wreaked havoc across the nation. Bob had partnered with Chevy Chase Bank, who had brought in partners from China, Europe and the Middle East. He had been flying back and forth between Hong Kong and D.C. to meet with investors, but those days were suddenly over. The deals were backed by structured debt and were written off, but as they failed, Bob suddenly found himself with millions in phantom income and overleveraged assets. He was able to maneuver through the crisis, but emerging on the other side, he found himself in a drastically altered era of real estate development. “In that considerably different climate, I knew I had only one option,” he recalls. “From that point, I proceed-
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
ed to purposefully diversify as a survival technique.” He had been through a wild ride, developing land during the Savings and Loan-backed 80s, but he finally decided that he no longer wanted all of his eggs in one basket. With that, Kettler continued to develop land, but the company also entered into the arena of apartment development and mixed-use development, eventually developed its expertise in management as well. “If you’re in the real estate business,” Bob affirms now, “you’re not in this or that; you’re in real estate. In an economic climate like the recession that followed the Savings and Loan crisis, or even the one today, it makes a great deal of sense to be skilled and adept in all forms of real estate.” Beyond diversification, Kettler has also relied on a more structured process for working through investment strategies. For example, project approvals go through an investment committee, and once launched, they undergo a redundant production process with checks and balances. Beyond that, it’s management by exception. “I don’t hear anything unless it goes wrong,” Bob comments. “However, if something does go wrong, I want to hear about it even if it’s midnight.” Today, free from the gritty details of the daily
grind, Bob concerns himself mostly with strategic and new business meetings and considers his family’s historical no-nepotism rule. He has four children, and thinks deeply about the course of their lives, as any parent would. “I don’t want them to be burdened by my dreams,” he says firmly. He remembers that the many small deals he worked through at such a fast pace in those early years were exciting and fun for him, concerned that his current projects are ponderous and may take years to complete. “That’s not exactly what a young person needs,” Bob points out. In considering his own childhood and how he came to find himself where is today, he says that young people entering the business world today need to tap into their true passions and follow their hearts. “There’s nothing like following your heart,” Bob says. “There are people that can wrap their heads around what they do, and they’re savants about what they do. It may be hard to find what that one thing is,” he continues, “but I think everyone has the capacity to do so.” By taking the time and the energy to find out what that one passion is, Bob’s example demonstrates that the road to its realization can be that much more direct, and that much more gratifying.
Charles “Chuck” Kuhn Trial and Error 1982 was a perilous year to be a businessman. The United States, along with the rest of the developed world, was suffering through a severe economic recession that began in the late 70s and continued through the early 80s. Rising unemployment, inflation, and the savings and loan crisis were hardly fertile ground for an entrepreneurial venture. Fortunately for Chuck Kuhn, 16-year-old high school student and brand-new business owner, no one bothered to tell him that. “I was lucky,” Chuck says today, “in that no one told me I couldn’t succeed. The economy was in tatters and I was starting a business.” Chuck had just bought his first truck with a five thousand dollar loan from his uncle, and started JK Moving Services, named for his father’s initials. Fresh faced and with limited experience, he was determined to make his business a success. He may not have known how to work a balance sheet, but he knew how to work hard. He also had a personal insight into the moving business that would grant him a valuable sense of empathy in working with his customers. That empathy, and the root of the decision to enter the moving and storage services industry, can be traced back a few years earlier to 1977, when his parents, longtime Bell Labs Telephone employees, were set to move themselves, Chuck, and his brother to Iran for what was to be a three-year stay. This involved moving much of their belongings from their home in Northern Virginia all the way to the Middle East. As it turned out, the move was a complete disaster. “I remember the experience very well,” Chuck says today. “Even before the move began, my parents were stressed. They had grown up in this same area, and now they were moving their two children all the way across the world.” The stress piled on when the movers arrived late and intoxicated. Once they broke into his parents’ liquor cabinet, Chuck remembers that things went from bad to worse. “It started to snow heavily,” he
recalls, “and the movers started having a snowball fight in the yard among our belongings. This evolved into an actual fist fight, and eventually my parents had to call the police and have them arrested. It was truly a disastrous relocation.” Once his family arrived in Iran, they realized the disaster was far from over. Of the belongings that didn’t go missing, the majority arrived late and damaged. Even though Chuck was only middle school aged at the time, he knew that this was wrong. Two years into their stay in Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution. Chuck and his brother were sent home to live with their uncle in Rockville, Maryland. Their uncle owned and operated a moving and storage company in Rockville called Thomas AAA. To keep them out of trouble, Chuck and his brother were put to work for the company, moving homes and sweeping the warehouse floors. The difference between the disastrous move to Iran and the work he did with his uncle was like night and day. “I had a great feeling of accomplishment at the ends of those days,” Chuck recalls. “I was learning a trade and enjoying it. Typically, we were moving a family from a smaller home to a larger home, and they were excited and happy. They might have been expecting the worst from our industry, but when we showed up and did a great job, you could see the relief and joy in their faces.” When Chuck’s parents returned from Iran some six months later, their moving nightmare repeated itself. They had bought antiques and memorabilia, Persian carpets and crafts. Coming back, half the shipment was stolen or damaged or arrived late. “The contrast of those experiences, positive and negative, made a great impression on me,” Chuck says. “I realized that this could be a very bad industry, or a very good industry. It really hit home that people had low expectations when trusting others to move their cherished belongings, and that I could confound those expectations with excellent service.”
Charles “Chuck” Kuhn
Starting with just that $5,000 loan and a single truck in the trenches of a double-dip recession, Chuck set off to translate that realization into a successful enterprise. Today, JK Moving Services has approximately 600 fulltime employees, 330 pieces of equipment, and in 2012 will bring in about $80 million in gross sales. They service individuals, corporations, and the federal government, with local, interstate and international moving services. JK has moved and continues to move military generals, corporate CEOs, and Presidents of the United States. According to Chuck, this journey was not without distractions or moments of doubt. By 1984, he had long since paid off the loan from his uncle, and his business was expanding. He was first licensed to do interstate moving, and he invested in a second truck. Things were looking great for JK and he was challenging himself to learn as quickly as possible how to scale his business to meet increasing demand from outside Virginia. He didn’t have a single mentor to teach him the ropes, instead relying on determination and trial and error to build his business. Then, a sudden and unexpected question gave him pause. “I ran into a friend from high school,” Chuck recalls. “We were talking, and at some point she basically asked me what I was really going to do with my life.” At first dumbfounded, Chuck responded that he was building a business. “In my mind,” Chuck explains, “I was thinking of my parents. They both took jobs early in their lives with Bell Atlantic, and they planned to work through to retirement. Once I started JK, I never thought of doing anything other than building the business I started, and working to retirement.” Although this conversation startled him for a few days, it ultimately made his resolve to make JK his life’s work all the more concrete. That’s not to say that he never considered what might have happened if he had worked in other industries. Before he started JK, Chuck had taken an interest in computers, even before the PC revolution had truly begun. Later, in the mid-90s, as the housing market was soaring, Chuck had a few friends in the homebuilding industry who were experiencing phenomenal success. “I remember thinking,” Chuck says, “boy, I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off if I had gone into homebuilding.” But after talking to an industry peer twenty years his senior, Chuck was able to comprehend the boom-bust cycle of real estate. “He said that moving and storage may not have highs like these industries, but it doesn’t have the lows either.” As expected, the housing boom didn’t last forever, and the bust was hard on his homebuilding friends. Later, at the turn of the millennium as the dot74
com bubble burst, JK continued to stride forward with stable growth that, while not dramatic, was not merely modest either. Looking forward, Chuck’s plan for JK’s future is to continue that controlled, profitable growth. “Our core values as a company,” he says, “are to have happy customers, happy employees, and happy profitability.” Although these days Chuck doesn’t get to see the looks on every customer’s face at the end of a lovinglyexecuted move, he makes a point to read every single piece of customer feedback the company receives. When asked about the most rewarding feedback he has read or experienced, Chuck is quick to answer. “We do a lot of military moves,” he says. “When you’re moving some of these military generals, you’re moving someone who has literally moved more than 30 times in their lives. And when they tell you, or put in writing that out of decades of military service and however many moves, that they’ve never received the quality that JK performs… there is not much that compares to that.” Chuck’s grasp of this kind of service came from his experiences as a young man. In describing how he has translated that sense and know-how to his employees over the past thirty years, he cites his very low turnover and long-time employees. “It comes from the top,” he says. “The first driver we brought on back in 1983 is still with us today. My personal assistant has been with us for 25 years. Our safety director has been on board for 26 years. Our first salesman is still on board and selling for us. The early culture is still here and the early team is still here today. They infuse that culture into the new hires we bring on. “What I’m most proud of today in JK are its people,” Chuck continues. “We have a profit-sharing system and other vehicles that ensure our employees will retire with a comfortable existence no matter what happens to social security.” JK’s people also have a large say in the direction of the company’s charitable activity. “We have a committee that solicits feedback from our staff on what they feel is important,” Chuck explains. “The trend has been that a large part of our support goes to children.” Chuck himself sits on the board of Fight for Children, an organization that fights to ensure low-income children in Washington, DC stay healthy and receive the education they need to succeed. “I think both JK’s employees and I,” he says, “feel that children are our future and are defenseless and need our help.” Perhaps Chuck is so empathetic to the needs of children without supportive families, because he can’t imagine where he would be today without his own. Indeed, he named his company after his father, who
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
always maintained an almost super-human balance between work and home life. “My father worked very hard,” Chuck says, “and yet he always had a great balance between work and family. I remember times he was working two and three jobs, and somehow he would manage the kids’ sports teams, be at all of our events, and make it home for dinner most nights. I still don’t totally understand how he managed to do so much and still have such balance. My mother was that way too, always working very hard and also supporting us in school and at home.” Chuck and his own wife have nine children in their household today, two of whom came to them after Chuck’s brother-in-law passed away. “I often think about whether I’m maintaining the same balance that my father was able to,” Chuck says. After a moment’s pause he smiles and jokes, “I like to think he had it a little easier raising three of us, as opposed to the nine my wife and I have!” Chuck met his wife in high school, when they briefly dated before she graduated. They then reconnected three or four years later and got married. She has always been very supportive of the business, and Chuck relies on her to help keep their kids on track and to ensure that he maintains the balance he strives for. “She is a caring, loving, very hardworking woman,” Chuck says.
Thirty years after starting his business, Chuck is still excited to get out of bed every morning and put in a good, hard day. He gets into the office at 6:15 in the morning and leaves at 6 in the evening. At 46 years old, he doesn’t plan to retire any time soon, but he does think about the long-term future of JK Moving Services and his own legacy. “I plan to build JK to a point that it continues in my absence and long after,” he says. “I envision getting to a point where it will continue to thrive and provide a quality service in the industry. But above that I hope that the nine children we raise are educated, good people who are strong contributors to society.” Chuck’s final words of advice to young entrepreneurs entering the business world today stems from how he tries to raise his own children, and from his own experience of entering the business world at such a young age. “One thing I try to teach my own kids,” he says, “that concerns me with younger people today, is that they need to pick a path, and pick it early. I see people going into college who get out and they’re absolutely clueless about what path they wish to take. I encourage my children to identify their passions and interests. To get into something, and then get going so the trial and error process can begin to work its magic. I hate to see these kids five years out of college still trying to figure out what they want to do with themselves. That is my advice: pick a path early and get with it!”
Charles “Chuck” Kuhn
Y. Renee Lewis The True Meaning of No Renee Lewis has been called the innovator, the turnaround woman, and the risk-taker. Indeed, she balances many roles, and with grace—at once a CEO, an engineer, a mother, and a wife. In her shining career, she has chosen many paths and influenced countless others—all because she decided to consider the word “no” as the beginning of a journey, and not as the end of one. Most people perceive “no” as a dead-end, but her career showcases a series of winding roads with rich scenery where others would certainly have chosen a safer, yet less rewarding, route. At the core of these accomplishments is a deep love of thinking. “I really wanted to think for a living,” Renee explains. “Making money isn’t what’s hard; it’s doing something you’re interested in doing while making money that’s really worthwhile. I like to think through hard problems related to business. That’s my passion, and that’s what drives me.” Now the CEO and President of the Pensare Group, named after the Italian word that literally means “to think,” Renee has the joy of doing what she loves each and every day with clients who rely on her passion for results. The Pensare Group is a specialized consulting firm that works with motivated leaders and their teams to improve performance, attract and retain loyal customers, and drive results. They tackle the hard problems that require innovative approaches, which include training technically-minded staff in sales, changing internal attitudes of complacency, or getting teams to streamline or innovate their approaches by embracing more modern and collaborative business trends. “At its essence, the mission of the Pensare Group is to accelerate success,” Renee explains. “We aim to take the word ‘no’ and reanalyze, restructure, redistribute, and redesign until that ‘no’ becomes a productive ‘yes.’ After all, what got you here may not get you where you want to be in the future. Sometimes you just have to think differently to get there.” Her love of problem solving, as well as her work ethic and disregard for barriers, was stimulated from a very early age. In fact, one of her first memories involves a
young Renee racing to finish her elementary school assignment so she could run to the front of the classroom and be the first to slap it on the teacher’s desk. Teachers would often say that she was the only girl they had in their classrooms who exhibited such a competitive, driven nature, and they cautioned against it—words of non-wisdom to which she paid little attention. “My parents raised me without regard for gender differences,” she reports today. She came from a talented family, inheriting her father’s scientific interests and her mother’s artistic creativity, which granted her the deep affinity for the process of learning, analyzing, and seeing solutions others overlook—skills that forms the foundation of her business today. In high school, Renee was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” for her astounding leadership and ability to accomplish jobs efficiently. Even in her first job at Kentucky Fried Chicken, she ran the show as the cashier during busy hours, wielding her master multi-tasking skills like an expert ringleader. These skills had been honed in large part by the fact that her father had left when she was in third grade, so she was tasked from an early age with helping her mother struggle to make ends meet in inner-city St. Louis. Renee gladly took on a great deal of responsibility, working her way through high school and college and sending money home to help her mother, who was also working toward her college degree. Upon graduating from Pennsylvania State University, Renee was recruited as one of twenty young test workers by a consulting firm that had previously only hired employees with more experience. The small group of college graduates formed a pilot program designed to keep the company competitive with larger firms like Arthur Andersen, who had already started down similar roads. Renee’s group was celebrated at first, but she soon found it was a hard environment for young women, and one in which the word “no” was a common refrain. Always one to thrive on a challenge, however, she found that the hardship she faced as a woman stimulated her interest in entrepreneurship and problem Y. Renee Lewis
solving. “I reached the level of Senior Associate before age 30, which was unheard of in those days. I was one of 23 women, as compared to 457 men, at that level,” Renee recalls. “It was a very male-dominated atmosphere. I always felt like the rules were a little different for me, but it didn’t bother me. I just had to find a different approach that worked.” Spurred by the momentum of pushing harder and eliminating any reason why she might be passed over for promotions or great project assignments, Renee earned her master’s degree in software engineering, which she was readily able to apply to her work. She ran the first systems integration contract at the firm and built a highly diverse team. “We simply hired the talent we needed,” she remembers. “We really looked like the DC profile you’d expect, and not like the homogenous team that was so common in consulting at the time. I learned a lot from observing how my colleagues missed opportunities by not managing their own biases, which helped me to see the world differently and motivated me to demonstrate the power of diverse thinking that stimulates more creative observations and, ultimately, better solutions.” When Renee hit her ten-year mark with the company, she had achieved remarkable success, yet she no longer felt challenged. “There came a point where I didn’t feel as though I was personally growing anymore,” she recalls. “I just remember thinking, ‘How do I know if I’m really any good? This is all I’ve known!’ So I ventured out to the unsafe unknown. I took a BD position with a growing database company to get closer to technology. At my going away party, a Principal made a speech anticipating my return as if he couldn’t see me in the outside world. I knew then I could never return.” In the hopes of testing her own limits, and despite the commonly-articulated sentiment that she was crazy to leave behind the success she had worked so hard to achieve, Renee moved on to work at a series of other companies, including Sybase and Bell Atlantic (now Verizon), where she served as Director of software engineering. She found continued success at Bell Atlantic, which included the accomplishment of creating the first Java application for big business billing, as well as launching a unique and innovative billing engine amidst conditions that actually gauged the project to fail. “It was groundbreaking work because it involved the tight integration and synchronization of a SQL engine collaborating with an object-oriented database called Gemstone, which had never been done before quite like what we did,” Renee details. “I was later told that they had hoped that the project would fail, so I 78
wondered why they gave it to me. I always got results!” By the time Renee left Bell Atlantic, she had created a new name for herself—one that reflected her high success rate when it came to her ability to dramatically improve outcomes. For this reason, she was called in to save a failing project called WellsSpring Resources (now known as Citi-Street), and eventually moved on to take the position as VP of Engineering during a fourcompany merger targeting eLearning markets. In the midst of the confusion and power shuffling, Renee took pride in working on Knowledge Universe’s groundbreaking methods on adult learning theory. She then became CTO of KnowledgePlanet after heading up the East Coast consulting services for Saba Software, another eLearning company. Eventually, Renee entered the drug safety market by helping one organization market with an innovative product. She then took over the venture-backed company Galt Associates, where she was tasked with packaging and selling the company. Her work at Galt inspired the current line of work that is done at the Pensare Group. She was in need of the services she provides today, but couldn’t find an organization who offered these services in the way she needed them. Through her turn-around at Galt Associates, Renee found harmony between her skills as an engineer and her fascination with entrepreneurship. “For a long time, there weren’t a lot of people who knew how to bridge the gap between business and technology,” she explains today. “I had a realization that technology projects are all about the people—getting them engaged and solving the problems. However, I knew that the only way to get them to solve a technological problem was to get them to understand the business problem at hand. When you begin looking at technology projects to solve business problems, you improve your understanding of business, which in turn garners better flexibility and greater success in terms of outcome.” Thus, after Galt Associates was sold to Kansas City-based Cerner, it dawned on Renee that no one was doing the kind of work she had just accomplished – improving the value of the organization by getting staff aligned and producing predictable and profitable results. As a result of this discovery, the Pensare Group was launched in 2007 as a partnership between Renee and Lesley Boucher, a colleague with whom she worked well and new from their time together at Galt Associates. “Our most common scenario is a frustrated yet inspired leader who knows they can do more. All they need is the extra bandwidth to help get their staff to make the changes they need in a reasonable timeframe, and that’s where we come in,” says Renee, of Pensare’s typical client.
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
Confronted with this predicament, Pensare Group examines the unique needs of the client and then creates a specialized development program that focuses on three to five key goals that a particular management team or department hope to achieve in the program. Working directly with the client’s staff, the program is structured to not only develop new habits such as transparent accountability and improved communication toward the accomplishment of these goals, but also to change the attitudes of the participants so they are more motivated to achieve results. Thus, Pensare’s staff essentially acts as surrogate managers to its client to push them into new behaviors and directions while challenging their habits based on what they think they know. “We’ve created a next generation of development program that’s driven by need, taught by practitioners—that is, seasoned managers—while using classic adult learning principles so the information sticks and can be applied immediately,” Renee explains. “In essence, we get to the core of the problem to enact the solution.” While no two of Pensare’s programs are alike, the ideal client usually involves two or three programs with 20 people coming through at a time in order to leverage the experience from one group to the next. To ensure success, Pensare’s goals are always tied to measureable outcomes that give tangible, clear lift to their clients. “Growing our company is really all about finding new and clever ways to grow other companies,” Renee points out. “We have an untraditional business model focused on growth by helping others grow. Because of that, others’ growth is always going to show up in my bottom line. It’s inherent in our mission, our philosophy, and our vision. Our success is inextricably tied to the success of those we seek to help—those who, like us, aim to challenge the word ‘no’ and the presupposed limits to their capabilities.” As Renee continues her efforts at Pensare, she also
works to spread the net of her knowledge further by co-founding The Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship along with Julie Lenzer Kirk. She instructs the Center’s flagship program ACTiVATE—a yearlong entrepreneurship program for technical and scientific women to help them build viable businesses and win the race to revenue. Considering this venture alongside the influence of Pensare, it would be a conservative guess to estimate that, in the last five years alone, she has easily influenced a couple thousand people. After her many years of moving on to the next big and better career challenge, Renee feels she has finally found her place at Pensare—a place that encourages her continued pursuit of learning, thinking, and personal development, rather than limiting it. With this in mind, she plans to focus on continuing the company’s growth as well as touching the lives of as many people as possible. And, while touching the lives of others is certainly among her legacies, and while she has attained remarkable success in her career life, Renee avows without a doubt that her greatest accomplishments are her two bright and independent children, as well as her 26-year marriage to her high school sweetheart. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the work force today, Renee urges young people to always question the word ‘no.’ “When we say no, we shut down potential,” she reminds us, hearkening back to the decision she made to leave that first consulting firm all those years ago because she felt her own potential was under lock and key. “Instead, investigate what ‘no’ means, and challenge where the limits really are. What if ’no’ really means a conditional ‘maybe,’ and you have to get it to ‘yes’? Only in your mind does ‘no’ mean ‘never’.” Renee’s advice is a reflection of her bold ability to think beyond the obvious and the easily attainable to access rarer gems—those qualities and outcomes that take a journey to uncover, but are worth every step of the way.
Y. Renee Lewis
James Lynch To Teach is To Lead In today’s environment of hyper-specialization, one usually has to invest oneself in a single field or pursuit at the expense of all the others if one hopes to achieve excellence. James Lynch, however, holds a Ph.D. in literature, enjoys history and classical music, and published a book during the eight years he spent teaching at Virginia Tech. He’s also the President and CEO of Social & Scientific Systems (SSS), Inc. It’s rare to encounter an executive so well rounded and familiar with the intellectual world, but Jim actually cites this Renaissance background as a major foundation for his success in the business world since his transition from academia 25 years ago. His experiences as an Assistant Professor of Literature at Virginia Tech enabled him to build a corporate culture based on collaborative learning and to incorporate his teaching skills into his leadership methods. And his ability to take a broad and bird’s-eye point of view, concentrating more on direction than on individual projects, left him the clear front-runner as the organization’s founders approached retirement. SSS works with health-focused entities within the Federal Government in three main areas: clinical research, epidemiology research, and health policy research. About eighty percent of the projects originate from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while the remaining business comes from other parts of the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Today, the enterprise boasts almost 500 employees worldwide. On the clinical side, SSS provides clinical trial support that is largely focused on AIDS research. “We’re the operations center for the largest clinical trial therapeutic program under NIH,” Jim explains today. “Most of the current AIDS drugs were developed under this program.” They also work on infectious disease clinical trials in various international locales, such as Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, and Australia. SSS’s North Carolina office focuses on epidemiology research, which represents work won from the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Currently, the largest contract in operation is a 14-year study of women who are sisters of women with breast cancer. The women—a group of 50,000—will be watched over a ten year follow-up phase and should provide valuable insight into the epidemiology of breast cancer. Additionally, this arm comprises research into environmental effects on the incidence of ALS, asthma, and other diseases. The final arm, health policy research, focuses on such issues as quality of care, access to care, and the effect of policy changes on the health care financing system. Jim joined SSS as a proposal manager in 1988—in fact, he was the organization’s very first. The company was a mere ten years old at the time, and it was just beginning its transition from winning set-aside, sole-source contracts, to being in the competitive proposal environment. Founded in 1978 by three programmers, SSS was an 8(a) organization that worked primarily on welfare reform. “They made their mark really by developing econometric models of proposed initiatives such as the food stamp program,” Jim points out. “Their success was really first based on that kind of income transfer analysis. The company wasn’t fully focused on health issues until 15 or 20 years after it was founded.” As the proposal manager, Jim flourished, but his potential for leadership was not overlooked by his superiors. About five years into his career at SSS, in the early 1990’s, the three partners began to consider what would happen to their company after their eventual retirement. “Up until then they were running the company,” Jim explains. “All projects went through one of the three of them, so it was a very broad and flat organization. It was the kind of organization that made sense growing up, but by the time I joined they were a little over 200 people.” Because the company had grown so quickly, the founders needed to restructure SSS and take some weight off their shoulders. Thus, they appointed a group of Vice Presidents in order to redistribute authority more practically, and Jim was among them.
Jim began managing the Business Development department, and, in addition, took on some of the strategic planning work. It was in the latter area that he proved himself to be an invaluable member of the management team, able to focus on the horizon and envision the company’s future. This natural affinity for leadership left him the obvious choice when it came time to promote a VP to Executive Vice President in 2000. “I knew the organization better than anyone else,” Jim reflects today. “The Vice Presidents that we had were good at managing the narrow markets they were in, but not really good at seeing how to take the company further. They were more technical than I from the beginning, and knew their markets, and our success depended on them to please those clients and get things done. And they did, indeed, get things done. But they needed additional guidance to see how we might together expand and leverage one experience into a different area.” Thus, after the retirement of Denis Ables, one of the founders, Jim was appointed Executive Vice President to assist Mary Frances leMat, the youngest of the partners and the new President and CEO. A few years after this promotion, Mary Frances decided to appoint a COO, and Jim was again the obvious choice. Then, as she began to relinquish some of her authority as she moved toward retirement, Jim was promoted to President. In 2006, she retired fully, and Jim became the CEO. While he hadn’t expected the trajectory his career took, the rise happened organically and grew out of his ability to organize people—not out of personal ambition but out of competence and skill. “I was able to tie people together,” he surmises. “I didn’t have any interest in whether someone was cutting into my territory or not. You’ve got to find a way to do what you have to do and get out of the way of yourself. Sometimes very strong leaders are about carving out a piece of territory, but I feel as though there’s plenty of territory. What’s more important to me is looking at how to strategically approach the future.” While his lack of ego and disdain for the “territory claiming” type of CEO make Jim uniquely suited for his upper management positions, his career has turned out miles from anything he’d envisioned for himself. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, he entertained the notion of becoming a priest—something he stuck with until shortly before it became time to go away to the seminary. His passion and talent for languages in school led him to believe he might pursue linguistics professionally, before he eventually settled on literature as his academic field of choice while earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at John Carroll University. He cred82
its his parents for being both avid readers and fervent supporters of his career choice. After John Carroll, Jim went straight on to the University of Texas in Austin to pursue his doctorate. In January of 1979, Jim took a tenure-track position teaching at Virginia Tech. Then, over the next eight years, he did everything that was expected of staff in the hopes of gaining tenure, getting published in peerreviewed journals, and even publishing a book. In what Jim came to view as a blessing in disguise, however, departmental politics kept him from advancing as he had expected. “My department head was a very smart, sensible guy, but at the end of his career he got into this tussle with the Dean of Art and Sciences, and I essentially got caught in the crossfire,” Jim recounts. Denied his tenure, he briefly considered other teaching positions. Ultimately, however, he decided it was time to move on. He resented the prominence of the dysfunctional political atmosphere at large universities and hoped to apply the skills he’d learned as a teacher—particularly the leadership skills—in the business world. Working in the Business Development department of SSS, Jim found plenty of opportunities to use those skills. “It wasn’t really writing, but was more geared toward editing, rewriting, and helping people get ideas together,” Jim explains. “I always thought that was what teaching was all about, using the same set of skills. For instance, especially if I don’t know the technical stuff you know, we’ve got to talk and I have to educate you on how to get the words out in ways that makes sense. I knew how to get people to learn how to write and be better at it.” Even beyond that direct application of editorial and communication skills, Jim’s leadership technique undoubtedly grew from his teaching background. He looks back on his years in the academic world and recalls that, in higher education, it’s never as simple as being asked a question and giving the right answer. “It’s far more Socratic than that,” he muses. “It’s about discussion more than a decision being handed down. By developing that skill, I honed an ability to articulate things even when I wasn’t sure I knew what the answer was. Using this skill as a leader, I see my role as a facilitator of collaboration. That is, I’m not an ‘I’m in charge, follow-me’ type leader. Rather, my focus is very clearly on the reality that I need smart people around me. If you ask my executive team, they would tell you that the four of us sit down and puzzle through stuff, ask questions, and serve as Devil’s Advocate for one another. Good decision-making comes from considering all sides and trusting the judgment of the smart people
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
around you.” This attitude is the core of SSS’ employee-owned culture. “We’ve always been a people-friendly, people-first kind of company,” he avows. “We’re in the business of serving clients, and we achieve success by developing and nurturing our employee-owners so that they can provide great service to our clients. We always operate under the banner that we’re going someplace together. We’re pretty transparent, and we try to give people as much information as we can.” Being so people-driven, it’s hardly surprising that SSS engages in a myriad of charity activities. In fact, a volunteer community service committee of over forty members ensures SSS’s participation in about 30 service projects each year. Back-to-School programs that provide school supplies for underprivileged children living
in group homes, food drives around the holidays, and AIDS-related work on the international side are among the staple programs to which SSS remains firmly committed. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the workforce, Jim is quick to emphasize the tools that served him well. “Know how to write, and know how to think,” he urges. “Don’t count on anyone else to do those things for you. If you don’t come in with ideas, clearly perceived and clearly articulated for an audience, you’re nowhere.” Ever the teacher, Jim encourages today’s college students to apply their academic skills in the working world in much the same way he continues to do. As Jim’s professional path outlines, living is about learning and leading is about teaching, whether you’re in the classroom or the office.
Teddy Matheu Lifelong Teacher, Lifelong Learner At the time of the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and its aftermath through 2001, Internet and information technology companies were failing in droves. Many small Dot-Coms and tech firms that had benefited from huge influxes of cash from IPOs, despite showing no profits and, in some cases, no revenue whatsoever, were liquidated or sold for parts. Worldcom, an enormous telecommunications company that played a significant role in the rise of the bubble, was found practicing fraudulent accounting practices and filed one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in the US at that time. America Online, a pioneer of internet access, merged with Time Warner, a deal that was later described by financial reporters as one of the worst transactions in history. In the tumult and chaos of large and small companies alike facing imminent failure stood one IT consulting and services firm, Guident. “We were weeks away from shutting down the business,” Teddy Mattheu, co-founder and Executive VP of Guident, says today. “We were doing daily cash flow statements. We opened the books to all the staff—what was left of it—for them to know the circumstances we were in.” The situation was dire. But at the brink of insolvency, Teddy and his partners refused to engineer a safe exit for themselves at the expense of their employees. “We had already decided not to just walk away from leases and financial responsibilities,” Teddy explains. “We then decided we would have something stashed away for the people who had stayed with us, so they would have some time to find another job. That was an important thing for us to do.” But what began as an honorable strategy to wind down the company soon began to play a supporting yet essential role in the firm’s survival. “Two weeks before we were forecasted to shut down,” Teddy says, “we got a call from a key customer.” Suddenly, Guident was billing again. The employees who had stuck with the firm, and who were in turn
treated with respect, would now play an instrumental role in turning the ship around. Within a few months, Guident was up to thirty consultants from fewer than ten. “Several of those consultants are still with the business today,” Teddy notes, a decade later. When faced with a crisis like the one Guident had confronted, a more coldblooded team of executives might have looked for the quickest path to a safe exit, instead of looking out for their employees. “I didn’t want to leave anyone on the street,” Teddy says. “I wanted to be honest and open with people, and give them the respect they deserved. They trusted us to join a small business without too much security, so why leave them on the street?” Teddy didn’t make the decision alone. Although Guident originally sprang from his work as a consultant-for-hire, Teddy is quick to point out that the company was co-founded by him and his partners. “A major contributing factor to the success of our team,” Teddy says, “is that we all come from the same professional background. There is no clash in our values or ways of thinking. It’s just different skills.” Along with Teddy’s professional background, his personal background contributed to the decisionmaking process that has preserved an integrity as strong as the success it undergirds. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Teddy’s father was and still is the chancellor of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. His mother, a high school English teacher, left her teaching career to raise Teddy, his sister, and his two brothers. Growing up on campus in the university town of San German on the west part of the island, Teddy spent his childhood exposed not only to faculty and campus resources like computers, but also to guest speakers who would occasionally meet with his father. “I had the honor to meet many interesting people,” he recalls. “Politicians, writers, Nobel Prize winners. These individuals would come to visit the university, and many of them would end up sitting on my father’s
porch, conversing with him.” Strong family support, exposure to academia, and campus resources were not the only assets available to Teddy. He was also a prodigious math student. His natural ability, enabled by his family and environment, allowed Teddy to advance through high school math by the time he was in middle school, and very soon he was studying college math and computer science. He enrolled at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico by the time he was sixteen. “My father never had money,” Teddy says, “but he had a PhD and a very strong cultural background. He was a very knowledgeable person all around, as was my mother. I grew up in a family where I had a chance to read an encyclopedia from the first to the last page, and I was exposed to so many things as a child.” While still in middle school, Teddy began tutoring other students in math. “I was like a walking calculator,” he laughs. “My father challenged me to take advantage of my math ability. I had already finished almost the entire college level math curriculum by the time I was in tenth grade, and I tutored college students before I left high school.” At the time, his work as a tutor was not necessarily about making money. “I would make about $100 a week,” Teddy continues. “When summer came I would go to a friend’s beach house. We would fish for food, and the money would go to gas for the boat. And probably beer as well.” Teddy obtained his undergraduate degree from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, followed by a masters in math from Lehigh. He returned to Puerto Rico and began doing what he knew best: teaching. But Teddy was not destined to remain in academia. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, ultimately,” he remembers. “I stayed in school, got my masters, and then went back to Puerto Rico to teach, which I could do basically with my eyes closed. I had been doing it since I was a teenager. I’ve never been one to take the easy way out, however, so I knew I wouldn’t be happy in that capacity for long. That’s why I decided to do even more school, returning to the states to attend William and Mary to get a PhD. It was there that everything changed.” A year into the program at William and Mary, Teddy noticed in a posting that the international professional services firm, Price Waterhouse, would be sending interviewers to the college. Teddy seized the opportunity, and took the first step on a road that would ultimately lead him to where he is today. “I remember being in a room with 400 other 86
students,” Teddy says. “We all turned in our resumes, and I was picked for an interview. I made it through several rounds of interviews and was eventually offered a position. My dad told me I would be crazy not to take the job. I wasn’t finished with the PhD program, but I saw the potential at Price Waterhouse, and I seized it. I still didn’t know exactly what it was, but I knew it was the right thing to do.” Teddy began as a programmer and was also involved in consulting engagements with Vitro, First Union Bank, and Manor Care, but it wasn’t long before he was selected for a training program in Tampa, Florida. Following the pattern he had set in high school and college, he began teaching elements of the training program before completing it. Once finished with his training, he stayed on to teach three more classes. Eventually Price Waterhouse asked him to stay in Tampa and teach, but Teddy hesitated. “I’m a teacher by nature,” Teddy says. “But I came to understand pretty quickly that a teaching career at Price Waterhouse was not the best that I could do. The pay-scale for being a teacher at their training program did not come close to comparing to the value they placed on actual billable work. Even as I received all “Excellents on my evaluations, my salary increase was dismal. So I got out of there.” It was the first time Teddy recalls being motivated by money and by his vision for his own earning potential. As a result, he left Price Waterhouse and decided that he could really set out on his own. But looking back, he realizes that his confidence at the time was somewhat illusory. “I guess it was partly ignorance that led me to starting Guident,” Teddy says. “I had learned a lot at Price Waterhouse. I met very interesting people. After participating in the PSINet and Nextel consulting gigs in that capacity, I felt I knew more than everyone else. Which, of course, I later learned that I didn’t.” As Teddy and his partners grew Guident, his teaching and learning ability proved integral to their success. “We really figured out this business on our own,” Teddy says. “Between us, we figured it out. We needed an accounting system, policies and procedures, and documented systems. We had the background and experience, but there was a lot we had to learn, and we passed that learning along to our employees. And there was plenty of luck, too, of course.” Teddy’s ability to rapidly absorb new information featured prominently as Guident road the bubble through its collapse. Narrowly avoiding disaster at the beginning of the millennium, the redefined tech
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
industry demanded a fundamental change in the Guident’s business strategy, and Teddy was just the man to meet that challenge. “We had to reinvent ourselves in the federal space after the dot-com crash,” he explains. “We were in survival mode in an entirely new landscape, and we had to adapt. It was entirely reactive, and there was a lot of luck that came at the right time. But we made it.” Today, Guident has over 200 employees and another 60 contractors. “I see a very bright future for the company,” Teddy says. As the enterprise continues to prosper, Teddy continues to teach, having recently joined the board of NFTE, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. He hopes to carry the same teaching
skills that have proved so successful at Guident into the classroom, and in advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, his tried-andtrue sequence of operation is learning, adapting, and teaching. “That’s the pattern of perseverance, and passing it along to others and helping them figure it out is just part of the equation,” he avows. “We’re in the business of people. Mentorship programs and career models trickle down to have real impact in more lives than just the individual being taught. It’s my philosophy that knowledge is meant to be share.” Always learning, always teaching, it’s a business model and life model that brings success and soundness of mind.
Louis Matrone The Big Leagues At age six, Louis Matrone didn’t know much about baseball. His mother took him to tryouts where, according to regulations, he should have been placed in a team of other young children playing “coach pitch” baseball. The faster paced Little League, where kids pitched to each other, was reserved for children age seven and older. Seeing potential in Louis, however, the Little League coach made an exception and gave him the choice. “Do you want to play with your age group, or would you like to play real Little League?” he asked the child. Louis, without hesitation, responded, “I want to play with the big boys.” Since Louis began playing Little League as the youngest kid on the team, he has made this same choice over and over again. “It was at that point in time when I first realized that people shouldn’t put me in a lower level if I thought I could perform at a higher level,” he avows today. His success in baseball translated into success in golf as he got older, and, later, into success in business. Never content to rest with what he’d accomplished, Louis, in sports and in the business world, eagerly sought out the next step up, the larger arena—the big leagues. He credits his father with inspiring him to consistently move up the ladder in this fashion and still quotes his advice today. “Don’t ever play with kids that aren’t as good as you,” Mr. Matrone would say. “Play with kids that are bigger and better, and try to be like them.” Louis has put the mantra to use countless times over the years, from his days tagging along behind older golfing buddies who showed him the ropes, to his entry into the business world when he was armed with nothing but intelligence, determination, and confidence. Today, Louis serves as President and COO of Information Managements Consultants, Inc., (IMC) a successful information technology company servicing public and private clients and with about 80 percent of the business in government contracts. Founded in 1981 by Sudhakar Shenoy, the business provides services in two areas. Under the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) umbrella, IMC helps clients manage vast
amounts of data while modernizing or creating an array of administrative systems. IMC organizes and streamlines HR, legal, and accounts payable departments, and helps eliminate redundancy in stored data. In addition, IMC has a health and life sciences component, which works with the federal government and primarily the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and commercial clients to provide program support. “Our scientists, doctors, nurses, and technologists are working with the client’s doctors and nurses, supporting worldwide efforts like clinical trials with the National Institute of Drug Addiction,” Louis explains. “Our systems support all the interactions between global scientists.” Thus, both arms of IMC provide much needed assistance and organization to crucial projects. Louis joined IMC in June of 2000, after a twenty-two year tenure at Electronic Data Systems (EDS). While it would have been easy for him to relax and enjoy the fruits of a successful career after running a $700 million piece of EDS, his ever-present desire to move into the big leagues eventually won out over facility and comfort. IMC is a significantly smaller organization than the multi-billion dollar EDS behemoth, but one where Louis was offered the chance to be a true entrepreneur and to run a business in an allencompassing way he’d never experienced at EDS. Getting him onboard, however, did take a bit of convincing, as well as the wisdom of his wife of 36 years, Pam. Sudhakar Shenoy, founder and CEO of IMC, first met Louis socially while playing golf with mutual friends. Today, Louis speaks highly of the man who tempted him away from the business he’d joined fresh out of college decades earlier, relating how Sudhakar graduated from the prestigious India Institute of Technology, went on to the University of Connecticut, and ultimately found success in the IT field. “He took what he had and started IMC, and it was really on his shoulders,” Louis explains. “He was a one-man band, and he worked hard. He’s a tremendous sales mind, he’s got the largest Rolodex of anyone in the region—a testament to
his charismatic and personable nature.” Sudhakar had been working without a COO for about a year when he began asking Louis to consider taking the position. Initially, Louis was reluctant because, on paper, the idea made no sense. He was firmly established in a position where he oversaw a hugely profitable portion of an old, well known, and very secure business, and in February of 2000, Louis firmly told Sudhakar that the move wouldn’t make much sense. “I thought that was the end of the conversation,” he laughs now. “A few months later, I was COO of IMC.” After the second or third time Sudhakar called with his job offer, Louis mentioned the discussions to his wife, expecting her to brush off the idea. But Pam, knowing Louis’s long-harbored entrepreneurial ambitions, had the opposite reaction. “She turned to me and said, ‘I think you should seriously consider that,’” Louis remembers. He took her advice and gave the decision some real thought, reflecting on his dad’s career as a small business entrepreneur, running a local gas station and liquor store. As a kid, Louis dreamed of being involved in those businesses. He thought about what he’d be giving up at EDS—an honorable position, but also all the bureaucracy that came along with it. “In the world of bigger companies, even though you’re running $700 million worth of business, you really don’t have as widespread authority as you might like,” he points out. “You have to go to the finance department, then the executive committee, then this, then that, and then get the CEO to sign off on it.” In making the decision, Louis then thought about Sudhakar as both a businessman and a trusted friend, and suddenly, the equation began to look a little different. “I knew IMC was a secure bet because the company had been around for twenty years and had a lot of success, and I had a lot of confidence and trust in the individual who was running it,” he reflects. “I knew I’d be able to utilize all the good things I had learned at the bigger company while leaving behind the bureaucratic elements, bringing best practices to a company that needed them.” With that, in June of 2000, Louis agreed to join IMC and fulfill his lifelong dream of running a business. Once again, the tantalizing vision of what he might accomplish in the big leagues was too tempting to turn down. Throughout his young adulthood, Louis’s predisposition toward rising to the top manifested itself in his golf game. After playing for the first time at age 12, he informed his father that he would go to college on a full golf scholarship—a vision he fulfilled five years later. During high school, he convinced his parents to 90
transfer him out of his private Catholic School for the opportunity to play on a larger, better golf team, getting more exposure. In college, his determination to recover from surgery on his hand had him outpace even his most optimistic doctor’s timetable and resulted in winning at Regionals, pulling the team on to the National Championship. His commitment to golf also led to his first experience earning money when, unbeknownst to his parents, he began working at the local country club. They didn’t want him to have a job so young, but he was insistent and was quickly promoted from cleaning clubs and parking cars, to working a real job at the pro shop. Through the job he met the coach that ultimately recruited him for his college team—not to mention his wife, Pam, who was a member there. Louis’s career at EDS had a similar upward trajectory. Although he stayed with the same organization for 22 years, he moved up consistently and aggressively, leaping from one department to another without the requisite experience and learning as he went. He quickly gained proficiency in operations, sales, and marketing, all without additional education. He began in the accounting department as a fresh graduate, quickly setting his sights on getting out of the office and working directly with clients. Louis told the executive in charge of the financial department that he wanted to start working on the projects and she arranged for him to meet with someone for an interview. The man, a retired marine, ended up becoming Louis’ best friend, but in their initial meeting was a bit intimidating. “I don’t know a lot about accounting, but if you screw up, I’m going to know more about accounting than you’d ever want me to know,” the man warned. Louis admired and adopted this hands-off management style and replicated it as a leader today. “I let people do their jobs, and I’m not going to micromanage them,” he explains. “I’ve learned how to separate my own responsibilities from the responsibilities of others—how to draw the line, rely on others, and not attempt to singlehandedly run everything.” This knowledge, however, didn’t come easily—it was hard-won wisdom that followed a hellish year of almost literally non-stop work. Sent to Connecticut to fix a struggling project, Louis spent a year in the office, taking off only three days total, including weekends and holidays. “I sacrificed my health and I barely saw my son,” he remembers. “My wife had to bring me a change of clothes and shaving kit more times than I can remember because I just never went home. That’s when I first realized, I wasn’t bulletproof, and that delegation can be key.”
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
Nowadays, Louis recognizes the importance of balance. “What good are you going to do if you work so hard you kill yourself?” he queries. “I’m going to be better at my job and get the chance to enjoy my beautiful granddaughter by living a longer life. I’m giving back and applying some of the things that I’m learning as I’m growing. You need to have your sanity and your health. If those foundational elements get out of balance and you have too much work, then your family’s going to sacrifice.” He married Pam at the young age of 19, and as they approach 40 years of marriage he is quick to remember the support she provided throughout. Although his parents were initially reluctant to approve of the marriage, they couldn’t help but be won over by Pam’s kindness and grace as she nursed Louis after a serious golf injury and subsequent surgery. As a result, his mother gave her blessing willingly to a marriage that remains one of the great joys of Louis’ life today. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, it comes as no surprise that Louis is a
vigorous proponent of taking risks. “I don’t buy into the ‘I’m never going to take a chance’ mentality,” he affirms. “If we don’t have people that are willing to do this, who’s going to run these companies? Who’s going to take it to the next level?” He emphasizes the importance of setting goals, without which, you can’t measure what you’ve accomplished. For Louis, the kid who was too young for Little League, the adolescent who was too busy for a job, the accountant who was too inexperienced to work with clients, the executive who was too comfortable to become an entrepreneur, life has been about defying expectations and taking on the next level. Indeed, it isn’t only about taking it on, but more so about demanding it. “I’ve had some of my successes because I was willing to take a chance and learn a new capability, but it all comes down to the fact that I was willing to take a chance on myself,” he confirms. Taking this chance is what the big leagues—both in business and in life—are all about.
Jay McCargo A Strategy for Success It seems as though Jay McCargo has always known what he wanted out of life. He not only knew what he wanted his life to become, but he determined very early on that he would never let anything stop him from attaining his dream. Like the bulldozers and front-end loaders that he drove in the summer for his father’s excavating and landscaping business, Jay made his plan and was determined that nothing would stand in his way. Jay’s plan included a good education, developing multi-faceted relationships and business experience, and finding the right opportunity to take on the ownership of a company - a recipe for success. Some forty years later, as the President and CEO of ARServices, a company that provides information technology, human capital management, and management consulting services to federal government agencies, Jay has achieved that dream and is creating new dreams for the future. Methodically following his plan, Jay graduated from the University of Rhode Island, majoring in English and Political Science, with the intention to attend law school. “I had a lot of mentors in my life who were very smart and successful people, who took the time to talk to me and give me advice. One thing that I understood going into college, and that they stressed to me, was that, no matter what a person may know from a functional perspective, they have to be able to express themselves in a written and oral format and understand other people,” Jay explains, “So you may be very bright, but if you cannot express the value of what you do or communicate the urgency of that to other people and understand people that are trying to tell you that they either need your help or you need their help, then you are dead in the water. So that’s what drove me to my college majors.” After graduating, Jay worked for a brief time as a legislative assistant before he came on-board at Automation Research Systems as a technical writer. Automation Research Systems, founded over 30 years ago, was the predecessor company of ARServices. It was
created by Jay’s uncle, Albert Spaulding, after his retirement from the Army. Albert’s background in acquisition and program management and his wife, Virginia’s, background in human resources formed the perfect combination to provide out-sourced services and support for government and commercial businesses. A true start-up, Albert and Virginia used their spare bedroom as the company’s initial headquarters, building the company to over 450 employees with $60 million annual revenue. After Jay had been working for his uncle for about a year, Albert approached him with an offer that reset the trajectory of his future. Jay recalls, “He came up to me and said, ‘I know you’re about to start law school, but if you would work for me full-time and go to business school part-time to pursue an MBA degree, the company will pay for a part of it for you.’ The offer was extremely generous and considering how expensive law school was going to be, I decided to take him up on it.” Jay agreed and attended American University in Washington, DC graduating with an MBA degree. After obtaining his MBA, with his uncle’s blessing, Jay branched off to work in other companies, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Unisys to broaden his experience and knowledge-base. Systematically working his way up through both small and large organizations, Jay continued to gain the experience and acumen that he would need to eventually fulfill his dream of business ownership. “Early on in my career I knew that someday I wanted to own my own government-centric business, so I tried to build my career to that end. So I thought to myself, ‘Let’s look at the type of skills and competencies that you need to gather and pick up along the way and then make a plan to obtain them’. So all of the stops that I’ve made and the things that I’ve done, I’ve tried to orient myself and prepare myself for the chair that I’m sitting in today.”
Born and raised in Cape May Court House, New Jersey (a tourist spot and fishing region) Jay was the youngest of three siblings. His mother was an educator and social worker and his father and grandfather were successful entrepreneurs who owned and ran an excavating and landscape business, a retail seafood market, and garden center. Jay learned at their feet. “I come from a culture of business ownership and entrepreneurship. My father and my grandfather were both excavating contractors, my father also owned a retail gardening center, a seafood market, and my uncle and aunt started the predecessor company to ARServices, I just grew up around people and family that owned their own businesses.” Working at his father’s business in the summers not only helped to shape Jay’s future plans for business ownership but also provided him with insight into business relationships and how to work with people at all levels. “Working with my dad, it helped build and shape my future goals a lot, because I saw how a business owner in a small town was treated and respected by others. I learned a lot from my father because I would watch him in different business situations from when he was dealing with people that worked for him to when he was dealing with a developer that might be running a project that was building twenty homes. I saw how my father talked to these individuals, how he dealt with them, and the level of respect that he got from them, it really helped me a lot in my career.” Jay returned to ARServices early in 2007. After being given the opportunity to move up in the senior executive ranks with his current employer, AT&T, Jay had a lunch with his uncle who again made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. “I went to lunch with my uncle wanting to pick his brain about mergers and acquisitions and what I should look at in the process of buying a company. He gave me some insights on transactions (during his career my uncle acquired and sold several companies) but then he said, ‘Jay, you know my company pretty well, you know many of the people that work there, you have knowledge of our reputation in the market. I’m thinking about what my exit strategy is going to be; why don’t you take a look at this company and you can come aboard here in the president role, you can see it from the inside out, see if this works and we can work out an acquisition strategy.’ Well I certainly wasn’t expecting that when I sat down with him for lunch.” Jay stepped into the role of president and continued the family tradition of growing and building successful businesses. When asked about his business model, 94
Jay lays out the four driving principles for his company: Agility, Reliability, Success, and Integrity. “In terms of agility, you have to be flexible and adaptable when running a business. You need to be agile so that if a key component is delayed or plans change, you can still deliver the product or service that you have promised your client on time and within budget. That leads to the next principle which is reliability. You have to have a consistent work ethic and always do what you say that you’re going to do; otherwise your clients won’t stick around. Success and analytics go hand-in-hand because measure of success means that you have a drive for excellence and that you recognize and appreciate success in others around you. Analytics is truly understanding your company and having a series of ways that you can measure performance and success in order to benchmark against your past performance or your competitor’s performance or other elements within your company. If you are unable to accurately measure the critical elements of success in an organization it’s like you’re walking around with your eyes closed hoping that you don’t fall into an open manhole. The last one is commitment to integrity. The people that I have seen who are successful and that I admire are business people of integrity. Even if the honesty does not make you feel good, it was the right thing. They deal with others with truth in their actions and in how they run their business and interact with the world.” Jay’s plan for his life wasn’t limited to the professional arena and, as if right on cue, he met and married the woman of his dreams, Bridget McCargo, who became his confidante and support system. After the birth of their daughter, Bridget stayed at home and took care of their children and household. “We very much had a traditional marriage. She would give me wonderful and always very well thought-out advice about decisions that I needed to make and opportunities that would come up. In fact, she was the impetus for me stepping into the President role with ARServices. She said, ‘You’re ready’ and she was right.” Then suddenly and tragically, one evening, three years ago, Bridget went to sleep and never woke up. A cerebral hemorrhage took her away from Jay and her two children. Their lives would never be the same again. “The hardest thing I ever did in my life was that first night when I knew that Bridget was not going to recover was going home and driving her car home with our children in it, knowing that we were never all going to be together again and knowing that I was going to have to sit them down in our house and talk to them about it. Going through that, it gives you perspective. It shows
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
you that this other stuff, though it’s important, pales in comparison. Dealing with Bridget’s loss and helping my kids deal with their mother’s passing, losing who I feel is the best mother in the world, it has changed me. It has made me put things into perspective and helped me to know what’s important.” What is important to Jay is the happiness and wellbeing of those close to him, and realizing the gift of time that we are given with one another. Reflecting on that gift and recognizing how important the time and advice he was given by many mentors throughout his life, Jay attributes much of his success to that mentoring, “I’ve been very lucky in having access to highly successful, insightful, and caring mentors who took an interest in my life. My father, uncle, and grandfather, Sonny Jones (a close friend of my dad’s), my fifth grade teacher, Marie Chester, and my aunts Virginia Spaulding and Elizabeth Willis who both encouraged me in different ways. My head coach in college football, Robert Griffin taught me the importance of being prepared and the interconnectedness of life and people. So many caring and selfless people who helped shape my life.” The mentors who guided Jay along the way helped inspire his current aspiration to start an organization to create access and opportunity for the next generation. “I am the man that I am because of the people who took a real interest in my life at a very young age. They did not have to do that. Now I can take that knowledge
and help to build a professional and financial platform that can be carried forward. To have an organization that allows and provides access, opportunity and exposure to those who might not receive it otherwise. I truly believe that, because I received this opportunity, I need to pass it on. To keep it moving…” Jay’s advice to new graduates and young people entering the workforce is to pay attention as they start in a new company and to take a position aligned with one of three areas within the business: Production/Operations, Sales/Marketing or Finance. “If you look at the CEO’s and the other highly compensated and key leaders in companies, they come from one of three core areas. The other functions and departments in a company are good and necessary, and I’m not saying that it’s not very important to have an understanding of those areas, but the people who are leaders in one of those areas will always be leaders. They are the true thought leaders of an organization. They are part of the ‘secret sauce’ of the organization.” Step by step, goal by goal, Jay McCargo created the life he envisioned as a youth. The owner of a successful business, proud and strong family man, and now with plans to develop an organization for teaching and mentoring the future generations, Jay has truly attained his goals. A hard working and respected business man with an entrepreneurial spirit and a plan of action that has never failed, Jay McCargo kept it moving and achieved his dreams.
Jim McCarthy Creating Opportunities to Serve Jim McCarthy, the co-founder, owner and technical director of AOC Key Solutions, a company that helps their clients win government contracts, is quick to inform you that his company is “THE KEY” to winning government contracts. By assisting their clients in finding advantageous opportunities and then identifying the steps needed in order to submit a winning proposal, Jim’s company is their key solution. Founded in 1983, AOC Key Solutions provides three main areas of service for their clients: opportunity identification, strategic advice on winning, and proposal support. Known throughout the industry as being extremely ethical in their way of business, the company reflects Jim’s personal values. “We do important work,” Jim explains, “Society needs government, government needs contractors and contractors need to submit proposals to win. We help our contractors submit their proposals. So in a sense, we work with our clients to win important work. Our clients do everything from defend the country, to fight terrorism, to cure cancer, to regulate commerce, to help law enforcement, to promote justice, to educate our citizens. So we help our clients to do that work.” Those values are working well for both Jim’s clients and his company. Setting a benchmark early in the company’s evolution to win a billion dollars a year for each of his clients, Jim has met that goal and exceeded it each and every year. “Not only have we met that benchmark but we averaged a little over $7.4 billion a year for our clients over the past five years. Our client base is everyone from a small business entrepreneur to the largest aerospace defense contractors in the world. We work across the whole federal spectrum of contracts, but tend to focus on National Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and the Environment, and IT.” Born in Baltimore, MD, the oldest of three, Jim’s mom was a homemaker and his father, a veteran of the Korean War, held positions as an insurance salesman and then the general manager for several car dealerships. It
was during this time that Jim learned the importance of discipline and that he learned self-sacrifice, through his educational experiences and knowing that his parents worked hard for him to get that education. While in high school, Jim’s first job was as a busboy in a restaurant. It was there that his deliberate work ethic and desire to serve others began to shine. “I loved it when I worked as a busboy. I would hustle my tail off, and I would have the servers fighting to have me in their area. By the time I was finished they would ask me to help them wait on the tables and keep the water glasses filled. Most of the other busboys were just going through the motions – almost in slow motion. I realized that if I hustled, not only would the customers tip better, but the wait staff would tip me better. So when they started fighting over me, as demand for my services went up, so did my wages; because they would tip more because they were also getting more tips. That was the first time that I realized that you have two choices, you can go through the motions and just be average, or you can work hard and make yourself stand out.” Jim attended Ohio University, earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Political Science. Always a political junkie, Jim spent every Sunday in his early years pouring over the pages of the local and regional newspapers and then watching the Sunday news reports. Fascinated with Watergate, Jim read every book and newspaper article on the subject. There was no doubt in his mind that, at some point, he would be in politics. After graduating with his master’s degree, Jim began to look for work but the doors kept slamming in his face. He took a job working at a moving company, in the meantime, and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding positions that he has held. “I loved working for the moving company! It was hard work and it was outside, it wasn’t much pay, but you got to go to interesting places while at the same time helping families.”
While working at the moving company, Jim noticed that some of the workers were slacking off. One day while talking to the owner, Jim suggested that he hire someone to serve as a quality control officer to help streamline the work and to ensure customer satisfaction while the workers were on-site. Jim’s boss thought that Jim would be the best man for the job and hired him on the spot. “I looked at it in the sense that we were the last contact that the customer would actually have from their old neighborhood to their new. In a way, they were starting on a whole new adventure; because they were moving their family. So I saw it as a responsibility to get them there and get them there safe. But other people just didn’t care… it was just appalling.” Jim’s overwhelming desire to do important work and to help serve others is the driving force behind his incredible work ethic and his knack for creating opportunities. “I felt like I could actually do something to help people, that I could serve them in some way… whether it’s something as minor as pouring water in their glass, but making sure that glass is always full or it’s helping move their personal belongings safely and carefully so that it doesn’t arrive at the destination all busted up. Maybe in the global scheme of things, this was minor stuff – but I did not think so.” After working at the moving company, Jim decided to take some time off to travel across the country. When he returned he began searching for a position that would more closely align with his degree and field of interest, politics. “I remember it was a Friday afternoon in mid-September and I knocked on the door of someone who was running for Congress. An aide told me that they didn’t have any openings and when I asked if I could leave my resume, she slammed the door in my face,” Jim recalls. But fate and the congressional candidate did not agree and called Jim three days later. “He told me that he had fired his campaign manager and gave me the job. I didn’t have any campaign experience and the candidate hadn’t even met me, but I was working there the next business day. I asked, ‘What do I do?’ and he said, ‘Well, you do two things: you have to get me elected and raise money and do them in reverse order!’ Then we won and that’s how I ended up on Capitol Hill.” Jim’s rise once he landed on Capitol Hill was rapid. First serving as a speechwriter and then within a week he was appointed Press Secretary. Jim was then asked to serve as the Legislative Assistant and finally the Chief of 98
Staff; all within two years. Although Jim had proven himself, the competition on The Hill was cut-throat and one day, without warning, one of Jim’s subordinates called Jim into his office and fired him – because he now had the job. Jim did not fight back or even speak with the Congressman, he just quietly asked a colleague in the IT department to send out his resume to all of the members of Congress, informing them that he was now available for hire and his phone was ringing off the hook. Four days later, Jim was hired as the Chief of Staff for another Congressman from New York. Jim eventually found himself working in a contractor support role at the White House, under the Reagan Administration, for the Deputy Press Secretary. After working in the West Wing of the White House for almost three years, Jim decided to move on. “I imagined that I was a hot commodity. I had worked on the Hill and at the White House. I thought I was ready for even greater challenges. It was time for me to make my big move and make some real money, or so I thought. I was going to become a lobbyist or work for a government relations firm. So I left.” Unfortunately, Jim’s decision to quit initiated a three year journey of unemployment. Jim calls this the darkest period of his life. Only his wife provided moral support and helped him through the struggle. “Believe me, I thought I was hot stuff; but I’m not and I wasn’t. Only years tell me how foolish I was, but even now looking back on it, I was such a small cog in a big wheel that it’s laughable that I thought otherwise.” After that time, Jim was approached to do some freelance reporting, covering Capitol Hill, for a magazine called Congressional Digest. His editor came to realize that he was a talented writer and asked Jim if he was looking for another project to work on. “He asked if I had ever written a government proposal. I guess I realized that government contractors had to submit something to get a contract but I had no idea, at the time, that there was a whole industry that did this. I had never done anything like that. He told me about a friend of his who was bidding a large contract in Houston, Texas. The company paid for my airfare and expenses and somehow I stumbled into the field.” Jim ended up writing resumes and other materials to support the company’s proposal and was making more money than working with Congressional Digest. About two years later, he and a friend found a third party investor and started a company dedicated to supporting government contractors. Thus, AOC Key Solutions was born.
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
Jim’s message to new graduates is to throw away any sense of entitlement, no matter their credentials, and prove themselves by showing that they have merit, distinction and can work hard. In the community AOC Key Solutions sits on the board of the Community Foundation, an organization which helps address pressing social issues in Northern Virginia. The company is now also affiliated with George Mason University where Jim helps small businesses grow by winning government contracts, and they serve on Leadership Fairfax. Jim also serves on advisory boards for both Montgomery County, MD and Fairfax, VA helping those counties expand commerce through contracts with the federal government. Additionally, Jim serves as an instructor at the nation’s only Veterans In-
stitute for Procurement. There he trains veteran-owned businesses in the art of capturing government contracts. Also, Key Solutions utilizes a Malcolm Baldridgebased incentive system as part of its review process for bonuses, which factors in community involvement as one of the indicators. “Robust incentive compensation is an important part of attracting and retaining the ‘best of the best’ in the proposal industry,” Jim remarked. Jim McCarthy, a visionary with the desire to serve and make a difference, has spent his life helping others. Whether it’s ensuring that a customer’s water glass is full or that a top client wins their next multi-billion dollar contract, Jim McCarthy has proven that creating opportunities and serving others is a sure path to success.
John Mina Combating the Silent Siege It’s hard for John Mina to describe his experience moving with his family to Beirut, Lebanon as a nineyear-old without first explaining what a tracer bullet is. “Nine-year-olds shouldn’t know what a tracer bullet is,” he says. “But two weeks after we arrived in Beirut, in early- to mid-1974, hostilities were nearing the breaking point that would lead to the Lebanese Civil War. There was already sporadic fighting, and with sometimes as many as six factions all firing at each other, tracer bullets were how each side distinguished friend from foe.” A tracer is a bullet that is built with a small pyrotechnic charge that ignites when the bullet is fired, which makes the projectile visible to the naked eye. Tracers were originally developed around the time of World War I, allowing fighter pilots to better aim their guns. Sixty years later, when evening would fall over Lebanon, curfews prohibited indoor lighting to deter sniper fire. John and his younger sisters, starved for entertainment without lights or television, would venture out to their stone veranda overlooking Beirut to watch the tracers ricocheting off buildings into the smoky sky. “You can imagine being a parent and listening to your child oohing and ahhing at automatic weapons fire,” John says. “To a nine-year-old it was like fireworks, because at that age you don’t have a sense of mortality; you’re still invincible at that point.” John’s father worked for AIU Holdings, then a subsidiary of AIG. His work had brought them to Lebanon, and they spent the next six months trying to get out again. After Lebanon, they went to Cypress, which was wrapping up its war with Turkey over the contested eastern-most portion of the Mediterranean island nation. John’s family lived in Cypress for over a year, and after another year in the south of London, his father’s tour of Europe came to an end, allowing the family to return to the United States. “Another year, another school, another change,” John reminisces now. “You get used to it. You acclimate.”
Looking at it from the outside, one might be tempted to wonder if the three-year whirlwind tour of the Near East during some very critical years of John’s young life might have been traumatic. But recalling the experience, John, now a managing partner of Willis of Maryland describes it as an adventure that informed his skills and interests, figuring prominently in his success to date. “The whole overseas experience was definitely a positive one,” he says. “It gave me the travel bug, and it’s what led me in later years to decide that I wanted to be on the international side of our business.” That business, like that of his father’s, is insurance. John is a Managing Partner of Willis of Maryland, a division of Willis Holdings Group, the venerable insurance giant with 400 offices in 120 countries, seventeen thousand employees globally, and as of June 2010, the third highest insurance brokerage revenues in the world. Willis was founded in London in 1828 and expanded into the United States in 1990 through acquisitions. However, while his father worked for AIG, the beleaguered insurance provider, Willis is an insurance broker, delivering a wide range of risk management solutions to clients of all shapes and sizes by connecting them to the appropriate insurance providers. “We can arrange the insurance for any entity or situation—for corporations, individuals, buildings, autos, machinery, business interruptions, art collections, satellite launches, you name it,” John explains. “Anything that moves, breaks or burns, we can insure it.” Willis can also deliver solutions for human capital risks, including employee benefits, kidnap and ransom, business travel accidents, and international travel. Willis differentiates itself from other insurance brokerage firms through its client-centric approach and global platform. John and his team leverage this expansive platform in near real-time to bring world-class resources and solutions to bear at a local level. When facing a unique or challenging risk, it takes only a couple emails to activate the Willis network, and with a network that
large, it’s certain that there will be an immediate answer to any question. “You go to that network,” John says, “and ask all the right questions: Has anyone ever dealt with this type of issue? How did you deal with it? What market did you go to to transfer the risk? What can I expect? What is a competitive price?” On a global basis, John and his team at Willis of Maryland are able to leverage all the expertise Willis has to offer and deliver it locally through a Client Advocate™—someone intimate with the particular client’s needs—someone who understands that client’s business model and has a firm grasp of the economics, geography, and climate within which that client operates. “It’s a powerful, unmatched system for delivering what can be a very complex product from a global platform to address a local challenge,” he affirms. John has been in insurance for 25 years and with Willis for two decades of that time, but he’s only been a managing partner with Willis of Maryland for one year. Until 2010,, he was COO at Willis of New York, the largest Willis office in the United States at approximately $125 million operation with about 340 associates. “I was the number two guy there,” John says, “and it was a great job. I loved it. New York being what it is, I had many diverse issues to deal with on a regular basis.” One day he recalls without this fondness, however, is that of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 John’s office window opened directly onto the twin towers, and he bore witness with the naked eye to an event that would unfold dramatically both in the immediate catastrophe and in the political, social, and business realities that developed over the days, weeks and months following. “It was truly surreal,” he remembers gravely. For Willis, who was the insurance broker for the World Trade Center, the aftermath of the tragedy quickly became a highly publicized event that sustained a lengthy legal process. The fact that Silverstein Properties, who managed the World Trade Center, continues to work with Willis is a testament to how Willis of New York handled this incomparable event. Ten years later, it still serves as the broker on the Towers’ rebuilding, and John says there are important lessons to be learned from 9/11 in the context of the managing risk. “When we look at the potential for a loss,” John says, “most people—and I think this is a human characteristic—try to be optimistic, and to make the assumption that things won’t go too poorly.” Just as when he was nine years old, sitting on the stone veranda in Beirut, watching a different sort of catastrophe unfold before him, John thinks that most people—especially the 102
young—have neither a firm grasp of their own mortality nor an accurate understanding of risk. “As you mature, you move from, ‘It’s never going to happen,’ to, ‘It’s going to happen if you play the numbers long enough,’” he points out. “The one thing I’ve eradicated from my vocabulary is the word ‘never.’” John probably would have made a career of executive operations in New York, but ultimately decided his success would not be defined by being in the right place at the right time. Instead, he would make it about discovering what new heights he could reach and about what he was capable of achieving when everything depended on him. For the better part of seven years, he worked his way toward running his own operation. He began by opening dialogues with the CEO, declaring that if an opportunity arose for him to run his own office, that he would be interested. But when the first opportunity came around, he had to pass. “I won’t kid you,” John says, “The first one or two opportunities that we discussed, I said, ‘I don’t think this is how I would play the John Mina card, if I were you. I don’t think you’re recognizing what I can bring to the equation.’” But when the Washington, DC opportunity presented itself, John seized it. “Clearly this was the opportunity I was looking for,” John says. “Socially and culturally diverse, with an international flavor and a vibrant city atmosphere, DC was the perfect city to transition into after living in Manhattan.” His international bent did not come solely from his childhood years spent overseas. His father was from Palestine, and his mother was from Germany, making John a first generation American. While English was the only language spoken at home, his parents’ background gifted John with the perspective of a world citizen. This is not to say, however, that they didn’t also engender in him a great love for and loyalty to the United States and what it is has to offer. “It’s easy to run down this country,” John says, “whether it’s taxes, road infrastructure, healthcare or whatever it is you want to complain about. But we have it lightyears better than just about any place on the planet, and I’ve been to most of it.” It was through his father that John experienced his early exposure to the insurance industry and developed his strong business drive. Conversely, he credits his mother with providing him with a strong grounding and great sense of humor. “She was always a stabilizing influence,” he says. “Nothing was more important than a smile or a five minute conversation, or a cup of coffee together as I grew older. She would always make you feel that it’s okay to be you, and that you could be whatever you wanted to be. She always reminded me that
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
you don’t have to be something because of perception. She was always the balance, the human side of living.” Preserving that human side and maintaining that balance has allowed him to remain focused on family life even in the highly demanding atmosphere that is corporate America. He credits his wife with what he believes will be his greatest legacy: his children. “Having a balanced work and family life is one of the most challenging things to do today in corpo-
rate America,” he observes. “I could not have achieved the level of success I have today were it not for Susan.” Indeed, John has cultivated success in both his home and business lives, and he feels that Willis of Maryland’s potential for prosperity is far from spent. The main office is in Potomac, and John hopes that next year they’ll be running up a flag inside the district. “We’re relatively untapped here,” he says, hinting at the tides to come.
Joe Moye The Natural Two and a half years ago, Capgemini Group, the France-based, multi-billion dollar global IT consulting and services firm, was evaluating the viability of its public sector business in the United States. The structure of this business had been in place for a few years, but had shown only modest revenue and little growth. As part of a leadership meeting reviewing the possible courses of action, Joe Moye, himself a veteran of IT services giant Unisys and the founder of his own notable venture, came to see that the best course of action was not to withdraw from the US marketplace, but to double down. “In completing that exercise,” Joe says today, “we ultimately recommended to the company that we re-invest significantly.” Capgemini held a tremendous portfolio of public sector work globally, which could be leveraged in the US market. There was a reasonable foundation of US clients already. And most importantly, it was the single largest market in the world where Capgemini lacked a significant presence. But what this new investment called for was not just management and operations experience. What it called for was someone who had worked in the industry before—someone with public sector experience. And because Capgemini’s venture in the United States would have to operate as an independent entity in order to qualify for government contracts, they needed someone who would know how to launch what would essentially be a start-up. But not only did they need an entrepreneur. They also needed a salesman. “Be careful what you recommend,” Joe says wryly, “because you might be asked to do it.” Long before Joe Moye was CEO of Capgemini Government Solutions in the US, and long before he even had to sell a product, he was a natural salesman. “Something that fascinated me in high school,” Joe recalls today, “was when I discovered that I had a certain gift with my teachers. I knew how to sell myself and my skills to get the best grade possible.” Joe was a good student, but he had learned that be-
yond studying hard and paying attention in class, there were other aspects to success in school. He found that by showing up and showing interest, he could reach his teachers on a different level. He would sit in the front of the class, show he cared, and earn their respect. And when he needed it, they would give him the benefit of the doubt. “Now,” Joe says, “I would never condone a student not doing their work and selling themselves up a grade. But in all walks of life, I saw how compelling it was to have a certain level of confidence, to communicate well, and to be able to convince people.” Joe’s natural sales ability is quickly apparent in conversation with him. He has an ease to his speech that maintains even as he describes slaving away in a McDonald’s kitchen for several years while in high school. “I was quickly elevated to the CEO of the kitchen,” he reports, in characteristic humor. “In fact, I was at one point the youngest grill chief at McDonald’s.” His sales talent proved to be fertile ground when he took his first job out of Florida State, selling proto-IT equipment for Unisys (then Burroughs). It was about this time that the information age was beginning in earnest, and the products he was selling were becoming electronic and digital. Joe is careful to note that in those days, product familiarity was not something that was casually assumed by an employer. “I benefited greatly from significant product and industry training,” he says, “and further training in sales skills. Before times tightened and training budgets got slashed, my experience of an eight to nine month training program was fairly typical in the industry.” Before he was certified to go out and represent his company’s products in the marketplace, he shadowed a more senior salesman in his territory. Joe feels that the training and development structure that shaped him into a professional salesman is now a shadow of its former self. In sharp contrast to his months of training, moving up from the position of
sales representative and through the various rungs of branch manager, district manager, area manager, and so on, employees today find themselves moving around quite frequently from company to company—a phenomenon which has now become expected. “When I was growing up,” Joe elaborates, “having a resume that showed you were with a different company every two years was a very bad thing. Now it’s accepted as the norm. You’ve gotten away from that loyalty and commitment to one company.” It is because of this that Joe often finds himself saying that people just entering the work force need to take a proactive approach to their career. “I believe that, in this day and age, young people need to take their careers into their own hands,” Joe explains. “Because I could expect a future in the same company I was working for in the present, I always knew what that next role was and what the expectations were. Today, there are not nearly as many opportunities out there for young people that boast that same longevity.” Joe has always aimed to push against that grain by promoting career development programs at Capgemini. That being said, however, he still emphasizes that it is up to the individual to take it upon his or her shoulders to achieve. “The first thing they have to figure out,” he says, “is what it is they want to accomplish and in what period of time. Set goals and be sure that those goals are communicated to the people you work for and with. Take the opportunity to be proactive, and whatever you aspire to accomplish, even if it’s as an individual contributor for your whole life, it’s important for people to know what that is.” As an executive, it is clear that Joe is a big believer in coaching those first entering the workforce. But he states that, while plenty of training is available, it sometimes takes a little creativity and innovation to take full advantage of it. “Success is not always cookie cutter,” he acknowledges. “In our industry, it takes initiative. It takes asking, ‘What’s going on in our company? What are the new innovations coming down the pipeline?’ Sometimes people wait too long for that answer to lay itself out before them, instead of actively seeking it out for themselves.” After fourteen years of availing himself of the more traditional training and advancement environment at Unisys, working up the rungs to vice president, Joe left to join Sequent in 1996, a Portland-based technology company. It was there that he was first exposed to the business intelligence field through his work with Sabre, the revolutionary IT system employed by American Airlines to track and predict customer trends. This 106
led Joe to start Gazelle Consulting in March of 2000, which would grow into a high-end boutique provider of business intelligence and analytics solutions. Funded in June of 2000, they were likely one of the last start-up businesses funded by venture capital after the tech stock peak in March of that year. In an atmosphere of imploding technology companies, Gazelle’s greatest challenge turned out to be one that Joe was perfectly suited to face: sales. “It blew me away that my biggest challenge was sales,” he reflects incredulously. “I thought that would come the easiest, as that’s what I spent my whole life doing. But that was the most difficult thing, and it required the most attention. I took it for granted early on and thought it would just happen. It was an interesting learning experience.” Six years later, a great success in its niche role, Gazelle was subject to consecutive acquisitions, and this ultimately led Joe to join Capgemini Group in an executive role. When Capgemini set out to grow their US public sector presence with renewed vigor in the form of the independent, wholly owned subsidiary, Capgemini Government Solutions, Joe was candid in his desire to lead the initiative. “We didn’t think that bringing someone in from the outside would be effective in the short run,” Joe says. “In a large company, you have to know which levers to pull to get access to resources. You need to have a seat at the table to get things done.” Joe, born sixth of eight children, has as much large family experience as he does in large companies. His father did not dictate Joe’s path in life, but Joe has relied heavily on him for professional and personal guidance. Although his father was in the Navy and did not have entrepreneurial or business experience per se, he was a great asset in emphasizing the intangible aspects of drive, motivation, and personal achievement. “My father gave me a lot of good advice and direction,” Joe says. “It’s interesting to look at my siblings and me. While we all ended up in very different walks of life in terms of our professions, we are all very successful.” One of his brothers was a Naval officer, and this pattern is apparent in his siblings’ entrepreneurship as well: his brother started his own civil engineering business, while a sister started a restaurant business. “I certainly had the opportunity to leverage some of those experiences,” Joe says, “to share ideas and, when times called for it, to commiserate.” His own children have made him very proud as well. “I know that we’ve instilled a strong work ethic in them,” he says, “and a good sense of values. We are very proud of each of them.” Beyond values, he has a son who was
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recently drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. Joe will not be found under-emphasizing the role that sales has had in his life; he insists that his ability to foster strong client relationships and perform client-
facing work has been his single greatest asset. When talking about the book he will eventually write about his life, what does Joe jest the title will be? â€œLife is One Big Sales Cycle.â€?
Derek Padden The Right Questions Presence. Derek Padden had always admired it, but he perhaps most cultivated it in himself through his time in the Air Force. At the Pentagon, he worked with a colonel who went on to be a commander in Japan, inviting Derek to come work with him. When the commander had meetings with higherranking officials, he would invite Derek to stay and observe. “He was quiet, yet full of life,” Derek remembers. “He had this presence about him. He never yelled, but instead chose his words carefully, and people really listened. He was patient before answering tough questions. Every solution was acutely reasoned, and when he didn’t have the answer, he knew how to ask the right questions.” Now the founder, President, and CEO of Blue Glacier Management Group Inc., a cybersecurity company addressing threats to the federal government, defense, intelligence, and commercial sectors, Derek has since honed and continues to improve in the science and art of asking those questions himself. In early 2002, Derek found himself on a stage perfectly set for those kinds of questions. He had just reconnected with a girl he had met in Germany in the ninth grade, and the two would marry several years later. And, having honed an arsenal of leadership expertise and technical savvy from which to draw, he had just gotten out of the Air Force and was experiencing the private sector for the first time. Despite his wealth of previous experience around the world, Derek was in full-fledged learning mode. “I’ve always been one to watch, observe, and ask as many questions as possible when I see someone doing something successfully,” he reflects. “When they’re not, I ask why they aren’t doing things differently. I wanted to learn about business in general.” At that time, he was employed by a company called Veridian doing work for the VA and the DOD. The company was growing fast but remained nimble and exciting, characterized by a hunger for success and in-
novation that left Derek and his employees constantly pushing for the next horizon. “I would look for the best program managers—the people receiving the best accolades,” he remembers. “I would go to lunch with them and ask them questions.” Derek continued this pattern of learning from those who knew best until Viridian was bought by General Dynamics, a larger company that sacrificed flexibility for increased regulations. “I wanted to help the clients quickly and efficiently, and I had ideas for how I felt I could deliver better service,” he remembers. “By keeping that flexible mentality and by keeping an eye on the client’s needs and preferences, I knew I could offer something different.” Thus, Blue Glacier was born. Launched in October of 2003, the company earned its name for its mission to persevere and to shape the terrain as it advances. Its analysts identify malicious activities, both failed and successful, aimed at breaching a system, and can help bring a network back to its feet if it has been compromised. Furthermore, they help clients build cybersecurity programs to safeguard against future attacks. “We’re product and service agnostic,” Derek points out. “Hackers are a dime a dozen, and we’re the guys who stop them. We also do the infrastructure and engineering that’s geared toward keeping your system secure. There are a lot of unknowns in the IT world, and we’re the ones trying to get to them first.” While Blue Glacier is working to service businesses across the size spectrum in the commercial sector, it is also focused heavily in the federal government space, and is working to get back into the Department of Defense. Through this avenue, Derek and his team aren’t just aiming to serve a single client—they’re seeing the big picture. “All federal agencies are here to provide a service to the taxpaying U.S. citizens,” he points out. “In order to best serve those citizens, they have to make sure their data is true and that their websites are up and running. We are dedicated to making sure they can do that.” Today, Blue Glacier employs just over twenty indi-
viduals and earns between $3 and $4 million in annual revenue. “We’ve taken a slow and steady growth path to avoid over commitment,” Derek explains. “Whatever we promise to deliver, we focus on that first. If we do that better than anyone else, we know those clients will look to us first in the future.” He also has visions to set up a scholarship fund through the company, which would aim to help young and passionate IT-minded individuals pay for college. “Education is a top priority for us,” he affirms, “and I’m committed to seeing more women and minorities in leadership positions in the workplace. Having traveled so much in my military career, I firmly believe that diversity is a key pathway to the excellence we strive for at Blue Glacier.” This commitment to excellence stems from his childhood and most notably from the observation of his own parents. Derek’s father was in the Air Force, and his mother was a teacher. She always focused on principles and the mission of her profession and was thoroughly dedicated to the success of each child. At the same time, his father, who retired as a colonel in the Air Force, always prided himself on doing his very best by “out learning” his peers. “Both of them excelled at what they did, and that left a big impact on me,” Derek remembers. “Even as they taught us the value of competition, they emphasized the value of sportsmanship. Today, my ideas are formed by talking to people, asking a lot of questions, formulating a well-supported thought, and then posing it against other ideas so that the best idea wins. I’m not afraid of competition; I thrive in it and understand it as a vital component to innovation and success. I love the idea of working with folks and bringing the best out of them.” Derek was born the youngest of three boys in California, but the family moved every three years or so throughout his childhood. From Texas, to Alabama, to Germany, to Africa, to Virginia, the transitory lifestyle contributed to the strength of his character much more than it detracted. “Moving that often was all I knew, and I was raised amongst families where that was the norm,” he remarks. “My brothers and I loved sports, and since we’d sign up for teams wherever we moved, it was easy for us to make friends quickly. No matter where we went, we always had soccer.” He was also afforded the opportunity, at age three, to be the youngest participant on record for the Gymkhana horse racing competition, when his family resided in Ethiopia, Africa—an experience he can still remember today. In their spare time, the Padden boys would also find ways to supplement their modest allowances. Whether it was racing to see who could shovel the most sidewalks 110
in the winters, or competing to see who could deliver the news the fastest on their paper routes, they had fun that was then rewarded on payday. In Germany, Derek signed up to deliver bread at five in the morning, learning the value of not only reliability and responsibility, but also improvement and efficiency. “I found out that, if I had the bag organized a certain way and if I memorized which houses had which orders, I could complete the job faster and go back to sleep another half hour afterward,” he reminisces. At that time, Derek actually aspired to be a dentist, though he can’t put his finger on why. When computer science was introduced at his high school, however, his interest was captured. His teacher had moved overseas to Germany after working twenty years at Texas Instruments to teach programming and other technological skills to Derek’s tenth grade class. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” he says. “One of my classmates was also an amazing programmer, and I knew from that point on that computers were the way to go.” His parents purchased the first 286 Zenith that came out—bigger than a typewriter but with a small 5 MB hard drive. And, while Derek found the hardware interesting, he knew it was the software that was most captivating to him. With that, Derek got an ROTC scholarship to study computer information systems at Clemson University and would later earn a master’s in Information Systems Management at George Washington University and another in Business Administration at UNC. “I’ve always been strategic about looking at the big picture of things. I knew I might not want to be in the military my whole life, but I knew that if I took the scholarship, I’d have a guaranteed job for four years,” he reasons. “I’d have less debt, I’d learn, and I’d also get further help paying for my first master’s degree. Furthermore, I’d be given substantial responsibility right off the bat, and I’d have great leadership around me to learn from.” He was right. While in the Air Force, Derek spent time living in Virginia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Texas, enjoying the learning and the work immensely. What began as a proficiency in leadership in high school was transformed into a passion through his years of service. By year six, however, he felt his patience for the slow and limited pace of upward mobility in the military waning as he saw the computer security industry grow. “I decided to leave and give it a try,” he says. At Veridian and then General Dynamics, Derek had a contracting officer who helped answer all the questions that he, as a layman at that point, needed to ask in order to learn. He had also watched people take risks in
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
life, coming to the key understanding of how short life can be when the daughter of his great military mentor in Japan died tragically at age sixteen of an aneurysm. “I knew Jennifer as the most amazing child. Her loss emphasized, more than anything else could have, that I didn’t want to have a regret in life, however long or short it might be,” he says. “Blue Glacier wouldn’t be as successful as it is today if I hadn’t observed those things or experienced the things I experienced.” For Derek, leading his team at Blue Glacier is about allowing each team member the independence and freedom to do what they do best. “I like watching people succeed,” he affirms. “I tell them what I want from a strategic and tactical standpoint and then empower them to take control and achieve that vision in their own way.” Delegating in this manner frees up Derek’s time to focus on building connections and practices that will grow the enterprise. He and his managing directors have also recently undertaken a complete revision of their strategic plan, establishing a schedule for its periodic review so that they can best keep Blue Glacier on target as it continues its purposeful and sweeping advancement. This orientation around the company’s goals and future direction is more than just an action plan on a piece of paper. Indeed, while Derek’s own professional path has been relatively direct and purposeful with few derailments, he is quick to acknowledge that the hardest part of the journey is actually staying on that perfect road. “I use alone time to clean out my thoughts and get organized so I can make sure I’m on track,” he affirms. “I like to go out to a nice dinner by myself to mentally
houseclean.” As a strategic leader, he’s tasked with living up to those strategies amongst contracts and people that come and go. “The most difficult thing is running the business and balancing the requisite businessminded objectiveness with the more personal, human aspects that celebrate the personality and uniqueness of our company culture,” he affirms. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world, Derek warns against the entitlement mentality that so often places a rift between the younger generation and its predecessors today. “Be aware of the workplace you’re trying to get into and learn about that culture,” he suggests. “There are generational gaps to be aware of, and an entitlement mentality will only hold you back. Work hard and be patient with the results. It’s a privilege to have a job, so focus on working hard, and the results will come.” As his own example demonstrates, this diligence and patience will become especially important down the road. “It’s easy to go start a business,” he affirms. “You can do that in a day. The hard part comes later, in the details and the daily upkeep. Find mentors that can tell you what’s to come, so you don’t end up making the same mistakes they made.” Beyond this advice, he urges young people to remember that they’re working to live, not living to work. “My company is a means to help myself, my employees, and our clients live happier lives,” he avows. “Helping to provide for my wife and our children—who always keep us laughing—is why I do what I do.” By asking the right questions in all walks of life, and inspiring and empowering others to ask those questions too, the right answer is never far away.
Phil Panzarella Walking the Talk Live, learn, earn and return. That’s the mantra behind Phil Panzarella’s talk, and one doesn’t even need to spend five minutes with the man to see that he translates those words into practice in each corner of his life, and on a daily basis. “God put us on Earth to make a living, but not just for ourselves,” he explains. “The ‘return’ piece is the most important part of that equation. It’s not what we take, it’s what we give back that’s important.” As the founder, President, and CEO of CPS Professional Services, LLC (CPS), Phil understands that the spheres of one’s life are interconnected, and he has used this cornerstone to build his business upon a solid foundation with four guiding principles. “We make sure to take care of our customers, our employees, our community, and our partners,” he lists. “Those are the four legs of the stool, and they all have to be in balance. We spend as much time on philanthropic activity as we do on our business, but to me they’re all intertwined. Giving back has been a part of our corporate culture from the beginning.” Prior to launching CPS, Phil worked for Siemens and assisted in the establishment of a proxy company that would allow the organization to pursue the classified community in the U.S. Being a Germanowned enterprise, they were required to set up a firewall company with a proxy board of directors to do business in the U.S., which Phil ran for three years. One day, he came home and told his wife he was going to go out and start his own business. “I felt that if I could do what I was doing for Siemens, I could do it somewhere else,” he recalls. He would have to put his house up as collateral, and he assumed that his wife would say no. “Truth be told, I kind of hoped she would say no, because there was part of me that was afraid to take that leap,” he says. “Early in our marriage she had spent twelve years travelling all over the country with me while I was in the military, and she finally had a home and stability. Instead, she said she couldn’t wait for me to go do it, and that she was counting on me. With that, there was no looking back.”
Thus, Phil and his partners started Capture Planning Solutions in 2005 with the intent of helping companies win deals. In those first couple months, the hardest thing was making payroll, and he and his partners worked out of their homes for the first year. As fate would have it, their first client was Siemens, which was trying to win a multi-billion dollar program and was competing for one of ten awards. Not only did Phil and his team help the company win one of those ten seats, but they also won all three of the initial tasks up for grabs, earning Capture Planning Solutions instant popularity with Siemens. “We became one of their go-to teams when it came to capture and proposal support,” says Phil. “We flew back and forth to Germany pulling teams together for them and were very successful.” Within twelve months, they had generated enough business to land them on solid ground and to fund further growth. As Capture Planning Solutions developed, however, Phil noted that each large contract required forty percent of its work to go to small businesses, and he and his team were charged with writing the small business subcontracting plans and to farm out that forty percent. That prompted Phil and his partners to start a professional services firm, CPS Professional Services, in 2006, to replace Capture Planning Solutions. Beginning with about $50,000 in revenue, the company has since grown to around $12 million in 2011 and is still going strong today. “To me, running your own business is about making bigger commitments,” Phil describes. “The relationships you have with your employees are much more personal, and you feel more responsibility toward them. Furthermore, I’ve found that it’s about continuous learning. Just when you think you’ve experienced everything, you learn something new. I’m always learning something new. One big thing I’ve discovered recently, for example, is that sometimes you have to take a step back to get ahead. Growing up in a military culture, I’ve always been aggressively moving forward, but sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move to the right, shift around an obstacle, and be able to get Phil Panzarella
ahead and take that next step.” Like Phil himself, CPS originally found its start in the military, providing process improvement and performance management services after the government stipulated new regulation and performance management standards that required each agency to put forth metrics to reflect how they were doing. At that time, the Army had made a huge decision to move in the area of process improvement, and CPS was charged with the training for their personnel, running the program management office and streamlining their processes to become more effective and efficient with the goal of delivering better solutions in the long term. “We specialize in identifying the process and driving out the waste,” Phil explains. “And what’s great about how we operate is that the kind of talent we bring to the table can be applied to finance, IT, logistics, healthcare, the VA, restaurants, manufacturing, and more. It’s all about process.” Thus, though CPS’s initial focus was on the Department of Defense, and though they continue to serve the government space, they’re also making a conscious decision to move into the commercial healthcare arena as well. Today, CPS has about 42 full time employees, with a stable of additional professionals that they pull in as needed. “We’re very focused on where we are and on making sure that we can live up to our commitments, because the most important thing is being able to deliver,” Phil affirms. With this in mind, he has made sure that CPS doesn’t grow so quickly that it sacrifices quality, thus yielding a controlled and intentional approach that has served the company well. Last year, CPS began to scale up its infrastructure, and this year, they’re investing in business development, opening the aperture enough to get a broader focus on who their customer sets are and how they can drive more opportunity. “The ramp for growth is ripe, and we’re prepared to take that on,” Phil affirms. “There’s been a method to the madness, and we have our sights set on growing the company to around $50 million in the next several years in accordance to a strategic blueprint that we meet to review each quarter.” Though Phil’s leadership style and management philosophy were hulked and honed in the military, they first took root while he was growing up and observing his parents. His father was a blue-collar worker with an eighth grade education who started his own construction company at a young age and was very successful. He taught his children that if they wanted something, they could have it, as long as they went out and worked for it. Likewise, his mother started working at a steel 114
mill doing bookkeeping when she was young and later kept the books for her husband’s business. Phil’s father would do work pro bono for those who couldn’t afford it, instilling in Phil that strong drive to give back that characterizes the company culture he leads today. He also had a football coach who taught him the power of perseverance and a good attitude. Phil’s first job was for Al Blackford at the local cemetery, cutting lawns and digging graves. The following several summers, he went to work in construction and landscaping for his father. He attended high school from 1971 to 1975, just after the Vietnam War, and he recalls joining Marine Corps Junior ROTC Program that prompted him to consider applying to West Point. He had never considered the military, but something in the program resonated with something deep in the core of his character, and upon graduation, he found himself enrolling in the highly selective and rigorous academy with the same attitude he would portray decades later when he launched his own business—no looking back. West Point proved exceedingly challenging, yet equally as rewarding. “That first year was all about taking orders,” Phil recalls. “You have to learn how to follow before you can lead. You have to learn how to motivate people to follow you into battle, and when it comes to leadership, I think there isn’t another institution in the world that can compare to West Point. It’s about character building.” The years he spent there were a conglomeration of life-changing experiences, which included spending his junior year in Australia for an exchange program. Among his biggest life-changing experiences, however, came after West Point, when Phil and his high school sweetheart decided to get married and then rent a UHaul to drive down to Fort Benning, Georgia, to start a new life together. “Her faith and confidence in me never wavered, and that made all the difference along the way,” says Phil. “She was with me through my time at West Point and then through twelve moves in ten years while I was in the military.” During that time, Phil got his command as a first lieutenant out of Fort Lewis, Washington, and was one of four Army officers to attend the Officer Advanced Course with the Marine Corps in the Amphibious Warfare School. After that, he was sent to graduate school at Georgetown and then back to West Point to teach. While there, he served as a tactical officer and was responsible for cadet development, and as a young captain and role model committed to walking—and running—the talk, he would run the PT test with them until one fateful day when he had to get his knee aspi-
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
rated, leading to his fourth surgery. At that point, the military decided to take him out of combat arms. If Phil wanted to stay, he’d have to branch transfer and retool, so with a heavy heart, he decided it was time to see what else the world had in store for him. As a result of that decision, on December 22, 1988, Phil found himself medically separated from the United States military. He had not looked for one job and had not done one interview, as he had thought the earliest he’d be leaving was June of 1989. “The Army made a business decision,” he remembers. “That was a big gotcha moment for me, but we landed on our feet. Sometimes you think the worst is going to happen, but the best ends up happening. Things turned out for the better. I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason and that God has a plan for all of us—you just have to be patient.” After his sudden discharge, Phil and his wife moved to Virginia and began to explore the question of how he could translate his combat arms and airborne infantry training into marketable job skills. “Leadership is one thing, but how was I going to take the skills I’d learned in the military and apply them to sales, marketing, or operations?” Phil remembers wondering. “How was I going to take those skills and map them over into something that was meaningful to someone who would hire me? A lot of our soldiers are facing this same issue today. I decided I would look for an opportunity with a big company that would take the time to train me, and that’s what I found in IBM.” Just as he had hoped, IBM hired him and sent him to their large systems marketing program. After a few highly successful years in sales, they then put him in their federal systems division where he could do what he did best—manage people and lead a team. However, the company then sold that entire federal division to another company that eventually became Lockheed Martin, and the transition prompted Phil to leave and take a position at a small business that was later acquired by Entex. Entex was then purchased by Siemens, where he moved up the ranks to hatch the idea of launching his own enterprise, and the rest is history. Finding success in the military, in the corporate world, and finally as an entrepreneur requires nothing short of unshakable vision, agile adaptability, and an
iron-clad will, and Phil attributes these traits to the time he spent serving our country. “The military teaches you how to be aggressive, how to look ahead, and how to move forward,” he avows. “When I got into the business world, I saw where I needed to go and I mapped out a plan with the help of others. I always had a concept of where I wanted to be, and I think that’s why I’ve been successful.“ Also integral to his success has been, of course, his ability to lead. “When it comes to leadership, it’s about getting others to do things they may not have done themselves without some guidance,” Phil explains. “You can’t be afraid to make command decisions. You have to be able to challenge people, but you also have to be ready to take criticism. And above all else, if you want to instill in your team a sense of discipline and an ethical model, you have to be able to walk the talk. The way you behave and hold yourself is more of a learning tool to everyone around you than anything you could say. That’s why I’m always trying to do the right things and to live the way I expect people around me to live. And to me, you don’t lead to get ahead; you lead to move people ahead. You don’t step on people to get to the next level. You raise people up, and if you help enough people around you get to where they need to be, you will get to where you need to be.” Indeed, raising people up is an integral aspect of CPS and of Phil’s life overall. Whether he’s helping wounded soldiers through the Easter Seals program, supporting junior high and high school students through the Leadership and Ethics program he coleads, or working with the American Freedom Foundation to raise money in support of wounded soldiers, Phil makes it a priority to give back every day. “Sometimes we can be so focused on our own lives and families that we don’t notice the great need that’s out there, but one doesn’t have to go far to find it,” he reminds us. “It’s right here in this county, and everyone can do something to make a difference.” By living, learning, earning, and returning, we get a return on our investment in the world that is exponentially greater than what we begin with—a return that echoes in professional success, personal satisfaction, and a better future for all.
Duane Piper Driven To Service of Country The many proud men and women of the U.S. military branches who, on a daily basis, go out and defend their country against those that would threaten or harm it, can count themselves lucky that Duane Piper and Silverback7 are on the team. Now the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Silverback7, a defense company dedicated to providing training and exercise development and intelligence analytics (providing highly skilled subject-matter experts to intelligence agencies) for Special Operations units of the U.S. military and the intelligence community, Duane’s years of hard work and dedication have paid off. “Coming from a family of modest means I learned what it meant to work for the things that you need,” Duane continues, “What that taught me is that if you’re willing to work for it, it’s out there. You just have to be willing to work. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice but if you do those things and are committed to it, you can have it.” Silverback7 was founded in 2005 by retired Lieutenant Colonel Steven Lahr and Seargent Major Steven Wade, who are described by Duane as patriots who would do anything for their country. Lieutenant Colonel Lahr served 26 years and Seargent Major Wade served 28 years in the Army, crossing paths in the same unit at the latter part of their careers. After retiring from the Army, both Lahr and Wade, along with five other men from their unit, were sitting around a table one day, discussing ideas for starting a business. When the time came to discuss a name for the business, the men all agreed to utilize the nickname from their days in the unit when they called the older, more seasoned and mature men on the team, ‘silverbacks’. As there were seven of them sitting around the table, the name Silverback7 was coined. Thus Silverback7 was born, but as the company began to grow, Lahr and Wade realized that they needed seasoned help to continue growing and maturing the business. Originally hired as the Executive Vice Presi-
dent and Director of Business Operations, Duane intended to do just that. “They woke up one day and suddenly the company was at $3.5 million and they didn’t know where it came from. They had the foresight to realize that the business would keep growing and they needed to have a business infrastructure, but they had no point of reference; no experience ever having done that. They realized that they needed someone with a business perspective to come in and take the helm for that piece of the business and build an effective, scalable infrastructure and then manage this portion of the business. That’s what I was hired to do.” Though he is now quite clearly the epitome of success, Duane’s modest beginnings and early stage poor scholastic performance could have easily derailed his accomplishments. Born in the small, two exit town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Duane lived with his mother who was the paralegal for the town’s well-known criminal attorney and his father who sold heavy construction equipment. At the age of seven, Duane’s parents divorced and he and his older brother moved, with their mother, into their grandmother’s home. After living with their mother for several years, Duane and his older brother decided to go live with their father instead. As a travelling salesman, this meant a lifestyle filled with frequent moves and over the course of the next six years, Duane attended five different schools in four different towns. “We would go into a new school and spend time getting to know somebody and then right about the time we were gelling and becoming friends, we would find that it was once again time to move. So I think that kind of hardened me some, to how quickly I warm up to folks.” Though it may take him some time to open up to new people, once Duane has had the opportunity to get to know someone, and call them friend, he becomes deeply invested.
“While I like to think I’m a pretty friendly guy, I don’t open myself up too easily to new relationships. Once I get to know somebody over time, I take those relationships and friendships very personally. I hold them very deeply.” The multiple moves and lack of having a significant role model or mentor in his life began to have an impact on Duane’s school life. While attending high school, Duane began to falter. His lack of self-discipline was reflected in his grades over the last few years of high school. Duane recalls, “I was a fairly good student until I hit the 10th, 11th and especially the 12th grade - when I got ridiculously lazy. My wife went to the same high school, she was a sophomore when I was a senior, and she likes to say there should be a plaque somewhere in the high school that says, ‘the guy who was most unlikely to succeed’ with a picture of what I have done since then.” When it came time for Duane to apply to colleges, he believed that he would get accepted to every school. When he didn’t, Duane enrolled at the local junior college but after two years, he was asked to leave. “I just didn’t go to class,” Duane explains, “for example in one of my business management courses, the first day of class that I attended was the last day of the class. There were only two tests in the class (the mid-term and the final) and they said the mid-term was optional so I only came in to take the final. I got a B on the test, but they failed me because I didn’t come to class.” Duane’s parents were very disappointed that he continued to not apply himself and when he was called into the Dean’s office and was told that he was no longer a student there, his parents became quite angered. This anger led to an ultimatum – get a job or go into the military, but either way, Duane had to move out. “Frankly, the reason I went into the military was because my dad came home and said, ‘You’re going to get a job or you’re going to go in the military, but you’re going to do something - because you’re getting out of my house.’ I just thought the military would be the lesser of two evils, so I went and signed up for the Air Force and two weeks later I was gone.” Duane received a wakeup call when he wanted to sleep at 3:00 AM after arriving in San Antonio, Texas for basic training. His drill sergeant had another idea. “I remember showing up in San Antonio as a scraggly hair civilian and I had a drill sergeant in my face like all those stereotypical drill sergeants depicted in the movies and he kept me up for what seemed like 24 hours straight because I just wasn’t listening to what he wanted me to do.” 118
This time was life changing, and after that, a fire was lit under Duane that could not be put out. He credits his time in the Air Force as teaching him about commitment and loyalty and as being one of the best things that he’s done in his life. During his time in the Air Force, Duane served as a nuclear missile technician and then a warranted procurement official. Though he never went overseas, Duane’s military career was exceptional, with a rapid path of promotion that created a situation where he found himself unable to advance further within a subsequent round of reenlistment. “I was an enlisted guy and I made Staff Sergeant in just under 3 years and put the stripes on my sleeve in under 4 years, which in my particular career field was considered well below the average line for promotion. But what that meant was that when it was time to reenlist, there was zero chance for promotion within the next term of enlistment. It would have been mathematically impossible for me to get promoted.” During his six years in the Air Force, Duane continued his college education and once he left, he worked full-time and took classes part-time, completing his undergraduate degree in Business Administration within two years. Gone was the underachieving young kid who did not wish to work hard and in his place was a self-motivated, disciplined man ready to take on the world. Making the Dean’s List in his last years pursuing his baccalaureate degree, Duane then obtained a Master’s in Business Administration from the Keller Graduate School and has been fine tuning his education at the University of Virginia’s Darden School by way of its executive education program. “Now, I believe very strongly in the power of education, whether it is formal or self-study. I encourage everyone that wants to learn something new to get a book and read about it and to apply it to their life. Education is so important…” After leaving the Air Force, Duane went to work for a small company for two years. When the business was taken over by another larger conglomerate, Duane chose not to stay with them. “This was my entrance into big business, and when I jumped back into Government Procurement, just on the commercial side. But things didn’t go so well and through a recommendation I got an interview with SAIC and the FBI. I was offered a position with both organizations and I chose SAIC.” Duane worked with SAIC for almost ten years, making his way up the ranks, and during that time he
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
served as a business lead for an operating division that was comprised of all retired military. There he met the younger brother of his now CEO at Silverback7 and the two soon became close colleagues and friends. Duane was asked as a favor to assist the newly formed Silverback7 with some of the broader business-related issues that arose as they were just starting the company. Though he was working fulltime with SAIC, Duane would assist where and when he could as they came up against business tasks that they didn’t know how to complete. Shortly thereafter, Duane was recruited by the staff of a retired major general who he had worked with earlier in his career. The general was working for a company called General Dynamics Information Technology and he asked Duane to join them as the Vice President for Contracts and Ethics.
At first Duane said no, as he didn’t have the interest in leaving a P&L role for a return to an administrative staff position, but after several meetings and some persuasive final discussion with the general, Duane agreed to the move. After working for General Dynamics for a year and a half, Duane was approached by Silverback7 to take an equity position as one of its corporate leaders and board members and the rest is history. Despite his slow start, Duane Piper has blazed a path to the finish. Dedicated and steadfast with an allegiance to country and those he calls friend, Duane proves that discipline, hard work, and loyalty can take you all the way. Whether it’s on the back nine or helping those on the front lines, Duane Piper demonstrates his commitment to our country; showing us all that the start doesn’t always dictate the finish.
Brad Powell Living with Intention The gold standard. It’s the kind of product and experience that Brad Powell, President and CEO of Axiaware, strives to deliver to his clients on a daily basis, yet he never tires of hearing those customers refer to his company as such. “When I get that kind of feedback, or when my clients say that Axiaware helped them double their revenue, it just lights my fire,” he says. “Whatever room I happen to walk into, I always aim to leave it a little better when I walk out. When it comes to my business, this means helping companies build long-term partnerships based on real value. That’s what the gold standard means to me.” Launched at the outset of 2005, Axiaware is a software consulting firm serving financial institutions and other relationship-oriented industries. “The word axia means value. We’re a smart boutique software company that delivers real business value, not just the cheapest code on the block,” Brad affirms. He and his team excel at building online systems that are intuitive and user-friendly while still complying with the many rules and regulations characterizing the terrain of the financial industry. “We know how to bridge those two worlds together,” he adds. Axiaware also specializes in building internal systems—anything that affects the customer experience in some way, either directly via the internet or indirectly via a customer service representative. Auto loan applications, mortgage applications, and financial transfer systems are among the many projects that Brad and his team have delivered, and their ideal range of client—at least for now— includes big financial institutions, midsized regional banks, and credit unions. What is it specifically about Axiaware that has earned it the reputation that makes Brad so proud? At the root of any gold standard is a set of gold values adhered to with iron-willed fidelity—something Brad has naturally developed over time and across all spheres of his life, both personally and professionally. “After running a company for many years now, and after the experience of being a father, I’ve realized how important it
is to be specific, articulate, and intentional about your values and what you stand for, and being true to them,” he affirms. “I definitely had those values in me when I was younger, but I didn’t recognize the need for clarity. The importance of living with intention is one of those things I’ve learned over time.” Born in a suburb of Houston, Texas, Brad spent most of his school days in the “smart kid” classes but maintained his closest friendships with kids in other classes, which lent him a uniquely balanced character and breadth of perspective. He remembers his childhood as being generally positive except for the divorce of his parents when he was in second grade. Both parents worked, and when he would come home from school to an empty house, he quickly learned the value of self-sufficiency. “It really led me to rely on myself instead of others, which has been both a blessing and a curse as a CEO,” he says. “My wife grew up in similar circumstances, and it’s interesting that we are now adamant about our kids being self-sufficient and not relying on us too much.” An annual nationwide event known as the Academic Decathlon was a particularly pivotal event through Brad’s youth, and during his junior year, his team won second place for the entire nation. The following year, the team was faced with a similar opportunity when Brad was charged with writing an essay for part of the competition. Unfortunately, the piece ended up crashing and burning, causing his team to lose the competition. “It was a battle scar—one of those things that taught me you just have to get back up and keep going,” Brad remembers. “Now, every time I’m in a bad spot, I remember what I’ve accomplished since that experience and am reminded that I’m doing fine. The thing that I didn’t learn from that, thankfully, was to give up on risk taking. Sometimes you just have to take the risk and accept the consequences, whatever they may be. That experience taught me how to do that.” Growing up in such close proximity to NASA, young Brad had always wanted to be an astronaut, but after the Challenger explosion, he began considering his other Brad Powell
options. With a strong innate gift for science and math and a set of accountant parents, he always thought he’d pursue a career in a related field, but in high school he began getting involved in international relations instead. This interest led him to enroll at Georgetown University, one of the top schools for diplomacy studies. His perspective was further broadened by the range of ideas he was exposed to through the school’s curriculum, but ultimately found himself drifting away from foreign affairs and toward the analytical fields his brain seemed so innately wired for. After graduating from college, Brad accepted a job with Arthur Andersen in 1994. Despite his auditing and accounting genes, however, it was the consulting side of the company that offered him a position, and it was the consulting slant in his character that was cultivated. His boss at that time proved to be one of his greatest influences, allowing him to take a lot of chances and do a lot of things others wouldn’t allow a young college graduate to engage in. As a result, he grew significantly and cultivated the very customer-driven mentality that is such a cornerstone of his philosophy today. While at Arthur Andersen, Brad performed economic financial analyses and economic damages in litigation cases, and as part of that, his clients were widely distributed geographically. To address this reality, the company was among the first to pilot a new software application called Lotus Notes, and having always been very computer savvy, Brad was given the opportunity to work with a client on the software, ultimately building a forerunner of the internet. He became deeply engrossed in the project, and in 1997, he and a colleague decided to leave the firm to start their own company. Brad’s partner had actually left Arthur Andersen to work for Freddie Mac and had been in charge of the same technology platform. Before long, he had emailed Brad about a system that a company had sold to Freddie Mac for $50,000. The software was horrible, and the two entrepreneurs guessed they could have spent a day or two building something far superior. “At that time, we were thinking mainly about dollars and opportunity,” Brad acknowledges. “Axiaware today is still somewhat concerned with those things, but over time, I’ve realized that what I’m really in this for is my passion for creating an organization and taking it to the next level. I want to build an enterprise designed to win. That’s the internal mentality. It’s about building a team of really high quality, talented people who are passionate about what they do, and about what they do for the clients. It’s not about me and my image anymore; it’s about what the organization is doing. It all comes back 122
to that value, and to living and operating with intention in all that we do.” Ultimately, the venture was a success, allowing Brad to acquire a number of great clients and hone his skills as he focused on several different technologies, including software development, support, and infrastructure. After seven years, however, he decided it was time to split the business down the middle and set off on his own. With several key employees and clients, he rebranded his business as JX2 and began focusing exclusively on software development. “We’ve realized over time that we’re very good at certain things, and having had a lot of experience in the financial services sector, we wanted to take advantage of that knowledge store,“ Brad expounds. “That’s what we do really well, and that’s where we have solid credentials.” With the company’s narrowing specialization and new, more refined identity in mind, Brad initiated another rebranding in 2011, and thus, Axiaware took the form it maintains today. “Developing and focusing Axiaware was a different but coordinated process, becoming more intentional and specific about what we stood for,” he recalls. “We’re about giving our clients something they don’t have—a connection to their customers, a new way to be present to them, or a faster way to get things done. In this economy, everything has to be quicker, faster, better.” Because its vision is so client-focused, Axiaware addresses each client’s specific needs and desires differently, but generally speaking, each situation falls into the same pattern: clients need Brad and his team to bail them out of something, and they need it done quickly. Thus, Brad and his team are dedicated to delivering that needed value, and fast. Today, Brad credits his success not to any one decision he’s made over the past several decades, but instead to a mindset that has, like his commitment to living with intention, developed over time. “The organization and our success is really not about policies, procedures or code, it’s about having the best people involved,” he explains. “As a CEO, success has been about recognizing that you may have first sparked the organization, but that it’s now about everyone else, and not you. Indeed, this is turning out to be our breakout year, and the fruition of this knowledge over many years is the crucial component that’s allowed us to take it to the next level.” In taking Axiaware to that next level, however, Brad is careful not to neglect his highest priority: his family. Trying to be a good CEO, father, and husband all at the same time isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge he refuses to fall short of overcoming. “I’ve got three incred-
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
ible kids now, and it’s important to me that I’m always helping them become better leaders and better people, sharing with them what I’ve learned and helping them get to a better place faster,” says Brad. “I want to pass on to them the value of living with intention so that they, too, can make the greatest impact possible.” At the same time, Brad’s company continues to grow and to depend on him for his leadership now more than ever. As the world continues to get more complex in this manner, maintaining that work/life balance is something he remains vigilant of at all times. It was certainly easier to maintain this balance when he held leadership positions in his earlier years and there were fewer variables to contend with. As a leader in the band or during his academic competitions, Brad was a very control-oriented person, always feeling most comfortable when he felt the reigns firmly within his grasp. “I always wanted to make sure things were done the right way,” he explains. “One of the biggest leadership challenges over the years has been letting go of those reigns, and I’ve evolved to be able to do that. When my instincts tell me to take the
reins back, I can moderate that and accommodate it to what’s reasonable.” Thus, finding people who expect the same value and outcome that he does has been key in allowing him to hand over complete responsibility and authority. In fact, Brad would emphasize to any young entrepreneur entering the business world today that creating a strong company stems directly from knowing how to work with the right people the right way. “You’ll find that the success you garner through life in both the personal and professional spheres is not so much about what you know and how you use it, but more so about your leadership skills and how you relate to other people,” he confirms. “If you don’t have the relational or leadership side, your efforts will tend to ring hollow and empty after a while. Being able to relate to other human beings is key; that’s why my North Star is to have a positive impact on the people in my life. When I’m doing that, I’m happy.” Living with intention in this manner means living one’s values each and every day, and in doing so, creating something—a company, a family, a life—that’s truly worthwhile.
Maria Proestou Filling the Gaps When Maria Proestou showed up on the first day of her new job at the Pentagon several years out of college, they didn’t quite know what to do with her. She had responded to an advertisement sent out by one of her former graduate school classmates, now a Naval Officer, advertising for assistance in his office, but she quickly realized that her employers didn’t really know what it was they needed. Her job didn’t have a job description yet, so after several weeks, she decided to give it one herself. “I looked for the gaps and sought to fill them,” she explains today. “I created my job. I looked for what wasn’t being done, and I did it.” Now the Co-founder, President, and CEO of Delta Resources, Inc., a government contractor specializing in program management, Maria started her career looking for gaps, and she wouldn’t have gotten to where she is today if she hadn’t taken the initiative to find them. Delta Resources was founded in 2000 and got its start supporting the Naval Sea Systems Command, the largest acquisition organization within the Department of the Navy as part of the Department of Defense’s framework. The company Maria and her partners left had just graduated organically to large business status, and she wanted to remain tied to a smaller business field. “As well, at the time, the overall market was such that entrepreneurism was fairly easy to achieve if one did good work,” Maria explains. “We were able to leverage contracting through the General Services Administration and subcontracting through existing organizations providing services to NAVSEA.” It was also right at the cusp of the government outsourcing surge, and Maria and her team had a history in providing government service. The federal atmosphere was locked in an internal hiring freeze and was looking for similar, like-minded people to outsource services to, and Maria and her team were those people. “There was a market for people who viewed public service like we did, so we were able to focus as a company exclusively on support services,” she says. “We don’t build products or have any conflict of interest in that domain. We’re
exclusively focused on helping the government do the right thing.” Having always been drawn to public service, Maria and her team work on projects like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, a replacement for the vehicles that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were previously using that weren’t protecting them from roadside bombs. The Department of Defense invested in this alternate vehicle to help protect the soldiers, and Delta Resources is proud to be doing its small part to contribute to that cause. “Serving the public in this way, and doing the best we can to save taxpayer money, makes for very motivational work, and we’re very committed to it,” Maria explains. “I always wanted to contribute to something bigger, and this is how.” The three cofounders of Delta Resources actually met at their former place of employment, though they all heralded from different backgrounds and were working in varying capacities. Maria was developing national security requirements at the Pentagon, while Kevin was a former civil servant and engineer who had gotten involved as a defense contractor. Their third cofounder, Bob, had been in the military before joining that company. As time went by, the three noticed they worked very well together and were ideal complements. Maria was strategic and big-picture oriented. Kevin excelled at closing deals and getting contracts in place. Bob was a people person, helping employees feel at ease so they could get the job done. They all had young children at the time, as well, and wanted a more flexible work schedule that allowed them to be out with customers but also allowed them to respond to the needs of their young families. “Beyond all that, we also wanted to do some good things for our employees like telework or compressed work schedules,” Maria outlines. “At our previous company, we used to get together for strategy sessions at Starbucks, focusing on how to best support our employees, and one day we realized that we needed a new framework and decided, why not go out and do Maria Proestou
it ourselves? That was how the discussion began, and Delta Resources is the result.” They resolved to leave on good terms, ensuring that the organization they had built would remain strong and solvent. “I learned a lot at that company,” Maria says with gratitude. “They were very open about explaining the business process, and they were actually our first prime contractor. We still have a good relationship with them today, and I’m thankful for that.” Before they started the company, the visionary team sought the advice of a lawyer and made the decision not to launch their new endeavor until things were entirely wrapped up with their former employer. Maria can still recall the evening their three families got together for dinner. She remembers the sounds of their children playing together in the yard and the smell of the grilling steaks as she said she thought they’d all need six months in the bank before they were able to pay themselves. “We were fairly confident that someone would hire us, and we were able to successfully get all three of us covered with billable work within that first year,” she reports. Delta Resources was officially launched in October of 2000, and their first paycheck came the following January in the grand sum of about $50 each. Kevin had left a big bonus on the table when they’d set out on their own, and Maria received some tempting phone calls offering her positions at big aerospace companies, but the team’s conviction was unshakable. “From day one, we’ve had no regrets,” she affirms. At the outset, Kevin and Bob decided to make Maria the President, but the company has always been run highly collaboratively. They hired a part-time office manager the following summer, and their first contract came in late 2001. Then, in 2002, they won their first GSA schedule, allowing them to compete for task orders. They were able to hire more employees, and they began getting hired to teams as subcontractors as well. The new company was enjoying its evolving success until, tragically, Bob passed away amidst the 9/11 attack while completing his two-week mandatory reserve duty at the Pentagon. He was working in the Navy Command Center when the hijacked plane struck. “We had to do some serious thinking at that point about whether we were going to continue the company,” Maria reflects somberly. Some of their partner firms offered them jobs, but they instead decided to stay the course. Today, Delta Resources has around 280 employees and earns just over $40 million in annual revenue, and though they’re now ranked as a large business by some of the contract vehicles in which they compete, they are still proud to maintain a culture 126
that is well balanced between work and life. “It’s more challenging now as the business environment is tougher, but it is still a source of pride for us,” Maria remarks. “Our employees are expected to exercise professional judgment, and we’re much more automated than most companies, which has allowed us to save on efficiencies and spend those funds on benefits for employees.” As a result of their efforts and focus on the employee experience, Delta Resources won Washingtonian Magazine’s Great Places to Work Award in 2007 and 2011. It also won Great Places to Work by Entrepreneur Magazine, the Great Places to Work Institute Award, and the GovStar Best Medium-Sized Places to Work award through SmartCEO Magazine—all recognitions that were earned based on employee surveys and benefit package analysis. So what does the future hold for Delta Resources? “We’re definitely evaluating the new marketplace, as it’s undergoing great change right now,” Maria explains. “I always tell my employees that the testament of who we are as a company is how we handle the tough times instead of the good times, and now that things are tighter, we’re really focusing on staying true to our principles and who we are. We’re not afraid to take on our customers and protest contracts if we believe the government’s decision is wrong. We can’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right, even when there’s more at stake.” This strong commitment to values stems from Maria’s earliest days growing up in Toledo, Ohio, where her parents settled in 1969 after emigrating from Cyprus. Her father’s family had come before, working in coal mines in West Virginia and docks in Detroit before settling in Toledo and finding a niche in offering fast food cart services to factory workers. They then began opening restaurants, where her father first worked after coming to America. Maria was born soon after and grew up speaking Greek before she spoke English. Little Maria attended public school and wanted to be a traveling diplomat when she grew up. “I never wanted to be a business owner because I saw the stress my father was under as he managed one of the family restaurants,” she recalls. “I knew what it would take to be an entrepreneur.” History, international relations, national security, and peacekeeping always fascinated her as a little girl, hinting at the innate draw toward problem solving that allows her to excel at the helm of Delta Resources today. “I was always leading the way toward solutions and compromise, not in an interpersonal sense, but in keeping the ball rolling on school projects or in extracurricular clubs, for example,”
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
she explains. She worked in her father’s restaurant for a couple summers as a kid, and the experience was so invaluable to her that she has since sent her own daughter to see what it’s like. “I think it’s so important to have experience in the customer service industry,” she emphasizes. “It’s a critical life skill. Aside from learning how to make the customer’s happy, there’s an incredible amount of multitasking involved.” Maria chose to attend George Washington University because it plugged her directly into D.C., with its currents of civil service and international relations. She interned on Capitol Hill, worked at the Smithsonian, researched in the Library of Congress, and served on student government doing campus elections, which taught her she didn’t want to go into politics. She majored in international relations and then attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she earned a Masters in National Security Policy. One of her classmates there referred her to the first job that tied her to her current line of work, a position at a small consulting company serving the Saudi Finance Ministry with the Saudi National Bank. She worked on monetary policy analysis and writing, but she didn’t get any face-to-face customer interaction, which she yearned for. After that experience, Maria came across the advertisement from her former classmate for contractors to come work at the Pentagon, and once she learned that contracting was the same as consulting, she responded. In that capacity, she worked with engineers to explain what they were building to Congress, indicating why it was important to the security of the nation. That was 1995, marking her entrance into the defense industry. After five years, Maria felt she knew enough that she could fill a gap she saw in a growing market by doing consulting on her own, and the rest is history. Much of Maria’s success stems from her goal-oriented, high-achieving personality, and her understanding that
many of life’s outcomes are under one’s own control. However, she also readily acknowledges that there are outcomes that extend far beyond the limits of that control. This lesson came most harshly when her husband, a PhD electrical engineer at DISA, passed away six months after their marriage, in 1998. He was always very supportive of her, and wouldn’t have been surprised in the least that she took a risk and started her own business, even in the face of single motherhood. “It’s always surprising when you have a vision of how things are going to be and everything changes,” she affirms. “But you adapt.” Understanding life’s hardships and helping people through that adaptation process far exceeds the typical employer/employee relationship, but Delta Resources far exceeds a typical company, and Maria learned empathy from the best. Admiral Michael Glen Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was one of her first bosses at the Pentagon. Even though he was an Admiral at the time of her husband’s death, he made the time to come to his wake, which had a marked impact on her. “I’ll always remember that,” she says. “He took an interest in what was going on with his people, and that’s one of the reasons Delta Resources is so peopleoriented today.” In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Maria urges a sense of humility. “Be flexible and agile, and don’t be afraid to make copies or binders,” she says. “I started working really young and resented whenever someone told me I was too young to do something, so I understand that feeling, but you have to learn the job first.” Beyond that, she would advocate the importance of pursuing that inner voice without ever sacrificing one’s ideals. “I came to DC to be a public servant, but I guess I just have entrepreneurship in my blood,” she remarks, and the greatest aspect of all is that she’s accomplished what she has without sacrificing those values that keep her such a centered, compassionate, and compelling leader.
Edward Schwartz The Creative Meets the Technical On April 1st, EMC Corporation, the Global 500 information technology giant, acquired NetWitness, a network security company specializing in real-time network forensics and threat monitoring. Along with it, they acquired veteran information security figure and NetWitness’s Chief Security Officer, Edward “Eddie” Schwartz, who also happened to be one of its original founders. But not two months after Eddie and the NetWitness team began transitioning NetWitness into EMC security branch RSA, the latter suffered a major data breach as the result of what they term an “Advanced Persistent Threat”—an attack by an unnamed nation-state targeting RSA’s core intellectual property, the SecurID infrastructure. SecurID is a two-factor authentication product deployed at the largest government agencies and private companies around the world. It utilizes a physical token along with a PIN as an authentication method for enterprise applications. A data breach of this magnitude would of course necessitate major work internally to address security weaknesses. Beyond this, however, RSA faced the serious challenge, as an internet security company suffering a major data breach, of how to repair their brand and adapt to a rapidly evolving information security landscape. Enter Eddie Schwartz. Plucked from the position of integrating NetWitness into RSA, and asked by the Executive Chairman to take on the position of Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at RSA itself, Eddie has been placed in a novel and complex security and public relations scenario. While he is exceptionally suited for the essential duties of managing the continuum of product and internal security, recent events at RSA call for his reputation, especially. “I’m taking a lot of the good will I’ve built up in the industry over the years and a lot of street cred and putting that on the line,” Eddie says today. “We’re going to do things better and on a more certain track, and we’re going to lead the way against this kind of advanced adversary.”
As a veteran of the information security industry who was present almost at its inception, Eddie brings an expert’s perspective on what needs to change at RSA, not just in digital security systems, but also in RSA’s internal culture of security. Eddie is capitalizing on his established reputation in the field to show that RSA is serious not just about addressing their vulnerabilities, but also about communicating to the market, the press, customers, and shareholders that not only will RSA adapt to this new threat, but they will also lead the industry on how to defend against intrusions of this nature in the future. The experiences that have equipped Eddie to wage digital combat against nationsized adversaries on a global scale did not come from a straight and narrow path toward enterprise information security, as many might think. Rather, Eddie is a much more multi-dimensional character than that. For instance, most people who walk into his office might let their gaze wander over the impressive certificate hanging behind his desk signed by the president of Miss Universe, Inc., without really taking in the fact that Eddie played a key technical role in the pageant—not to mention that he was also the escort to Miss Universe, herself. “I still have my white satin jacket,” he laughs now. One also wouldn’t guess that he is a black belt in three different martial arts—a pursuit in which he is still active today—or that he has certified over a hundred SCUBA divers. Raised in the south Bronx largely by his grandparents, Eddie attended Regis, a Jesuit preparatory school in New York City. Exchanging homework help for protection from run of the mill local gang members in the Bronx, Eddie was encouraged by his protectors to take up some kind of self-defense skill, which led him to start studying martial arts. “This was literally for selfdefense,” he explains today. “It was the time of Bruce Lee, and I was tired of getting beaten up. I had to teach myself to fight in order to defend myself.” Several of his neighborhood friends, who Eddie says didn’t see a future that made sense to them, ended up in the military or in vocational schools, but he himself Edward Schwartz
was fortunate enough to attend a school that challenged him and encouraged him to question everything, and this helped him to develop his naturally high intelligence into a sharp, inquisitive mind. “I valued the Jesuit education immensely,” he says appreciatively. “Every aspect of the teaching, whether in science or the humanities, was taught from the angle of making you think through every detail, question everything, and come to you own conclusions.” At Regis, Eddie’s chief extracurricular activities were in forensics—that is, public speaking—and stagecraft, such as stage management, lighting, and set design. He was able to work on Broadway with a lighting designer while still in high school, and when he applied to colleges, he gave up the Ivy League to pursue studies in technical theater at NYU. It wasn’t long, however, before he dropped out to work on Broadway, having passed the test to join a theatrical stage employee union, practically unheard of for someone his age. Eddie’s handle on emerging stagecraft technology made him a valuable asset to the established stage workers who were not yet comfortable with even the most basic computer-driven lighting systems. This ability to stay at the cutting edge of new technologies would serve Eddie well throughout his various future careers, as he would soon leave Broadway behind. “While working on Broadway,” he explains, “I met a lighting designer who was soon to depart New York to start a project in, of all places, Panama. And he asked me if I would come along.” At this point, Eddie was no older than 21, and he found himself working a lighting design project in South America for about six weeks. And in case this wasn’t enough excitement for the Karate Kid from the Bronx turned Broadway stagecraft magician, just before he and the lighting designer were scheduled to leave Panama, they were invited by the Minister of Tourism to inspect a $50 million convention center that was being constructed there, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. After the pair gave their professional critique of the undertaking, and the designer flew home, the Panamanian Ministry of Tourism requested that Eddie hang around and consult for them. “It turned into a very interesting time,” he remarks now. “After essentially designing everything in the facility, I branched out and became a powerhouse in the region.” Eddie became the point-man for all things entertainment related in the area. He worked with CBS on boxing matches, International Song Festivals, and, of course, Miss Universe Pageants. “Six weeks became six years,” he marvels in retrospect. “I met a lot of interesting people. I spent time with Manuel Noriega. I met a 130
lot of folks from the Foreign Service. And that’s eventually how I ended up with the U.S. government.” Eddie’s extensive work and travel in the region ultimately led him to join the U.S. Foreign Service in 1986. He was placed in Central Europe, where he was first exposed to information security, initially through training, and later though chance encounters with those who are now considered to be the fathers of information security. “At the time there wasn’t very much public interest in this field,” Eddie recalls. “There were only a handful of people performing this kind of work at the time. But I took these encounters to heart.” Just like the Jesuits trained him at Regis, Eddie started to engage in the mental acrobatics that are the hallmark of critical analysis. Putting these skills to the test, he was able to identify firsthand through his work in the Foreign Service the vulnerabilities associated with the proprietary communications used by diplomats and government operatives, particularly as modern networks evolved. “The potential value of the security field started to make sense to me,” he avows, “and I asked my government supervisors if I could be associated with that emerging field.” This wasn’t an existing specialty at the time, but through his early connections in the field, Eddie stayed at the very brink of the fast-developing industry and became one of the first technical instructors for the government in issues related to network security. This ultimately led him to head an information security lab for the U.S. State Department, one of the first of its kind. “There I was,” he says, “this guy who had dropped out of theatre school, done Miss Universe pageants, spent some time overseas in IT... And all of a sudden I’m running a security lab full of PhDs.” This experience not only exposed Eddie to Chief Information Officers of various U.S. federal agencies, but also allowed him to begin to conceptualize of his leadership potential. “What I realized there was that it isn’t necessarily about how smart you are,” he points out. “You’ve got to be a little bit smart, but it’s more about organizing the right group of people and taking them to the finish line. To me it was similar to ensuring that a live TV show like the Miss Universe pageant actually was on the air at 8 pm on a Friday no matter what.” Eddie was able to leverage his intellect and creativity to translate his production experience in the entertainment industry into leadership and management ability in a cutting-edge information technology lab. Such transformational skill reflects an ability to synthesize right- and left-brain functioning—a forte that had always augmented his work. “I think I’ve always looked
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
for situations where there is a natural tension between the creative and the technical,” he reports. “When you can create a balance in your head, in being able to look at engineering challenges that customers have and think about the problem both scientifically and emotionally, that’s where the great value add comes into play. If you accept that there should be a natural struggle within you, this will lead to better ultimate outcomes.” Eddie first expressed this natural struggle in the martial arts, and it carried him through a challenging prep school, Broadway stagecraft, regional domination of TV and stage events in Central and South America, the Foreign Service, and the birth of information security. It carries forth now into his current career in the private sector, where he has worked in leadership positions in three successful exits, launched internationally acclaimed cyber security products, and now has landed in his most challenging position yet at RSA, where he faces off against the world’s most advanced cyber adversaries. Even in light of all this, however, Eddie’s focus is on helping the people around him to live a richer and
happier life, particularly those in his family, which he deems his proudest accomplishment. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Eddie stresses the classic importance of humility, honesty, and a strong work ethic. “I have this idealistic vision that, irrespective of factors such as a difficult economy or other personal constraints, if you apply yourself in school and develop a framework for making difficult decisions, you can do whatever it is that you aim to do,” he affirms. “I still believe that to be true today. I look at where I came from and what I did. I know I worked really hard, and I studied the habits of people that really get it. Times may be hard, but people coming out of school should never stop dreaming.” This advice hearkens back to that balance between the technical and the lyrical that have become the hallmark of his career and personal life. It is through the commingling of these yin and yang principles that one might hope to approach any situation with both the analytical thought and logic it takes to devise a solution but also with the personality and heart it takes to really execute it.
Gary Slack Looking Forward, Looking Back Over the past few months, Gary Slack has been asking himself one important question: What’s next? As of January of 2012, Gary is the former president of US Combat Systems, a subsidiary of BAE Systems Inc. and a division of the largest producer of combat vehicles, artillery and other weapon systems in the world. Since leaving US Combat Systems, Gary has reflected on the journey not only as a way of preserving the past, but also as a means of maximizing the route forward. It is, and continues to unfold as, a story of entrepreneurship, natural leadership, and methodical, relentless drive. It all began with a television. Eleven years old and a Northern Virginia native, Gary wanted a color television for his bedroom. His parents both worked hard enough to provide a stable household for him and his three older siblings in the small community of Sterling, Virginia, near Dulles Airport, but a personal color television set was out of the question. Gary can still remember the conversation with his parents. “My folks said, ‘Son, we have one television, and it’s not going into your room. If you want one of your own you’ll have to find a way to pay for it yourself.’ So I did,” he explains. Gary found an ad in the Washington Post for selling donuts door to door. During the week, Gary would walk door to door and take orders from his neighbors. On Saturday mornings, he would receive the donuts from the store and deliver them himself. “I suppose this was my first exposure to profit and loss,” he laughs today. “I would sell the donuts for twenty dollars, and owe the bakery ten dollars. That’s when it registered that, if you sell something for more than you paid, you reap the benefits.” Gary eventually bought the television, but only after taking on a paper route with his brother in Sterling, Virginia. He made enough for the television and then some, starting a savings account and, before he was even twelve years old, saving for what was next: a brand new bedroom set. “Just like the TV,” Gary says, “I saved up and bought the bedroom set, which I still have. I still remember going to the local furniture store, ordering
the pieces, and having them delivered to my room.” The Slack family was certainly comfortable, but there was never extra money. His father, who didn’t graduate high school, worked at Carderock Naval Research Center in nearby Maryland and took on interior and exterior painting jobs on the side to help pay the bills. Gary’s mother, a high school graduate, worked in retail. Gary recognized that his family didn’t have the discretionary cash that some of his neighbors did, with their new cars or backyard pools. He saw his friends go to the movies with their parents’ money. He worked hard to be able to join them, but in earning that pocket money he learned, more importantly, that he loved the feeling of independence that working for himself brought. It wasn’t long before he and his brother started talking about owning their own business. A strong athlete, by fourteen years of age, Gary was spending some of his hard-earned money on gear at a local sporting goods store. Gary and his brother liked the store’s business model. “We were good at sports,” Gary said, “and I was very good with people. It seemed like a fun job, but we knew even then that it wasn’t enough for us to just work there. We wanted to own a store like that.” While the desire to start a sporting goods store eventually faded as Gary entered high school, ownership was an idea that would never leave his mind. He was always thinking, “What’s next?” The television came first, then the bedroom set. While his first lessons in business came from the simple desire of a young man to furnish his room with his own belongings, in high school Gary began self-directing his own studies and taking control of his future. He took an accounting class, in which he excelled, and joined his school’s DECA club, an international marketing and entrepreneurship organization for students. Gary was also heavily influenced by a man who would eventually become his father-in-law. “I met my wife in junior high,” he explains. “We started dating when I was a sophomore, but we’ve known each other since we were thirteen or fourteen years old.” Her father was a Gary Slack
banker, and he became a strong influence in Gary’s plan to get into business. “My own father was extremely supportive of me,” he continues, “and he was always supportive of me going to college. But where my father’s support was more of a spiritual and emotional nature, my father-in-law, who had gone to college and worked in banking, was able to advise me on a different level.” Gary’s wife’s family also grew up on limited means, and his father-in-law was a frugal man. “He lived within his means and saved for his future,” Gary says, “and he is very comfortable now. That has stayed with me in my personal makeup.” Gary was the youngest child of four, and his father was 40 when he was born. When Gary was 23, his father passed away. He was already very close to his wife and her father, and Gary’s fatherin-law is still today an important part of Gary’s life. “On the business side, because he was in banking, we could have discussions about tax planning, how people were lending money, and that sort of thing,” he details. “These conversations gave me the confidence to be a business person myself.” After graduating from high school, Gary attended Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. He was drawn there in part because of the business curriculum the school offered. His DECA teacher in high school, Jim Stone, had prepared Gary for a career in business. “Jim Stone was such a supporter of mine,” Gary affirms today. “Between his class and the accounting class I took, I knew I could be a business guy. From looking at what I’d learned in the past, I could look toward the future and see that my financial acumen and my expertise in marketing and sales could certainly be applied to the workplace. I don’t know where Jim is now, but he was so supportive in helping me to see that.” But there’s another reason Gary attended Longwood. “My wife wanted to go there to be a teacher,’ he reminisces. “One day she and her father said they were going to visit the school and asked me to join them. So, I went along for a ride and really liked what I saw. It was a great fit for me, and I loved going there. I joined a fraternity, learned a lot, and did some great things.” To afford college, Gary worked in the dining hall, where he got his first experiences as a supervisor and was able to hone his skills in dispute resolution. He also took a job working for a contractor that did painting and other handyman jobs. After graduating, Gary worked briefly for the Virginia Department of Taxation before realizing that he could never be a long term civil servant, and subsequently stepped for the first time into the corporate world at Honeywell Federal Systems. “Looking back, I realize 134
now that I was in my element at the time,” Gary avows. “I knew that if I was interested in it, I would be successful, and I became a supervisor after a couple years.” During that time, Gary enrolled in an accounting courses and eventually got CPA certificate, taking that with him to his next role at BDM International, also in the government contracting space. Within the first twelve months of working for the company, the company was acquired by the Carlyle group. In the upper management shakeup that followed, Gary, now 27 years old, found himself among a group of young executives who stayed through the transition. “I remember,” Gary says, “one guy coming to me and saying, ‘Gary, you can go anytime. This isn’t what you signed on for, all this chaos.’ But I told them, I’m in for the long haul. And I cut my teeth on so many things over the next three to four years. I knew people that were my age and were still sitting behind a desk doing accounts receivable, while I was involved in an S-1, getting experience in everything from bank financing to pension plans. I had the invaluable opportunity to get involved with everything that made this business tick from the top.” Gary credits his natural curiosity for the fact that he could learn so much so quickly. “I would go into a situation with a particular job, and I would do that job and do it well,” he explains. “But I didn’t stop there. It was the extra things that were going on. For example, this was around the time that PCs were first being incorporated into our work flow. No one had PCs, but we had one. There was a fellow my age that, during lunch breaks and in the evening, would go to learn how to use the PC. I could have easily just gone home at the end of the day, but I was so curious. I had to understand.” Gary learned how to use Lotus 1-2-3, and suddenly, tasks that used to take days took half an hour. Still, he worked long hours and was always looking for what was next—for the other ways he could optimize processes and perfect his interactions with employees and colleagues. “I didn’t shy from hard work,” he says. “If I needed to work through the night, I did. I would get so caught up in what I was doing that I would look up and it would be ten PM. My wife and I have conversations about those days. We were raising young children, and she was working at the time too. Looking at that 27 years later… would I have done things differently? I’m not sure I was capable of changing the way I was doing things, because I had such a yearning, a curiosity. And ultimately it did help me at a very young age to get into heavy responsibilities that many people don’t get involved in until they’re my age now.”
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
Gary’s drive and curiosity helped him not just to survive, but to capitalize on further acquisitions, restructurings, and management shakeups. BDM was sold to TRW, where Gary stayed until he left to become a Vice President and Controller at Marconi, a North American company owned by a British parent. Marconi then merged with British Aerospace, and there, Gary became involved in mergers and acquisitions and strategy, assuming a leadership position as head of the pension committee. Eventually he became CFO, and ultimately assumed the role of President of US Combat Systems. The company was reorganized again in 2011, however, and the group that Gary had assembled was eliminated. Gary was asked to stay on in a transitional role, but he declined, and now finds himself in a position that is both liberating and extremely challenging. “Do I have any regrets?” Gary asks himself. “No. Would I have done things differently? Honestly, I’m not sure I would have. What I want to do now, going forward, is apply what I’ve learned from all those experiences. But my family has to now take the number one seat. I don’t regret the commitment I’ve made to my career the past, but now there must be balance. Looking back, I probably didn’t have to do every
single late night. God bless her, I’ve had a supportive wife through thick and thin. “My kids are very well functioning,” Gary continues. “They’re productive, good citizens. I’m able to spend a lot of time with my youngest daughter, who is 15 and plays volleyball and soccer at a high level. I love spending time with her.” As Gary contemplates the road ahead, his characteristic curiosity and zest for new and enriching experiences continue to be a North Star for him, and the myriad of skills he’s developed over the years leave virtually no road blocked. “I’ve thought about everything from starting a restaurant, to a services business, to a car dealership,” he says. “But knowing what I know today about what the pitfalls of starting a business are, I’m looking for more of a solid footing. I would much prefer getting involved in a private equity group to buy the right company.” Gary has also considered a non-profit or a pursuit oriented toward charitable giving. But whatever it is, it won’t be long now. “I’m a driven guy with a passion to lead and I won’t be able to sit on the sidelines forever,” he says. Until then, he’s keeping his eye out for that next television.
Katherine Sleep Trial and Error The young whippersnapper. That was the nickname Katherine Sleep, freshly graduated from college and the first woman employed in Western Electric’s engineering department, quickly earned for herself amongst her colleagues. Indeed, Katie was a fiery overachiever with a perm to prove it—the kind of lady who took every situation by storm. Her boss, whom she admired deeply, was always supportive but encouraged her to develop an element of refinement in her approach to her work, as well as her hairdo. “I’ll never forget when he said to me, ‘Just remember that the foundation you build is the one you also want to stand on,’” Katie remarks today. Now the President and CEO of LIST Innovative Solutions, the company Katie launched herself to pursue excellence in software development for the federal government, she remembers those days early in her career as the time she first realized that the concept of “success” is a dynamic term that continues to evolve for her every day. LIST was launched in January of 1996 after Katie had done work for several Fortune 500 companies in the IT industry. She had gone into the services industry to open several branch offices for different organizations, each of which ended up being bought up. “At that point I realized that, if I was going to do this, I should do it for myself,” Katie remembers. Thus, LIST was launched. Katie ran it with a solely commercial focus through 2000, providing software development for tech companies, but when the tech bubble burst that year, the market shifted dramatically. Fortuitously, LIST was subbing into a government contract for the Office of Personnel Management at the time and they decided they wanted to work with Katie and her team directly. With that, LIST’s first federal contract was won. Today, the work LIST does is more in line with Katie’s nuanced background in building applications for financial organizations through the process of automation, and with a finger on the constantly evolving pulse of technological advancement. “I started this company
because I wanted to do it my way,” Katie acknowledges. “And like my concept of the word ‘success,’ over the course of the last seventeen years, my way has evolved to be much more than it was in the beginning.” This evolution is owed in part to Katie’s unparalleled drive to perfectionism, even at the expense of other areas of her life. “I’ve always felt the drive to be an A plus individual, and I’ve sacrificed a lot to pursue that,” she remarks. “I’ve worked unreal hours, and I never had a work-life balance.” The company culture of LIST, however, encourages more of a balance in its employees. “We’re a very family, relationship-driven company,” she affirms. “We have happy hours once a month, and our employees bring their families and friends. With a new office just opened in Alexandria and employees dispersed at different government sites, we also hold other events that unify everyone.” This employee-centric approach has resulted in a 95 percent retention rate since the company’s inception in 1996, and among Katie’s top priorities is the maintenance of this strong integrity that undergirds the relationships of LIST. “You can make a lot of money, but if you don’t take care of your family and the people around you, you’re not going to do well,” Katie says. “It’s easy for people to stay with you through good times, but it’s those that stay with you through the bad times that really make a difference. LIST has certainly survived bad times and come out on the other side a much better company, and it’s because people didn’t give up on us. Now, every time I make a decision, I think about the fact that I have a hundred employees who each have families. Every decision I make is very calculated, taking into account the full breadth of this impact.” Just how hard were these hard times? At the start of 2000, LIST was doing exceptionally well. It was still in the commercial industry at the time when its clients all began to file for bankruptcy. Katie had around 25 employees at that time and was forced to scale it back to 12, and Katie herself didn’t take a salary for Katherine Sleep
five years. “We even had to operate the company out of our basement for a while, but it really made me who I am now,” she avows. “When I graduated from Indiana University as a woman in an engineering field, I had great prospects and thought I could do anything. People told me I’d hit hard times if I started my own company, but I didn’t believe them. When the tides turned like that, it almost took us under, and I really had to do some soul searching. I remembered what my first manager had said and took note of the foundation I had built that had held strong through that experience. I knew it was a foundation that I could stand on. And it’s true what they say, that what doesn’t take you under makes you a much better person.” As LIST began to rebuild armed with a new perspective and a better understanding of that foundation, Katie’s entire approach evolved. It was no longer about being big and making lots of money. Now, it was about quality of life. “When you’re faced with losing everything, you sit back and really see what it is you truly need,” she explains. “I was always a high achiever and wanted to be successful, but your definition of success changes as you mature and grow. With that knowledge, the company became stronger. We pay all of our debts and always make payroll, and this pays off in winning more business and more loyalty. If you give up your integrity, you have nothing.” Though it had taken a new spotlight in Katie’s life after the dotcom burst, the concept of integrity was no stranger to her and had been a foundational concept throughout her upbringing. Growing up in Indiana, Katie’s mother was a schoolteacher and her father worked in HR. Her mother was a big advocate for women, and this was deeply ingrained in Katie’s psyche. “I always grew up knowing I could do anything,” she reports. “It was just a matter of how I was going to do it.” This lesson became particularly important when she became pregnant with her first child while working at Tenaco in Texas, and her employer basically assumed she wasn’t going to come back after maternity leave and began to plan accordingly. Katie, however, convinced him that her work ethic and commitment to her projects was unwavering. When her second child came along, her manager had no doubts whatsoever. “It worked for me to work with him and not against him, and to prove to him that I could do a great job,” Katie says. “That’s what I did, and he was my biggest supporter for the rest of my time at Tenaco. If you take that attitude in life, you feel good about it and about your relationships with people.” As a kid, Katie worked at a candle store called Wicks 138
and Sticks, where she eventually worked her way up to manager during her senior year of high school. She also loved teaching swim lessons to make money. As well, since her mother, father, and grandmother were all teachers in one form or another, the skill came quite naturally to her, so she taught computer science and information systems to high school students while in college. Katie was always phenomenally skilled at math and exhibited a natural affinity for engineering, but she actually wanted to quit school when she was a junior in college to get married and to pursue a different life. Her father, who was always very analytical and just, did not try to dissuade her but instead took her out to dinner. “I’m fine with whatever decision you make, but let’s do a pros and cons list,” he said, true to form. After the brainstorming session, Katie quickly saw the value in sticking it out. After graduating, Katie assumed her position at Western Electric building applications for manufacturing. The company then wanted to put her into a role dealing more with electronic switching systems, yet the business aspect of what she was programming was what really intrigued her. “One language is really no different from the other,” she remarks today. “I became bored with the computer side of it and more interested in the business side of it, and building things that could really make an impact on an organization.” Katie then moved to San Francisco and got a job with a company doing application software development. That was her first business development job, and they wanted her because she had a true and infectious passion for software development and its dynamic possibilities. Katie then moved back to the DC area and was hired to open branch offices of the companies that were then bought out, igniting the entrepreneurial flame from which LIST was born. The biggest thing you learn in starting your own company is that, when you do it yourself, everything is on you,” says Katie. “Once you take that on your shoulders, you know that failure isn’t an option.” LIST became profitable within four to six months of its inception, and it has been a rewarding and successful ride ever since. Despite this fact, however, Katie acknowledges that she doesn’t talk about success much. “Yes, we’re successful, but I didn’t do it on my own,” she says. “There is no I in team, so I have a hard time talking about my success. There’s no way I got here by myself.” With this philosophy in mind, Katie makes it a priority to give back. The unshakable desire to do
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
this was perhaps first ignited when in 1999 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and very suddenly passed away soon after. “It just didn’t fit because she was so healthy,” Katie acknowledges. “That, combined with the dotcom crisis that hit in 2000, just really hit home the fact that we have to help each other and give back.” As a result, she has raised money for charities by participating in dozens of events like marathons and Iron Man Challenges. She also sits on the board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, honoring her mother and her own commitment to success by assuming a leadership role in an organization committed to helping other families achieve success in fighting the cancer. Success as viewed from this lens—the lens of philanthropy, relationships, and family—is the measuring stick that Katie now uses to measure her own progress. “Society tends to measure you on your income and your titles, especially in the engineering field, so that’s what it was all about in the beginning,”
she acknowledges. “But over the years, that’s changed phenomenally. Today, I look at success as the fact that we won an award for being one of the greatest places to work, and as the fact that we were a finalist for an ethics award. And I look at success as the fact that I’m a loving grandmother and couldn’t be more proud of my family.” In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Katie stresses the importance of being true to yourself. “Your gut is everything,” she explains. “You have to be true to your gut.” She also explains that it takes a lot of hard work to gain peoples’ respect, but it’s worth it. “If you put your head down and do a really good job, it will pay off in many ways you won’t see right away,” she continues. “People can tell right off the bat if you are what you say, so you have to follow your gut, work hard, and be authentic.” In this sense, Katie knows that success is not about shortcuts or quick fixes. Success is, in itself, a journey that is constantly evolving to new depths and new truths— a journey that’s worth taking to the fullest.
Stan Soloway Substance and Service Stan Soloway is the first to admit that his career path has been far from linear. But from private consulting, to a prominent position in the government, to the President and CEO he is today, common threads are clear. He always does his homework, knows the issues, and values substance over style. He makes important career decisions carefully and with integrity. And throughout his professional and personal life, he has prized and promoted public service. Stan’s career began at a political consulting firm shortly after his graduation from Denison University with a degree in political science. The group had recently taken on its first corporate client, and Stan was subsequently the first hire; a mere six years later, the group had flourished into a 16-person enterprise. “We were really starting to rock and roll,” he recalls, “and they started taking clients that I couldn’t stomach. We ended up taking on someone that I really disagreed with, so I walked. I was about 26 years old and I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I didn’t want to be affiliated with it.” Although he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his career long-term, he had thought carefully about the decision and believed that success would come with honesty. “I thought then, and still think today, that when it comes to business, your integrity is your calling card.” For Stan, that card has certainly paid off in spades. Today, he serves as the President and CEO of the Professional Services Council (PSC), a trade association comprised of over 350 companies and 17 employees. The organization, which recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, provides advocacy, high-level market analysis, policy analysis, and related services for the member groups that count on it to give them a voice. PSC’s work varies significantly, as smaller companies and larger companies join for vastly different reasons. The larger groups don’t need PSC’s assistance solving political problems, but they have other relevant needs. “Because they’re so platform centric, and because they have such high-level issues, the obstacles affecting IT
and Professional Services don’t get a lot of attention at the corporate level,’ Stan explains. “Thus, we become their arm for that. They recognize that they’re part of an environment where there is a collective goal, and that they have the resources to attain that goal.” For small firms, on the other hand, PSC serves as a sort of Washington office. “We’re not going to be their personal representatives on the Hill, but they don’t have the resources to have any kind of Washington operation, so we fulfill that need. My sense is that, in this market more so than any other in the country, if you don’t know what’s going on politically at a high level in terms of specific policy affecting your market, you don’t know what’s currently affecting your customer. If you don’t know that, then you can’t be successful, so we mitigate against that scenario. Most firms that are under a couple hundred million in annual revenue don’t have full time policy people, so they rely on us.” As Stan repeatedly emphasizes, insideout knowledge of the issues is crucial. His decision to work with PSC was precipitated by his past professional interactions with them—interactions which left him confident of their ability to provide real substance to client companies. “Most trade associations are only moderately effective,” he admits. “They can be very sleepy places. I’ve worked in and around a number of them over my career and found that very few really invest in serious substance. They were much more invested in people who could glad-hand their way around town—something I knew from experience that PSC didn’t do. I had worked with them before when I was doing consulting, and when I was in office. Several major policy questions arose. We’d ask the industry for input and so forth, and almost invariably the PSC work that would come back was intellectually and substantively outstanding. People actually tried to think up new ideas, and in a clear kind of philosophical way. Thus, I got the sense that it was a more substantive organization than most associations I’d seen.” Indeed, PSC proved a perfect match for a
thoughtful leader focused more on the nuts and bolts of policy than on becoming a “Beltway insider.” Stan attributes both his business integrity and his interest in the public sphere to his father. “I remember my father telling us at dinner that he was under audit by the IRS,” he reminisces. “My mother got very upset with him and said, ‘You shouldn’t talk about this with the kids.’ But my father said, ‘No, they need to hear this. I made $36,000 last year, and $18,000 went to non-profits, but they don’t believe me.” His clear generosity bespoke an interior moral compass which also guided him to stand up for causes that sometimes went against the grain. He was an outspoken supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and the first public event Stan attended was a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. Later, when a friend running for Attorney General was smeared in the press as having possible mob connections mere weeks before the election, Stan’s father went and stood behind him at a press conference. “He was standing up both literally and figuratively for what he believed in and what he thought was right, and I always remembered it as an incredibly admirable thing to do.” With two political parents, it’s not surprising that Stan grew up in a home of impassioned debate. Of learning to hold his own with his opinionated father, he says, “You have to know what you’re talking about. Don’t just throw platitudes out there. Do your homework. Feel comfortable with where you’re going with it.” The lesson, ingrained in him young, has been a cornerstone of his career. “I’ve never been in a situation with a client where I sensed we were heading down an unethical path,” he continues. “There are some I would never go near.” After Stan left his first job to avoid such a client, he began a private consulting business along with a coworker who had similar feelings about their company’s direction. Some of Stan’s clients chose to follow him to his new shop, providing a modest foundation as he sought out more work. The partnership was successful, and Stan was able to try his hand at a variety of things, including some television work. After eight years, however, a client came along that Stan strongly disliked, and he retreated to his home in New Hampshire, along with his wife and two kids, to give some serious thought to the situation. After a thorough analysis, he returned to his partner with the news that he couldn’t continue their work together. As it turned out, she felt similarly. “It wasn’t personal with us, but we were competing with all the big-name firms,” Stan points out. Stan continued consulting and soon got a call from a 142
friend running a small trade association of government contractors. Concurrently, President Clinton was elected, and the issue of government procurement and its reformation was thrust front and center. “The National Performance Review and the Partnership to Reinvent Government were big arenas, and I started going to meetings representing the association,” Stan explains. “I was responsible for policy on a part-time basis.” At one such meeting, Stan met a man who became his mentor, and later, his employee. Stan describes him as “the guru of federal procurement laws,” and the man’s advice at their initial introduction hit home. “You need to learn this stuff,” he had told Stan. “Your client better know what’s going on here, because this is the root of who they are.” As a result, Stan got much more heavily involved, building several clients and doing individual work with them. Stan’s dedication to knowing the issues paid off. In 1997, he received a call from the White House, and, pending clearance and confirmation, was offered the position of Deputy Undersecretary of Defense. The offer was a shock. “I joke that I thought they had the wrong number,” Stan laughs today. “I had never even considered going into government on any level.” After careful consideration, however, Stan accepted the appointment. “I had two portfolios in the Defense Department—one was acquisition policy, and the other was called Defense Reform.” Then, in 1999 with nine months left on his appointment, Stan got a call from Paul Lombardi, CEO of Dyncorp, asking him to take over at PSC. Stan, however, was adamant about honoring his commitment to the government and suggested other candidates instead. A few months later, Stan found himself faced with the offer again. None of the other candidates had worked out, and the end of his appointment was drawing near. Showing his typical aversion to jumping without thought, and unsure whether he wanted to transition into a trade association, Stan told the then-Chairman that he would need to consider the offer until Labor Day. Over Labor Day, he suggested a compromise: he would join PSC, but not until he had fully honored his duty to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense. As a result, on January 2, 2001, he took over as President and CEO of PSC. Working within the bureaucracy of the federal government had honed Stan’s leadership skills and prepared him for the transition. After observing military leaders both good and bad, he came out with his own philosophy. “I try to let people own what they do,” he avows. “They have to be willing to take criticism,
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
but you also have to be willing to take different ideas, it’s a two-way street. I’ve learned that heated arguments aren’t necessarily personal, that you can have a heated argument and its fine… In fact, it’s healthy. To me, much of leadership is about empowering your folks and doing your homework. That way, when you’re in an external environment, you actually have a clue what you’re talking about.” Passion for community service is one value Stan tries to inspire in those who work for him, and as with the other arenas of his life, Stan certainly practices what he preaches. In 2007, after a two-year process, he was confirmed as a board member at the Corporation for National Community Service, the Federal Agency that funds and runs Americorps and is also a key funding source for Habitat for Humanity, and Teach for America, among countless other projects. PSC has a mandatory day of service, and Stan is currently looking into implementing an initiative whereby staff could take additional leave days to participate in an approved service project. Additionally, although it doesn’t have the ability to give enormous philanthropic contributions, PSC donates to charity in lieu of giving gifts to conference speakers. It is also heavily involved with the A Billion Plus Chance initiative. “It’s the national pro bono initiative,” Stan explains. “The idea is to do what the legal community has done, particularly in professional services. So, in addition to or in place of giving cash, skills are volunteered to provide financial expertise, IT expertise, etc. The billion plus is the dollar value we’re trying to get.” Being able to provide his clients with an honest perspective remains one of Stan’s most treasured traits, and the value he places on service permeates his home life as well. His wife was a social worker for 30 years
and now combines therapy and design to help families in transition, and when asked what he is proudest of, Stan doesn’t miss a beat before referencing his three daughters, who have chosen service as a career themselves. As a teacher, a social worker, and a youth mentor, it is evident that they’ve all taken his emphasis on service to heart. “I think we all want our legacy to be that we made a positive difference,” says Stan. “With this in mind, I try to make my difference in a lot of different ways. Whether it’s the quality of discourse between the public and private sector on business and policy, or advancing in some small way this ethic of civic engagement, I see these things as my responsibility.” In advising young entrepreneurs entering the working world today, Stan explains that it’s important to put consideration into what one’s own unique path might be. “Whatever system you’re in, you don’t need to be a lemon. There are always ways to drive change, they’re just sometimes difficult to find,” he points out. “Some things need to change more than others, but there isn’t an institution you could possibly go into that doesn’t need any change at all, so look for what you can do.” In looking toward the future, Stan says he’s noticed that young recruits today often ask him about the service component of his business, and he finds that extremely promising. “It’s something the younger generation prioritizes and has come to expect, and because of that, the potential for change is enormous,” he points out. “In government, we are going to have the biggest turnover in leadership and personnel we’ve ever seen because there are 4.5 times as many people over 50 as under 30 in the federal government. It’s the greatest opportunity in two generations to change the face of leadership in this country, so don’t be afraid to be part of it.”
Leslie Steele An Entrepreneur at Heart “When my husband first pitched me the concept of starting a business together, I laughed about it for three days,” says Leslie Steele. “He’s the smartest person I know, but I thought he was crazy at the moment. I’d never thought of myself as an entrepreneur at heart, and I was deeply ingrained in corporate America at the time. I believed that was my path. To quit all that and start a company based on an idea that wasn’t even fully formed just seemed nuts to me!” As the thought sunk in, however, Leslie began to consider it in a new light. Her husband, John, had always been an idea person, and she herself had always been an execution person. The combination had potential, and she wasn’t entirely happy with the consulting work she was doing, so why not take a chance? That was 1996 and today, over fifteen years later, Leslie is the President, CEO, and co-founder of InterImage, the awardwinning IT services company that sprung from that single crazy idea. The process of bringing that idea to fruition has been one of risk, resilience, and revolution, demonstrating that even after spending years on one professional path, a person can still surprise herself and discover that she is, after all, an entrepreneur at heart. InterImage was first launched at a time when there were very few websites worldwide. Those that that did exist were primarily static pages, and in a 1997 survey by U.S. News and World Report, 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies said they’d be putting an end to their “web experiment” within the next year. “It was a very different perspective of the web,” Leslie explains today. “Society didn’t know how to use it, and couldn’t conceive of its capabilities.” At that time, John was involved in patent research and had been following the internet since it was first conceived as a DARPA project. Always a visionary, he believed in the value of the technology and pitched Leslie on the concept of applying it inside companies to make information more accessible. They termed this concept a housenet, and today we know it as an intranet. John had no experience running a business
himself, but Leslie had run operations for several companies, and together, their capabilities were ideally matched to provide InterImage with a foundation solid enough to thrive. In the first couple years, Leslie spent a lot of time evangelizing about the technology. “It was a doublesales challenge,” she recalls. “We didn’t have to just convince customers to buy from us, we had to convince them to buy period.” Maintaining a safety net to cushion the risk of starting their own business, Leslie continued some consulting work for the first year as the fledgling company gained momentum. John, as well, continued to do patent research that added to their modest revenue stream. InterImage won its first job from the Department of Veterans Affairs to build an intranet for them, as well as applications that would let them share information. The company then picked up several more customers, which enabled Leslie and John to scale out of their other ventures to focus solely on the company. Since then, the world has surged forward technologically at a rapid pace, but the mission and focus of InterImage remains fundamentally unaltered. It still builds applications that allow organizations to share information internally and externally, and that support employees doing their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Though it does build public facing websites and applications, most of what it does remains internal to the bounds of a large organization. InterImage’s early years were spent primarily servicing telecommunications companies, but as those began to crash and burn when the Dotcom bubble burst, its sights shifted to the federal space. “We wanted the complexity and size in our customers that the federal government could offer,” Leslie says. “It just became a natural place to focus.” Today, InterImage has about a hundred employees. One of Leslie’s early challenges was getting the right people on board at market price. “Young people were coming out of college caught up in this “go go dotcom” mentality, and because we were a technology company, some people thought we were a dotcom,” she explains. Leslie Steele
“The dotcoms were paying outrageous salaries, and as a result, we’d interview kids fresh out of college who were expecting starting salaries of $90,000. Finding technologists in the DC area was really hard for a while because the dotcoms were just sucking up a lot of people. That changed quickly.” Now, Leslie runs the company and handles the day-today operations, while John runs the network operations staff and advises on a range of issues. “Because he’s such an idea guy, he observes the industry and its broad trends,” Leslie explains. “Being in the throes of daily operations, I can sometimes get lost in the trees, but John can see things as a whole and provides a tremendously valuable perspective as a result.” With their complementary skills and strengths, the two respect one another’s decisions, never step on one another’s toes, and have perfect alignment on where they want to go, allowing InterImage to function like a well-oiled machine at both the micro and macro levels. Though Leslie never saw herself as an entrepreneur, that adventurous, driven, solutions-oriented persona has always been at the heart of who she is, even at an early age. She was born and raised in Connecticut where she and her siblings would play explorers in the woods behind their house. Those days came to an end, however, when a tragic car accident took the lives of her father, brother, and sister when Leslie was only six years old. Leslie, her remaining sister, and her mother then moved to New Hampshire, where they had family. Through high school, she pursued her love of sports. Recognizing it as a good outlet for her, she played on the field hockey team, raced competitively for the ski team, and then became a competitive gymnast. “Team sports certainly taught me about being a team player, but those more solitary sports like gymnastics and skiing taught me to fight, and to never give up,” she remembers. When she was younger, Leslie had aspired to be a city planner, but by her junior year in high school, she knew she wanted to go into business. Her uncle had a small business cutting lumber, but other than that, she didn’t know much about it, except that she knew business was her path. By the time she graduated high school, she knew she would go to graduate school to get her MBA, so she wanted to pursue an undergraduate degree that would be a good segue while still offering some variation. She enrolled at the University of Michigan and then transferred to Cornell University to study industrial and labor relations. “I’ve often wondered why I was so clear on my path, and I can’t put my finger on it,” Leslie reflects. “Years later, while I was in graduate school, my mother told me that she had always wanted to go into 146
business but had never talked to me about it because she didn’t want to sway me. As it turns out, I was innately drawn to a business career.” From college, Leslie enrolled immediately in Duke’s MBA program. She had worked her first job back in college in the mailroom of an insurance company, but her first job out of school was for Ernst and Whinney in Washington, DC, doing transportation consulting. The work was extremely stimulating—among other cases, Leslie helped Continental Airlines craft and justify a plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by doing the largest asset purchase of any company in bankruptcy in history. In time, however, Leslie tired of not being able to execute. “The thing about consulting is that, at the end of the day, you’re not making the decision—somebody else is,” she explains. “They’re listening to you, but they can take it or leave it. They’re making the decision, and they’re ultimately responsible for the outcome. I wanted to get on the other side of that.” This desire led Leslie to accept a position at MCI in its financial planning organization. At the time, the company was rocketing forward, and when MCI acquired and absorbed a company called Satellite Business Systems, Leslie was appointed to work on a team handling that process. She then transitioned over to Sprint, which was newly formed, to work for the CFO of its Eastern region. “It was an amazingly vibrant, dynamic place,” she recalls. “I was always in the senior leadership meetings, either presenting or as an observer, and was able to witness that early growth. It gave me a lot of visibility, and I was put in the CFO role after my boss left the company. It was a great place to be.” From there, Leslie was recruited out to a small company called Phone Base Systems, which was launched by the initial founder of what later became AOL. He had a reputation of successfully founding businesses, and Leslie thought she would give it a shot. The company floundered, however. “It just wasn’t the right concept or team, and it turned into a grueling effort to find investors and then placate them when the news was bad.” After two years, she left to offer consulting services on her own before landing a position at Oncor Communications, a mid-size company that wanted her to start up a new line of services for them. She launched and grew that before returning to consulting, when she began working with a government contractor called TCS. TCS ended up offering her a job running the new telecom division that she had been providing strategic consulting services to, landing Leslie at a crossroad. As she was driving home from a meeting, she called John to mull over the decision—she felt that the path being
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
offered to her by TCS wasn’t quite right for her, yet she was unenthused about continuing consulting. It was that conversation that prompted John to dream up an entirely new path—the one that would lead to InterImage’s creation, and to where they are today. Though her father wasn’t physically present for most of her life, Leslie notes his influence as paramount. In addition to the glow of the fond memories she has with him in the early days of her childhood, her mother’s emotional retreat after his passing meant that, in many respects, Leslie raised herself. “I learned tremendous self-reliance, and that has been the single strongest influence on me—something that I’ve returned to all my life,” she affirms. When she bought her first house at a relatively young age, for example, she gutted and replaced her kitchen, learned wiring and plumbing, hung cabinets, and built a deck and closet—all on her own. “Self-doubt creeps in at times, but it never interferes with my ability to make decisions,” Leslie explains. “I always have the sense that I don’t have worry; that I can make a decision and, whether it’s right or wrong, I’ll get through it. That gives me a confidence to make decisions easily, which is a very important skill in business.” Because she has such a strong sense of resilience, she’s able to move swiftly through sequences of choices on a daily basis that would make others grind to a halt. With her consistently rational, highly efficient, and swiftly executed style of decision making easily distinguished as among her greatest strengths, Leslie readily points to her introverted leanings as among her greatest weaknesses when it comes to business. “Leading InterImage, I’m the company’s most important spokesperson, so I’ve had to really focus on learning public speaking,” she says. “It’s easier not to put yourself out there, but you have to do it. You can’t put on a mask; you have to be who you are to really connect with others, which is an integral aspect in conducting business the way I believe it should be conducted. And I’m lucky, because it’s easier to do when you have someone supporting you through good times and bad. That’s what John does for me, and it makes a big difference.” In reflecting back on the past decade and a half, it
becomes clear that, in realizing a dream she never knew she had, Leslie has contributed to the community and to the lives of her employees as she has watched herself transform into the entrepreneur she never thought she was. As a result, InterImage has become one of her proudest accomplishments. “I wanted a company that wasn’t limiting to anyone, that instead really promoted people working together as a team across boundaries,” she affirms. “I wanted a company that allowed people to grow and learn and make mistakes without getting their hand slapped. We built that culture. It’s very collaborative and encouraging, giving people the opportunity to do things they’ve never done before, and in an environment that puts their wellbeing ahead of the financial growth of the company itself. That’s the prioritization system John and I believe in, and it’s served us well.” Within that prioritization system, Leslie also places a premium on taking the initiative to contribute positively to something bigger than yourself, whether it’s a charity, one’s community, or the world at large. When she acted as Chair of the Industry Advisory Council, with its seven thousand active members, she actively pursued this philosophy when she collaborated with a team to publish a series of papers on current technology issues and then briefed senior leadership in the Obama Administration on those matters. She was the first person from a small services company to chair that massive organization. She now serves as Vice President and incoming President of a chapter of AFCEA. “It’s good to give back to the community of which you’re a member,” she explains. “Helping to get others involved and understanding the value of giving back is part of that impact.” In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Leslie emphasizes that being authentic to one’s self is of paramount importance. “I’ve seen people try to take on a role that wasn’t comfortable to them, and they couldn’t,” she says. “I would also say that, if one company isn’t working for you, go find another company to work for. Companies and cultures vary hugely, and you just have to find the right place for you to fit in and thrive.” Or, as it was in Leslie’s case, go out and create that place yourself.
Lonnie P. Taylor Surviving and Thriving When Lonnie Taylor was seven years old, his world changed forever. His parents had first set out from Barnwell, South Carolina to Hartford, Connecticut, before eventually settling in Washington, DC. It was there, on that life-defining day, that his father passed away. When Leroy Taylor died, Lonnie was one of eleven children that his widowed mother, Magdalene Taylor, would now need to care for, far from any extended family, in a three-bedroom apartment in a “tough” area of DC. “Like so many others,” Lonnie says today, “I come from a very humble background. DC was not an easy place to grow up, but we made it. We survived and thrived.” Thus, from that day forward, surviving and thriving became an integral aspect of his character, with an emphasis on the latter. Lonnie’s mother not only worked full time as a teacher and a pre-school center director, but also continued her education part-time and volunteered in the community as part of VISTA, now a leg of Ameri. “She worked so hard to support us. She volunteered in the community under that program, and even for all the work she was doing, she still maintained all her motherly responsibilities,” Lonnie says. “She was a strict disciplinarian, always leading by example. She showed that we could persevere and strive and succeed. She instilled in us from a young age the importance of working hard, the concept that we have an unlimited capacity for learning, and the power of using what you learn to benefit your situation.” Eventually, Lonnie’s mother was able to purchase a new home and to customize education for each of her children, which, in Lonnie’s case, allowed him to attend a Catholic high school. In part due to his mother’s encouragement, and in part to his own natural ability, Lonnie had rocketed up to the eleventh grade by the time he was fifteen years old. He continued to survive and thrive, and at the end of that school year, he was given an opportunity that would change his life forever. “The principal at my school had recommended me for an internship with Senator Jacob K. Javits, a se
nior Republican from New York,” Lonnie says. Several schools in Washington each recommended a student for the program, and Lonnie was selected. “When this opportunity was first presented to me, I did not have a significant appreciation for the Senate or for the Congress in general,” he affirms. “I did not know what I was getting into. But the transition into that world and the guidance I received from Senator Javits and his staff had a huge impact on the person I have become today.” On his first day, the Senator asked Lonnie to shadow him. “I went wherever he went,” Lonnie says. “Into the antechambers, behind the hearing rooms, sitting in on briefings, witnessing discussions in committees, riding the elevators reserved for Senators…all on the first day!” He remembers that it was particularly striking to walk into that world as a resident of the District of Columbia. “But the most touching part,” he continues, “was that he treated me as if I was his staffer, and he treated his staff as if they were his family. I think he knew he was making a difference in my life, and indeed he did. My time with him in large part determined the direction of my career going forward.” Today, Lonnie is the Practice Leader of the Government, Legal and Public Affairs Group at Diversified Search (Diversified), one of the top ten executive search firms in the United States. Between his internship with Senator Javits and joining Diversified a year and a half ago, Lonnie has worked a great variety of roles in government and the private sector, with his efforts generating achievements vast and varied. After finishing his internship, Senator Javits hired Lonnie to work on the Hill while he finished his senior year of high school. After graduating, he pursued a business degree from George Washington University while continuing to work in various roles in the Senator’s office. When he graduated from GW and Senator Javits retired, Lonnie went to work for Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and began attending Georgetown Law School at night. Around the same time, he was married, Lonnie P. Taylor
and his first child was born one and a half years later. Working as a staffer for one of the hardest-working men in Washington while going to law school at night and raising a newborn might sound overwhelming, but Lonnie just recalled the strength of his own mother. “I’m proud of what I have accomplished,” Lonnie says, “and especially proud of my children. But all that I’ve done pales in comparison next to what my mother has done and continues to do.” Even after Lonnie and his ten siblings had grown up and left home, Lonnie’s mother was not done parenting. She became a foster parent, taking in close to twenty children. When she became particularly taken by a set of twin sisters, she adopted them. When she learned that they had a younger sister previously unknown to the agency, she adopted that child as well. “So I had it easy,” Lonnie laughs. “That’s how I see it.” Lonnie received his law degree and continued to work on the Hill for some time as Chief of Staff to Congressman Jack Buechner (R-MO) before serving as a member of the George H.W. Bush Administration at the General Services Administration, and then with the US Chamber of Commerce for ten years as their chief lobbyist and head of congressional and intergovernmental affairs. Following this, he co-led the government relations practice group for the now-defunct law firm Powell Goldstein. “At that point,” Lonnie remembers, “I took stock of where I was. I had been on Capitol Hill and dealt with the legislative branch. I had been in the executive branch in working with the White House and the GSA. I had worked in the non-profit world with the largest association of businesses, and now I was in the law firm world. I was still working in an overlap of all these previous sectors, but for a law firm. What was lacking in my repertoire, however, was the corporate experience.” With that in mind, Lonnie moved on to governmental affairs at Nextel Corporation, a nimble Fortune 200 telecommunications company experiencing tremendous growth and aching to take on AT&T and Verizon. “Their slogan at that time,” Lonnie says, “was ‘Done.’ Just Done. Just getting out there and getting things done. That was embraced by all of us. It was a really charged environment we were in, but then Nextel merged with Sprint and was to be no more. That came to an end.” Finally, Lonnie arrived at his most recent career destination: the field of executive search. He made his debut in the industry with Heidrick and Struggles, then transitioned to Boyden, and is now successfully cemented in Diversified Search, LLC. “I’ve been in many different positions,” Lonnie says. “I’ve managed all sizes of teams 150
and dealt with all calibers of individuals on those teams. The reason that executive search has turned out to be such a great match for me is because I like the fact that it can impact people’s lives in a very positive, tangible way. And more importantly, I’m able to make this impact using the government affairs and political affairs expertise I’ve honed in previous jobs. It’s as if I’ve been preparing my whole life to master the skills and knowledge base that make me perfect for this line of work, and that concept is really fulfilling.” The history of Diversified is in its name. Thirty-seven years ago, Judith von Seldeneck had a vision to form an executive search firm whose initial mission would be to focus on women and to effectively place them in the hierarchy of corporate America. Since then, Diversified has expanded the meaning of its name to cover not just gender diversity or racial diversity, but to fully embrace cultures, specialties, and areas of expertise. “What I enjoy most about Diversified,” Lonnie says, “is that it is a nimble organization. It will bend over backwards to customize what it does to meet the needs of the client. It does not engage in transactional relationships. It provides long-term, specific advice to the client. It’s not unusual for me to get a call from a senior leader of a client organization to share a problem and ask my advice. That kind of trusting, counseling relationship emanates from Diversified’s culture. Transparent, inclusive and customized—those concepts are both the culture and mission behind what we do and how we operate.” Ultimately, Lonnie’s success is a story of the support, guidance and encouragement that allowed his natural abilities to reach their fullest potential—those people that compelled him to survive and thrive, even in the face of adversity. “I had a second grade teacher,” Lonnie recalls, “who was very important to me—Miss Bogan. She made learning so interesting and so exciting that I still think of her very fondly today, all these decades later. I certainly credit her, along with my mother, with the kind of passion I’ve shown in learning and getting the kind of education that made such a difference in my life, not only in terms of a career, but even more so in terms of how I conduct myself as I go about my daily life. That kind of passion is sincere and compelling and impossible to fake.” Lonnie also credits his success to his community as a whole. “I think of people who have been supportive, generally speaking, in the community,” he says. “This is why I’ve been so active in my volunteer services.” Along those lines, Lonnie is the former chairman of the Board of Youth Services of America and the Washington
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
Area Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. He had been a longstanding board member of the Washington Scholarship Fund and other organizations, and he has recently joined the board of an organization called International Social Service – USA (ISS-USA), which helps to reunite families that have been separated across country lines. And, of course, Lonnie can’t think about community involvement without remembering his mother. “Even as she was raising eleven kids and furthering her education and working,” Lonnie recalls, “she found time to be a part of her community.” Lonnie’s wife and children, too, embody these principals of community and tradition. Kristin Clark Taylor, born in Detroit, worked with the Detroit Free Press editorial board and later served as assistant press secretary to former Vice President George H.W. Bush, who later, as president, appointed her to the position of director of the White House Office of Media Relations. She wrote a memoir of her time there, The First to Speak: A Woman of Color Inside the White House. Today, she is a full-time author and writes non-fiction about the African American family and the essential nature of family traditions, emphasizing the obligation to pass along those traditions through generations. “She is more than a supporter,” Lonnie says. “We are a team. She’s made all the difference.” Their two children, Lonnie Paul II and Mary Elizabeth, are in their early and mid-twenties, and are themselves living the family traditions of hard work and service. Lonnie Paul II has started a social media marketing business, and Mary Elizabeth serves as a member of the Senate floor and cloakroom staff for Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell. “My personal legacy is my children,” Lonnie says. “My professional legacy is all the young people whose lives and careers I’ve impacted as
I’ve guided them in their policy knowledge, career development, ability to solve problems, and their sensitivity in dealing with others.” In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Lonnie finishes with an anecdote that taught him an important lesson in working with people. “One day many years ago, in one of my Senate offices, I was working with my team on a project during a very hectic week,” he recalls. “We weren’t meeting our deadline and I was very impatient with a young staffer. I gave her the most difficult time. We made it to Friday, and made the deadline, and left for the weekend. When we came back to the office on Monday, I had moved on to other things in my mind, and when I saw her, I said that I hoped she had had a great weekend. She responded by telling me that she hadn’t, and her family hadn’t either. When I asked why not, she said it was because of me. “This struck me. It may be obvious from an outside perspective, but when I heard that, it shook me. The impact you can have on other people’s lives is astounding, and heartening. I hadn’t only impacted her, but also her family and I realized that it wasn’t right. So when I have bad news to deliver, I never do it on a Friday. And in delivering whatever news it is, whenever it is, I need to understand the real incentive is to get the job done. And that doesn’t require you to do it in a mean or impatient way. “I have high expectations, and I won’t shy away from that. But I have learned what it means to have been supported in my career, and how others have influenced me. And I have turned around and shared that. That is part of my tradition.” By helping others survive and thrive in much the same way that others helped him in years past, Lonnie continues a personal and professional tradition of helping others be all that they can be by being all he, himself, can be.
Lonnie P. Taylor
Mike Tucker Blessed by Success No one could have imagined the level of success that Mike Tucker would attain from his humble beginnings, not even himself. Born and raised in the rural town of Mechanicsville, Maryland, Mike dreamed of a different way of life and knew that it would take hard work to get there. “I always thought I would have to work for my success,” Mike explains, “I was always competitive and knew that I wanted to make a certain amount of money and live a certain type of lifestyle. So I worked hard to get there.” His father owned a neighborhood restaurant and bar and Mike remembers helping out many times during his formative years. It was while working with his parents that Mike learned the lessons that would eventually lead to his exceptional customer relations and people skills. “My parents really taught me how to treat people. They had employees that were waitresses, cooks, cleaning people. Everyone had to come to work and be on time and do what they were supposed to do, but my parents treated each person with dignity and respect. I try to be that kind of person and leader. I think that’s important.” It comes as no surprise, then, that Mike, too, became a business owner. With an innate competitive spirit, natural sales ability and a drive to succeed, Mike’s path to a new life for himself was certain. Now the president and owner of George W. Allen Company, an office products supplier with over sixty years of service and experience, Mike can live out that dream every day. “The path that God has taken me on has led to opportunities that I could have never imagined growing up in southern Maryland.” One of the first opportunities on his path to success was attending Charlotte Hall Military Academy during his high school years. An all-boys military school located in the adjacent town of Charlotte Hall, it was there that Mike learned the value of education, discipline and leadership skills. “Going to Charlotte Hall was a great opportunity for
me and I learned a lot about leadership, hard work and responsibility. I received a great education. I thrived in that environment with the competition and the discipline. They were all things that suited me well.” Though Charlotte Hall was a boarding school, because Mike lived locally, he could attend each day and return home in the evening. It was also at Charlotte Hall that Mike was first introduced to the world of wealth. “I shared time in two very different cultures during my years at Charlotte Hall. The local town where I grew up was similar to the town of Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. At Charlotte Hall, many of the boys came from wealthy and more affluent families. Their fathers were politicians, business owners or judges. Hanging around with them emphasized the importance of education and the expectation that you would be something when you graduated. Being in that environment is where my drive to succeed really came from. The oldest of five children, Mike was the first in his family to attend college. After graduating from Charlotte Hall, Mike was accepted at the University of Maryland where he majored in business administration. Not unlike many young people, during his first years at college, Mike forgot the values and discipline he learned in military school and fell prey to the many other opportunities found on a college campus. “When I went to University of Maryland, the ‘goose was loose’ and my immaturity kicked in. All of the discipline that I experienced in high school just disappeared. The thing that kept me somewhat grounded was that I wanted to play baseball, so I had to make sure that I stayed healthy and was able to show up for practice. But this was in 1968 to 1972 and we were surrounded by riots, hippies and drugs. Fortunately, I stayed out of the things that could hurt me, but I wasn’t committed to my school work. Though he maintained a “C” average in order to continue to play on the university’s baseball team, Mike realized in the last semester of his senior year that he was
twenty-three credits short of the requirements to graduate. His choices were either to not graduate and get drafted into the Vietnam War without a degree or work hard to finish the credit hours needed which would allow him to attend the Navy flight school. Mike decided to meet the challenge of completing his degree and finished out his last semester with his best grades ever. Though he’d entertained ideas of playing for a professional baseball team or enlisting in the Navy, after graduation Mike instead joined the workforce, initially for his father but quickly realizing that he wanted something more. After obtaining a sales position with Carnation, handling product sales and delivery, he met his wife while making sales calls in Ocean City, Maryland. “My wife has been great. She is a great sounding board for my life and always gives me good advice. She is one of the most influential people in my life. She is always very supportive and understanding. When I start to worry she will say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ From the beginning she has been the reason that I am confident that I can be successful.” During a family gathering, the father of one of his wife’s friends approached Mike about a position in office product sales at Faber-Castell. Mike took the position and while working for the company developed and enhanced his sales abilities. “My boss at Faber-Castell was creative and motivated and he made selling fun. We became the national U.S. distributor of Uniball products and that’s when I started focusing on government contracts.” Mike carved out his own niche in government sales and became like his own kingdom within the larger business. “I remember saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to get rich selling lead and colored pencils. We have to start selling Uniballs and all the other high-use products to the government.’ So, that’s what I did and was able to take the company’s government sales revenue from $0 to $7 million and the entire company’s revenue from $16 million to $250 million during that time.” Though he enjoyed his time at Faber-Castell, when the company was acquired by Office Depot, Mike lost his interest in working for the large conglomerate. “I became the first government sales manager for Office Depot and negotiated their first GSA contract but I soon realized that I didn’t want to work for a large national chain. They had so many restrictions and really didn’t understand the government contract field which was my area of focus. So I started looking for another opportunity.” Having now built up the government sales business 154
in two separate companies, from non-existent to multimillions in revenue, Mike decided that he wanted to run his own company. With the knowledge that the George W. Allen Company had been struggling to try to compete against the big giants like Office Depot and Staples, Mike felt that with his plan to focus on government contracts, he could turn the business around. In 1995, Mike purchased half of the company and quickly started the process to obtain a GSA federal supply schedule so that they could sell office supplies on government contracts, but he quickly realized that the company’s financial position and reputation was far worse than he envisioned. George W. Allen founded the company in 1948, but at the time Mike came on-board the business was being run by George’s daughter and her husband. The company was not only struggling against the large chain competitors, but had not turned a profit in over two years. Mike brought with him his contacts from years in the business and he called upon them when he took on ownership in the business. He worked out an arrangement with his old company, Faber-Castell, to be their direct supplier for the government sales market, but, due to his company’s poor financial standing, FaberCastell required that they obtain a line of credit. “I had a great business plan that everyone thought would work but Faber-Castell was requiring us to come up with a $400,000 line of credit. I was able, eventually, to call in a favor (after 5 or 6 banks had shot me down) and I got the line of credit, got my GSA contract, and started rolling. Amazingly, we never hit the line of credit for about ten years.” Those first few years at George W. Allen Company were hard on Mike, working to re-establish the company in the marketplace while not receiving a salary for several months. They also had one of their trucks stolen with $10,000 worth of merchandise inside. It was during this time that Mike’s partner passed away and his partner’s wife sold the remaining half of the business to him. Mike enlisted the help of Tom Clark, a long-time employee with the company who had been working to try to keep it afloat before Mike purchased it, and brought in his friend, Bill Ratcliffe as the company’s CFO. Never giving up, Mike had faith that he could turn the company around. “I’ve been blessed. When I look back at my career and life, many of the challenges I faced prepared me to be an owner at George Allen. Witnessing other people’s success in business (and often being a major contributor to that success) made me confident that I could succeed
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
on my own.” The company continued to flourish. A few years ago, when Mike realized that the business model was shifting within the government market, he began looking at a new business model to include product delivery services and commercial sales. He partnered with Tim Flynn who owned his own distribution company, Impact Office Products, to form Allen Impact Services, providing direct commercial sales and delivery of office supplies and products. Today the combined companies bring in over $60 million in revenue annually. Mike also utilizes his company’s success to help nurture the next generation of leaders. As a partner company with the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School whose program allows underprivileged students, who would otherwise not have the opportunity, to attend the private high school while working one day a week at a partner company. “Our partnership with the Don Bosco School is very rewarding. When kids come here to work for the first time they are understandably very shy and unsure of themselves. The next thing you know we hear they’ve received a scholarship to Georgetown or some other great college based on the opportunity that the school gave them and hopefully some of the work and
interpersonal skills that they developed being out of the school and in a work environment.” Mike is most proud of his family, being married to his loving wife for 36 years and raising their five children together. Unassuming about his achievements and attributing his successes to God, Mike truly reflects the faith that has guided him through. “The path that God has taken me on has blessed me with things that I never could have imagined. I don’t dwell on my past successes or what I might be proud of from the past, I’m excited about what I’m doing today. I hope that I can keep that enthusiasm and work for another ten years and continue to be productive over that time.” With his hard-working, can-do attitude, and a healthy competitive streak that keeps him at the top of his game, Mike Tucker knows what it means to achieve his goals. Never letting it go to his head, Mike attributes his success to a philosophy of hard-work, discipline and the opportunities with which he has been blessed. With a track record of success and a love of people and trying new things, we can be assured that, when it comes to Mike Tucker and the future of George W. Allen Company, that it’s not the end of the road… it’s just the beginning.
Mickey Williams Global Vision, Local Values Strong, traditional rural values. That’s what Mickey Williams remembers most about growing up in the small town of Jackson, Tennessee through the 1950s and 60s. His mother and father grew up on farms and were pillars of the local church all through his childhood, profoundly shaping both his inner convictions and his sense of connection to others in the community. Now the President and CEO of CapRelo, a relocation management company dedicated to helping corporations and the federal government assist their employees when they ask them to relocate, Mickey’s work and influence may have taken on a global vision, but he continues to operate according to those local values he learned long ago. At its heart, the business of relocation understands that the most important component of any company or government entity is the people that dedicate their lives to rising to the call of duty to keep it running. On those occasions when an organization must ask its employees to relocate to a new city, state, or country, that organization has an obligation to those uprooted workers and their families to assist with the transition—a responsibility traditionally summed up in its relocation policy. Organizations that want to ensure this process is as streamlined and comfortable for their employees and as effective for themselves as possible hire CapRelo, which provides comprehensive facilitation and support throughout the relocation process. “We not only administer the policy and provide all the accompanying services, but we also handle the financial side of the process, aggregating all the expenses and making the billing process simple and straightforward for our clients,” Mickey explains. “It’s a better experience for the employees in transition, as all the goods and services they come in contact with have been vetted by us. It’s also a better experience for the corporation because they get one bill and one point of contact. Thus, consolidation through CapRelo saves time and money while minimizing uncertainty during what
is often a delicate time.” With core competency in real estate, customer service, relocation finance, and supply chain management, CapRelo has offices in the metro Washington, DC area and Toronto, Canada. As a virtual company, CapRelo has employees in all U.S. time zones, and with affiliates in approximately sixty countries, they can move people all over the world. The company’s history extends back thirty years to when its founder, Charles (Chuck) Kuhn, was only sixteen years old. He worked summers at his uncle’s company, which specialized in the transportation of household goods. Drawn to the industry, he bought a truck with a $5,000 loan from his dad, launched his own moving business, JK Moving Services, and never looked back. In the late 1990s, Chuck began to realize a trend in the business toward full program outsourcing for relocation services, resulting in relocation management companies aggregating all services needed to move employees. Between 1990 and 2000, big relocation management companies took the relocation aggregation space by storm, capturing the majority of the market by offering household goods, mortgage services, real estate services, expense administration, spousal employment placement, tax services, and more through a single company. With this dramatic shift to a holistic, full-service business model, Chuck realized that it was time to do things differently. “He found that he was no longer interfacing directly with corporate clients, but rather working with middlemen,” Mickey points out. “He knew he needed to either jump on the bandwagon or become a relocation management company.” Independent-minded and entrepreneurial to the core, Chuck chose the latter, launching a company called Capital Relocation, or CapRelo. The business thrived through the latter 1990s until the bottom fell out from the relocation industry in 1999, causing the company’s steady growth to come to a grinding halt. The enterprise then began to regress
through the next several years. It was in the wake of this decline that Chuck decided that he needed an expert to join CapRelo’s board. They needed help, and as luck would have it, a CapRelo employee, George Herriage, passed Mickey’s name along to Chuck as the need began gaining traction. When Mickey received the call from Chuck inviting him to join CapRelo’s board, he was on a year’s sabbatical as he waited out the terms of a non-compete agreement he had signed after selling a relocation business in Denver. “I joined the board in 2002, and after only several board meetings in which I had apparently been way more vocal than I had intended to be, Chuck pointed out that I had identified everything that could be improved with the company,” Mickey laughs. “He then asked me if I could commit to making those improvements.” With that, Mickey joined Chuck as a partner in CapRelo, allowing Chuck to continue managing JK Moving Services with its focus on transportation and logistics, and Mickey to focus on relocation management. “We’re in two separate locations running two separate businesses, but there’s a synergy,” Mickey explains. “CapRelo’s clients become JK clients, and many of JK’s clients ultimately become CapRelo’s clients.” When he joined the board in 2002, the relocation business was well under a million dollars in revenue and had only eight employees, including Mickey himself. Today, their budget for 2012 will be $17 million, and the company is 75 employees strong. Mickey’s ability to lead the venture to such success stemmed from a long and nuanced history in the industry, accentuated by entrepreneurial ventures that had refined his palette for business prosperity. His extensive career in relocation services began in 1980 with Transamerica Relocation, after spending time in the U. S. Marine Corps followed by a seven-year stint at Dun and Bradstreet. Transamerica Relocation was acquired by PHH Corporation in 1984, which had the largest relocation company in the country—now called Cartus. Then, in 1986, Mickey was recruited by Associates First Capital in Dallas, where he was President of Associates Relocation until 1989. At that point, he left to start a consulting company specializing in relocation acquisition, which he ran for several years before he spearheaded an effort to buy a company in 1991 that became U S Relocation. Mickey and his partners sold U S Relo in 2002, and the resulting company remains among the top four companies in the relocation industry today. When the sale was complete and he was free to pursue new horizons, Mickey set his sights on nothing 158
short of perfection. “I had a vision for a business model to create the perfect third party company,” he concedes. “At the same time, I became a partner in a consulting group, Relocation Knowledge, LLC. I knew I wanted to ultimately return to the industry after my non-compete expired, and when that happened, I wanted to create the perfect relocation management company by creating the perfect customer experience. I sincerely believe that if you make the client experience perfect, then that essence of perfection extends to everyone associated with the company. If you take care of your client, they’ll take care of you.” This belief lends a sincerity and genuineness to CapRelo’s client relationships that is often lacking in other companies in the industry—a difference highlighted by various aspects of Mickey’s approach to leadership. “Like other marketplaces, when businesses in this industry have problems, they tend to focus on the financial impacts of those issues,” he points out. “I don’t obsess on the financial impacts. I’m concerned about the impact on the long term client relationship, and on making sure that we do the right thing. So far, our clients have supported us one hundred percent in that aim.” And, for a business charged with acting in the best interest of both the client and of the employees of those clients, doing the right thing can, at times, be no easy task. Indeed, whether an employee has misunderstood their companies’ policy or isn’t offered enough support through the relocation process, conflicts are bound to erupt. However, CapRelo’s culture of integrity allows it to act as an equitable and fair mediator through such situations. A strong sense of integrity isn’t the only element Mickey has drawn from his rural Tennessee roots to define his professional influence. His first job was selling TV guides door to door at age nine, followed by the acquisition of a paper route at age thirteen— both of which instilled the value of hard work and independence at an early age. He absorbed a flair for entrepreneurship from his father, who had a side business selling two-way radios to local companies in his spare time. Though neither of his parents attended a day of college, they both stressed the importance of education as strongly as they stressed the importance of a strong moral character. Equipped with these values, he worked his way through a college education at Union University and served in Vietnam as an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps, which solidified the currents of leadership and integrity he observed growing up. Upon graduating, he married and moved to Memphis to work
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
for Dun and Bradstreet, where his business education really began. Through the next several years, Mickey experienced both positive and negative corporate cultures, both of which imparted some of the most valuable lessons he continues to pass down to young entrepreneurs entering the business world today. “There’s no reason to ever lie to or withhold information from a client,” he emphasizes. “You might lose their business, but at least you’re not in danger of losing your soul.” Beyond that, Mickey reminds young people that they must at once be students of both leadership and fear— two concepts he believes go hand in hand precisely
because they are such opposites. “Leadership is about empowerment and courage, while fear is the mind killer,” he avows. “Anyone who is constantly fearful can’t be a leader, so it’s important to study and understand fear. In doing so, you can know how to dispel it from yourself and from others, allowing empowerment to grow and allowing your team and your community to advance forward. To be seen as a leader, you must be seen leading, so go and lead.” By seeing in terms of people rather than profit, communities rather than corporations, and empowerment rather than fear, leaders can strive to create cultures of strength and staying power, whether they span streets or continents.
S. Tien Wong Tien of All Trades When most college students think about weekends, they think about relaxation, debauchery, or both. When S. Tien Wong thought about weekends, however, he saw opportunity. A student at Dartmouth at the time, Tien quickly realized that there was high demand for food during the wee hours of the night, yet little supply. “That’s why I decided to start a Chinese food delivery business of my own,” he explains today. “Our hours were 11 am to 4 am, and we had a limited menu—egg rolls and pork fried rice. We’d buy it in bulk from a local Chinese restaurant, heat it up in toaster ovens in our dorm room when people placed orders, and then package it up and deliver.” After starting the business and running it for about a year, he sold it to a fraternity brother and moved on to other ventures. Now, several decades and eight businesses later, Tien serves as the Chairman and CEO of Lore Systems, Inc. He’s found success across an array of industries and in a wide range of circumstances, yet one thing remains constant—that undying entrepreneurial spirit that was first realized in those college days. Lore Systems is an enterprise network engineering company that specializes in providing enterprise architecture and cloud computing services, as well as the design, delivery, operation, and maintenance of complex networks and infrastructure, for federal customers, state and local governments, and small to mid-sized commercial businesses. Founded in 1995 by former Microsoft engineers, it was initially backed by Microsoft but soon underwent a series of metamorphoses that evolved it into a systems integrator with a core expertise in infrastructure service, setting itself apart as a leader in the up-and-coming cloud computing arena. When Tien and his partners bought the company in 2008, however, it was quite a different entity from the Lore Systems we know today. Strictly a commercial shop and servicing hundreds of customers, it engaged in no government contracting whatsoever. Instead, it
offered a wide range of services with little specialization—something that put up a major red flag for Tien when an investment banker first presented him with the opportunity to purchase the enterprise. Upon further reflection, however, Tien was able to intuit that there was much more potential in Lore Systems than first met the eye. “There are riches in niches,” he explains today. “I was impressed by the company’s tremendous engineering capability and tradition, and especially by the cloud computing and Infrastructure as a Service components, which I felt were the wave of the future. I also saw tremendous opportunity in the fact that it had done no federal government work. I knew the government was looking toward consolidating data centers and migrating to the cloud, and I felt Lore Systems was a perfect platform with which to enter that market.” With this in mind, Tien and his partners decided to take a chance on Lore Systems. Under its new leadership, however, the company would stop offering such a wide range of menu options, so to speak, and instead focus on only one cuisine. “We basically reengineered the company,” Tien reports. “We shut down a lot of offices and focused on becoming the world’s leader in enterprise architecture, data center consolidation consulting, and application migration. Today, we’re excelling in that area and are focusing mainly on the US Army and on the Department of Defense, though the commercial sector is still very important for us.” Through that initial pivot process, Tien originally served as Chairman and focused on mergers and acquisitions. He had the backing of a large financial institution that provided a lavish checkbook with which to fund such endeavors until the recession hit in the latter part of 2008. That investor, a multi-billion dollar company, went out of business, and Tien quickly realized that the M&A strategy they had originally envisioned had turned into a dead-end road. Noting the global lack of confidence in the market, he shifted his sights to the government market that had attracted him to Lore Sys-
S. Tien Wong
tems from the beginning. “I knew that the government was the lender of last resort, the buyer of last resort, and the customer of last resort,” he explains. “Thus, we immediately set our sights on the federal landscape. I jumped in to run the day-to-day operations of the business as CEO, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” As a result of Tien’s flexibility, foresight, and swift willingness to dive into the fray, Lore Systems has gone from having almost no recurring revenue to nearly 100 percent recurring revenue. After jettisoning six or seven superfluous product lines and retooling their sales process, delivery capability, and overall strategy, Tien and his team now focus solely on enterprise network engineering and recurring cloud computing and other consulting revenue, earning themselves recognition as among the top firms in the field. Tien’s capacity to recognize potential and intuit future possibilities is not only limited to business scenarios. In fact, he credits his ability to apply these skills to character judgment as playing a crucial role in his success. “I’ve had decent success at finding and sizing people up, leading people, and building teams,” he points out. “Communication and leadership are two things I do pretty well.” These were skills sown into the fabric of Tien’s character from his earliest years as he observed his parents pursuing their own entrepreneurial ventures. His father had immigrated from China and ran and operated three Chinese restaurants in New Jersey; his mother had immigrated from Malaysia and opened up her own travel agency. Young Tien worked in his father’s restaurants on weekends between the ages of ten and eighteen, and he developed a strong work ethic, as well as an understanding of how to keep one’s customers happy. With this knowledge, he opened three businesses of his own throughout his college years at Dartmouth, selling custom printed painter hats and exam survival kits in addition to his Chinese food service, the former of which grossed a remarkable $70 thousand a year in revenue. In his early college years, Tien had flirted with the possibility of becoming a doctor or a lawyer. After the experience of starting and running his own businesses, however, he knew he was destined for entrepreneurship and that he’d one day have his own company. Immediately upon graduation, he partnered with a Dartmouth tennis teammate to run a company that sold Men of the Ivy League calendars to the tune of $100 thousand in annual revenues. Tien was a minority partner in that business for a year before coming to DC to accept a position in commercial real estate with CB Richard Ellis, which he saw as a tremendous educational opportunity. 162
In this capacity, he accrued extensive knowledge of commercial mortgage finance during his four years there before opening the DC office for another mortgage company owned by a Philadelphia bank for one year. Along the way, he and a friend purchased a specialty newsletter company (employee benefits for nonprofits), which they sold for a nice profit five years later. Tien also worked for a real estate syndicator and handled hotel acquisitions for them while simultaneously starting his seventh business, a call center company based in McLean, VA called CyberRep, Inc. As CyberRep experienced some early success, Tien left his real estate job to work full time on the venture. “I wasn’t looking to do anything big,” he explains. “I just wanted to have something interesting to do and to make money with people I enjoyed being involved with. The defining moment for me was when my son was born, which made me realize that I had to provide for my family. It was a feeling of necessity, rather than a feeling of enlightenment, that compelled me to quit my real estate job and pursue CyberRep full-time.” CyberRep grew over the following 12 years to become the third largest privately owned call center company in the US, with over $80 million in revenue, 2,200 employees, and nine locations in six states. Tien then sold the company to Affiliated Computer Services, a Fortune 500 company, in 2003. Today, CyberRep/ACS is one of the largest call center operations in the world, as a $1.5 billion unit of Xerox. After selling CyberRep, Tien decided to set up a private investment business, which he dubbed Opus 8. Through the extent of his complex, tiered, and winding career path, Tien’s journey has been defined by mentorship opportunities—by those lessons his friends have taught him, and by the lessons he’s been able to impart to others. One mentor, for instance, hit home the value of face-to-face communication. Another pinned down the importance of record keeping; another, the value of a service mentality. Some lessons were as straightforward as the adage “fish or cut bait,” while others were more indirect, like the art and science of knowing people and gaining an awareness of what motivates them. “Beyond all these, and among the most important lessons I learned, is that honesty and transparency are critical to building a high performance team,” he remarks today. “A lot of people don’t agree with that, but I think that if you’re straight and transparent with people, they’ll appreciate it more and give you more. You have to lead by example and acknowledge that people are driven by different things. Because of that, you have
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
to know your people, so spend time talking to them and figuring out what makes them tick.” Today, Tien passes these lessons forward by volunteering his time and knowledge toward the furthering of local entrepreneurship throughout the DC metro area. He serves on the boards of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, where he works with faculty and mentors MBA students; FounderCorps, a nonprofit mentoring group of 90 CEOs that have founded businesses throughout the region; the Technology Council of Maryland; and others. He’s also a Maryland Venture Fund Authority appointee, and a Co-Founder of Startup Maryland, which is part of the Startup America Partnership. In offering advice to young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Tien emphasizes the impor-
tance of integrity above all else. To him, it’s the foundation of interpersonal relationships, underpinning the free market economy and life at large. “There’s nothing more important than integrity, and keeping your promises and commitments,” he acknowledges. “Most of the people I do business with have the same level of integrity as I do, and I don’t deal with people who don’t. Always operate with integrity.” Beyond this, Tien echoes the advice he has accumulated throughout his career from family, friends, and mentors alike. “Look out for your customer,” he urges. “Remember that your team is everything. Build a great team, because you can’t win by yourself. And life is short, so have fun!” Whether you’re trucking late-night sustenance to dorm rooms or building the leading provider of data center consulting services to the Department of Defense, growth and fun are what it’s all about.
S. Tien Wong
Pvt. Jonathan Lee Gifford was the first U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. He was killed just two days into the war on March 23, 2003. Spc. David Emanual Hickman was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on November 14, 2011. The Washington Post on December 17, 2011, said Hickman “may have been the last” U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. After reading an article about Gifford and Hickman my sister, Gloria, was inspired to write the following poem.
From Gifford to Hickman By Gloria J. Bernhardt From Gifford to Hickman…and all those in between, You fought bravely amid chaos and dangers unforeseen. Twenty-one guns have sounded, the riderless horse walks on. Fond memories are remaining. A nation’s child is gone. Sons and daughters; fathers, mothers -- broken hearts intertwined. Hugs and kisses; their successes – major milestones left behind. Your selfless gift -- a life laid down; for fellow soldier, family, land. Duty called -- call was answered -- no greater love hath man. “I’m getting taller. I lost a tooth. I got 100 on my test! Miss your pancakes and your tickles, goodnight kisses were the best. Who will answer all my questions now? I’ve important stuff to learn! You said you had a big surprise on the day that you’d return.” “I talk to you at bedtime -- after lights go out at night. I told Jesus that I miss you…sure wish you could hug me tight. When Grandpa says I look like you, Grandma starts to cry. I’m mad that you’re not coming home…I need to say goodbye!” From Gifford, to Hickman, through every soldier who has served, Liberty’s fruits are savored and freedom is preserved. We live freely due to soldiers, willing to support and defend Our Constitution, our country -- against enemies ‘til the end. Sons and daughters; fathers, mothers -- broken hearts intertwined. Hugs and kisses; their successes – major milestones left behind. Your selfless gift -- a life laid down; for fellow soldier, family, land. Duty called -- call was answered -- no greater love hath man. “I had a dream the night before…you smiled and walked on by. When I awoke, I thought it odd…it seemed like a ‘good-bye’. I couldn’t put my finger on the dark cloud that remained, When the phone began to ring…I knew my life had changed.”
Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area — Volume 4
“I questioned God, ‘Why MY child? Why do I have to lose?’ I imagined His response would be ‘If not your child, then whose?’ Your bright life flashed too briefly… seems He only takes the best. I’m thankful for the time I had. For that I’m truly blessed.” From Gifford to Hickman and every warrior who has passed, The price you’ve paid bought freedom, but will we make it last? Your last breath drawn for citizens in this country and abroad Are we worthy of such gifts is known only but to God. Sons and daughters; fathers, mothers -- broken hearts intertwined. Hugs and kisses; their successes – major milestones left behind. Your selfless gift -- a life laid down; for fellow soldier, family, land. Duty called -- call was answered -- no greater love hath man. “My world stopped spinning…I couldn’t breathe! Lord, how can I go on? My days are all one midnight…but they say it’s darkest ‘fore the dawn. I can hear you say, ‘I’m proud of you! I know that this is hard.’ What do I do without you here? What dreams do I discard?” “I miss your laugh. I miss your smell. I even miss our fights. No more messes. No embraces. It’s more ‘real’ late at night. I saw you in a crowd today; but you vanished in the throng. Wishful thinking changes nothing! I know my “rock” is gone.” FOR Gifford, FOR Hickman…FOR all the fallen in between, You’ve trudged through shadowed valley and joined heroes’ ranks unseen. Upon freedom’s altar, we sacrificed our daughters and our sons. Empty boots stand at attention. The flag is folded. Your mission’s done.
© 2012 Gloria J. Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission.
From Gifford to Hickman