strong partnerships with
Few federal agencies have met their goals for spending with VOBs, but some big government contractors are helping their small partners get a toe in the door
“Supplier diversity brings another dynamic to doing business.”
– Melinda Evans, CSC
By Monique Rizer
Very few federal government agencies have yet reached the goal of 3 percent spending with service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) as laid out in the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999. But corporations are helping. Prime and subcontractors are working with a range of veteran-owned businesses to help them meet federal subcontracting requirements; in the process many are building strong business partnerships of their own with the veteran-owned firms.
“We strive to go above and beyond minimum standards, and we have received outstanding reviews for our supplier diversity efforts,” says Chireda Gaither, manager of supplier diversity at CSC, a provider of IT-enabled business solutions and services. CSC has been recognized by the Department of Justice, the Treasury Department and the State Department for veteran outreach.
“Supplier diversity brings another dynamic to doing business,” explains Melinda Evans, chief global diversity officer at CSC. “It mirrors what’s going on in the marketplace, and often helps close deals.”
BAE Systems (Arlington, VA) subcontracted nearly 10 percent of its Department of Defense business to SDVOSBs and VOBs in 2009. “Our program was initiated to better identify qualified small businesses that were capable of supporting our procurement requirements,” reports Diane Dempsey, director of socioeconomic business programs.
“Quality is paramount in the products and services we provide,” Dempsey states. “VOBs and other small businesses are nimble and flexible, complementing our need to provide the best products and services to our customers.”
AT&T seeks SDVOSBs
AT&T (Dallas, TX) has a program designed to improve the overall participation of diverse suppliers. The company wants to work with diverse suppliers in all aspects of business, including central office engineering, computers, outside plant construction and network provisioning.
The goal for AT&T is to spend 1.5 percent of the procurement budget with SDVOSBs. Most SDVOSBs are registered in federal and state databases, and AT&T buyers also search at sites of the California Public Utilities Commission and the Association for Service Disabled Veterans.
Once the SDVOSBs are in the AT&T program, the supplier diversity group helps them develop within the company. The goal is to look for products and services at the beginning of the lifecycle, in the wireless space for example, so the SDVOSBs can grow with AT&T.
Margaret Rawls, who was interviewed for this article, retired in January 2010 as AT&T’s acting executive director of supplier diversity. The company’s new executive director of supplier diversity is Marianne Strobel.
CSX looks for engineering and facilities services
CSX (Jacksonville, FL) is a rail, intermodal and rail-to-rail transload service business. Rod Keefe, CSX director of strategy and supplier development, explains that many small businesses would not be capable of supporting such a large company, but the area of engineering services is a great place to get in the door. “There are lots of qualified VOBs as well as woman- and minority-owned construction and IT firms,” Keefe says. “Services is an easier category to break into, because it’s labor-intensive with less capital needed.”
Working with VOBs is a natural fit at CSX. One in five company employees is a military veteran or currently-serving reservist, and 30 percent of new hires in 2009 were vets. CSX is also a large supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project (Jacksonville, FL), which brings service-disabled vets to work at the company.
The ten-year-old supplier diversity program at CSX welcomes VOBs and SDVOSBs, though the groups are not formally tracked since there’s no government requirement that private businesses do so. But “Working with diverse suppliers of every category is simply the right thing to do,” says Keefe.
Working with the VA
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Washington, DC) spent more than 15 percent of last year’s procurement dollars with VOBs. Just four years ago the figure was hovering around 3 percent. “It’s every business’s duty to support VOBs,” says Elizabeth Torres, outreach program manager at the VA’s Center for Veterans’ Enterprise. “We have to walk the talk.”
Torres, who is a program manager for the federal contractor certification program, notes that qualified VOBs can be found in the VetBiz registry (www.vip.vetbiz.gov). This publicly available database lists both self-declared and VA-verified VOBs. Next year, under the new “Veterans First” legislation, VA verification will be mandatory for all VOBs wishing to do business with the agency. Right now it’s optional but highly recommended.
Torres encourages VOBs to work with the VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) and local Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs).
“Through the OSDBU offices, veteran business owners can get leads to program managers and people who make the decisions. That’s a really important step,” Torres says. “They should also work with local PTACs. It’s free, and they can really learn what it’s going to take to contract with the federal government.”
Environmental SDVOSB Mabbett & Associates works with the EPA
“Being an SDVOSB is not a gift card,” says Arthur N. Mabbett wryly. But it’s high time the designation was in place, he feels. “There are very few people who have taken an oath to defend this country with their lives, and that’s what every veteran has done. And yet we’ve been outside the umbrella of diversity for decades. The SDVOSB designation has simply opened doors for us to compete on a more level playing field.”
Mabbett is president of Mabbett & Associates, Inc (M&A, Bedford, MA), an SDVOSB environmental consulting and engineering firm. His business has significantly increased through government diversity contracts.
Mabbett’s first big federal contract, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), helped the company move into the government market. The EPA is one of only four federal agencies that met the 3 percent spending goal in 2009.
In fact, the EPA surpassed the goal by a wide margin. “We’re very proud of our accomplishments in this category,” states Craig Hooks, assistant administrator of EPA’s office of administration and resource management. “While the goal for all agencies is 3 percent, EPA’s accomplishment in this category during fiscal year 2009 was 9 percent!”
Turning a military job into a business
Arthur N. Mabbett’s unique military job gave him experience he’s used in his successful career. Facing the draft, Mabbett volunteered for military service while he was working in environmental science at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). He already had a 1969 BA in biology and chemistry from the University of Massachusetts (Boston, MA).
When he completed his MS in environmental science at Rutgers in 1970 the Army offered him a direct commission in a new military occupational specialty: environmental science officer. The job landed him in Hawaii, one of only two officers in his 160-person officer basic training course who was not sent directly to Vietnam.
But Mabbett had a monumental task of his own. He had to make sure the entire island of Oahu was not environmentally impacted by 25,000 troops, 35,000 dependents and 200 aircraft returning from Vietnam. “I was told if I couldn’t handle the job I would be sent on to Vietnam. It was a significant incentive!” he says with a smile.
Mabbett showed he could handle the job, and very well. Over four years his staff grew from two to twenty-six and he was awarded a Meritorious Service medal. “It was a unique opportunity and I ran with it,” he says.
In 1976 he moved to the Army reserves and went to work for the design firm of Symmes, Maini and McKee Associates (Cambridge, MA), where he started up the company’s environmental health and safety practice. In 1980 he opened his own environmental consulting and engineering practice. He continued as a reservist until 1989, when he was honorably discharged as a major.
Mabbett & Associates consulted successfully with Fortune 100 and 500 firms for twenty-seven years, but did little work with the federal government. In 2007 Mabbett registered with the government as a self-certified SDVOSB and started up a federal services group in his company. M&A was later certified by the Center for Veterans Enterprise (www.vetbiz.gov) of the VA, and the next year the company won a contract with the EPA to provide consulting services to federal Superfund sites in New England. “We actually competed simply as a small business,” Mabbett remembers. “The EPA was happy to find we were also an SDVOSB, because it helped them meet their spending goals.”
The EPA contract opened many doors. In the past three years Mabbett & Associates’ sales have jumped from $1.8 to nearly $5 million, and in 2009 the company was named one of the fastest-growing architectural, engineering and environmental consulting firms in North America. It now holds prime contracts with the Army Corps of Engineers, the VA, DOL, GSA and more. Company staff has doubled, to thirty-six, and Mabbett is eager to bring on more people. He has a special interest in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guard and Reserve gave the company an employer support award in 2008.
“We’re talking to many federal agencies now,” Mabbett says. “I’m pleased we’re able to offer opportunities to other vets as a result of our growth.”
Archura owner Emmit McHenry is a longtime AT&T partner
Emmit McHenry, a service-disabled veteran, is chair and CEO of Archura (Leesburg, VA), a telecom and network solutions provider. Archura provides field services and supply chain support to AT&T today, but McHenry’s work with AT&T goes back to 1994 when he operated Network Solutions (Herndon, VA).
McHenry and several partners started Network Solutions in 1979 as a small engineering firm. In 1991 the company introduced TCP/IP for packet switched networks as a commercial product, and in 1993 became responsible for the Internet root domain registration of all .com, .org and .edu domains, thanks to a contract with the National Science Foundation (Arlington, VA).
McHenry and his business partners sold Network Solutions to SAIC (McLean, VA) in 1995. While Network Solutions moved through several corporate purchases to become the company it is today, McHenry went on to create NetCom Solutions International, which boasted customers like WorldCom, WinStar and NorthPoint Communications.
But the telecom crash put NetCom out of business in 2004. “Significant clients of ours went bankrupt,” McHenry recalls. “We didn’t want to do the same, so we took our assets, covered our losses and did a work-down of the business.” Ever the entrepreneur, McHenry, with his son Kurt, created Archura in 2005.
Through all his ventures McHenry maintained a cordial business relationship with AT&T. It began when he met company reps at an NMSDC conference in the early 1990s, and has continued through AT&T’s work on the Federal Telecommunications System 2000 contract and currently the Networx contract AT&T holds with the U.S. General Services Administration.
“AT&T has been a strong partner,” McHenry says. “We’ve had to adjust to changes, when people who didn’t know us came into key positions in the company, but at the end of the day it has been a very positive working relationship. We’ve delivered quality and service and been very flexible, so we’ve maintained a long-term relationship.”
McHenry is a service-disabled veteran. He joined the Marine Corps as an officer during the Vietnam War and served from 1967 to 1969.
Before his military service he was a systems engineer with IBM. “That gave me a good starting point in technology,” he says, but he picked up most of his specific IT know-how on his own. “Back when I started we were all self-taught,” he explains with a smile.
McHenry has a BS in communications from the University of Denver (Denver, CO) and an MS in communications from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). An active community leader, he’s been recognized by organizations including the United Negro College Fund and the Marine Corps for his community and professional contributions.
Emmit’s son, Kurt McHenry, is president of Archura. “It says a lot about my father and our company and AT&T’s confidence in us that they’ve worked with us going back three companies now,” he declares.
JAB Innovative Solutions takes off
James A. Blanco is president and CEO of JAB Innovative Solutions (Bristow, VA), an SDVOSB. Blanco made plans for starting the company as early as 2007, but didn’t get into full swing until last year.
“I wanted to get a good foundation and a strong back office in place, get 8(a) certified, get a Top Secret facility clearance and work toward a GSA 70 schedule,” he explains. “Small businesses only get one chance, so I wanted to make sure we could deliver.” JAB recently joined the Department of Homeland Security’s mentor/protégé program as well.
JAB Innovative Solutions provides a range of professional and IT services: desktop automation, virtualization, IP-based converged technology solutions and systems engineering. Blanco is working with CSC on proposals to provide IT services as a subcontractor on Army and GSA projects. “We wanted to work with CSC because they’re a great supporter of small businesses,” he says.
Blanco holds a 1987 BA in business from Eastern New Mexico University and a 1998 MS in commercialization and technology transfer from the University of Texas-Austin. He retired from the Army in 2008 after serving for twenty years. His last assignment, in the Army’s Office of Small Business Programs at the Pentagon, helped prepare him to start his own venture. It was something he’d always wanted to do, as his parents and grandparents were small business owners.
“I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, and working at the Army’s small business office really solidified that,” he says.
Before starting his business he spent a year with Vision Technologies (Glen Burnie, MD) as VP of business development. While he was there, Vision worked with CSC on an EPA contract, a good opportunity for Blanco to get to know the people there. With Vision growing out of the small business category Blanco knew it was time to go out on his own.
“A supplier diversity program helps corporations find good, strong, competent companies to help meet the government’s subcontracting requirements with VOBs,” he explains. “Your small business can win contracts a large company wouldn’t qualify for, but your large corporate partner can support you in a bid as long as you are doing 50 percent of the work.”
Blanco employs five veterans and wants to focus on hiring wounded warriors. He also works with the American Legion’s small business taskforce to try to get more federal agencies to meet the 3 percent contracting goal. “We need more federal agency leadership in this area,” he says.
Mainstreet Technologies partners with BAE Systems
Rufus Davis is a Navy veteran and president of Mainstreet Technologies (Baltimore, MD), which provides IT enterprise services and solutions. Davis has found his partnership with defense, security and aerospace company BAE Systems (Arlington, VA) very rewarding.
“The company has given us access to business opportunities that were not necessarily on our radar,” he says. “They’ve also given us a rare peek at a billion-dollar company’s strategic processes and tactics. Best of all is getting to know the great folks there who have a passion for small business and make it their job to help us stay relevant to the BAE Systems organization.”
Davis served in the Navy from 1977 to 1981. He attended the Navy propulsion engineering school during his service and went on to a 1985 diploma in specialized technologies at Gateway Technology Institute (Pittsburgh, PA). He has worked for Siemens, for Bell Atlantic as a network engineer, and as a systems engineer at GE Capital Solutions. He opened Mainstreet Technologies in 1997.
Davis found BAE Systems at a Baltimore trade show where he was a speaker on small business success strategies. He was invited to make a presentation on his company’s capabilities, and since then Mainstreet has been a BAE Systems subcontractor, providing systems engineering and administration. The company also participates in BAE Systems’ mentor-protégé program.
“It is getting easier for us to find opportunities,” Davis notes, “especially after more than ten years of business success and several federal performance awards.”
COMPANIES WITH A STRONG SUPPLIER DIVERSITY FOCUS
Check websites for current listings.
|Company and location
|AT&T (Dallas, TX)
|Automatic Data Processing (Roseland, NJ)
||HR, payroll and benefits administration
|BAE Systems (Rockville, MD) www.baesystems.com
||Global defense, security, aerospace
|CSC (Falls Church, VA)
|IT-enabled business solutions
|CSX (Jacksonville, FL)
|FirstEnergy Corp (Akron, OH)
||Electricity generation and distribution to
residential, commercial and industrial
|Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL)
||Communications and technology for
government and commercial markets
|Office Depot (Boca Raton, FL)
|Office products and services
|Pitney Bowes Inc (Stamford, CT)
|U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
(Washington, DC) www.vetbiz.gov
|Veterans’ care and benefits
|U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(Washington, DC) www.epa.gov/osbp
|Environmental science, research, education and assessment
Back to Top