Counterterrorism, forensic intelligence, and Joe Kampf were a few topics WashingtonExec discussed with Dennis Kelly, CEO of A-T Solutions. A-T Solutions, a counterterrorism training, technology and intelligence mission solutions firm, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, is headquartered in Tysons Corner, Virginia and is set to achieve 30% organic growth this year.
How A-T Solutions has been able to achieve high-growth in the era of budget constraints and if there is such a thing as the federal contracting “mid-tier squeeze” are also highlighted in this interview.
WashingtonExec: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your professional background?
Dennis Kelly: A little bit about my background, I’m a Navy veteran. I got out of the Navy in the ‘80s and kind of came into the defense business. I progressed through program management and then into executive management. I’ve been in a number of different executive positions. I’ve been at Anteon Corporation for probably the biggest part of my career serving in several different positions there. That’s actually when I started working for Joe Kampf who is our Chairman now at A-T Solutions. I worked for Joe in a couple of different roles in the executive office at Anteon. I’ve been here at A-T Solutions for a little over four years now. I started as the Chief Operating Officer and about 2 ½ years ago the Board promoted me to Chief Executive Officer.
WashingtonExec: What goals do you have for A-T Solutions this year and beyond?
Dennis Kelly: As far as goals for the company-we are definitely in a high growth kind of mode. We are expected to grow organically a little over 30% this year. Our near term goal is obviously to meet our customer’s mission needs but by doing that we feel quite comfortable we are going to make that 30% organic growth goal this year. Not bad in a market that is growing maybe flat for 1% or 2% so we feel pretty good. I think longer term we have our sights set on $500 million revenue and further penetrating a counterterrorism market to grow into that size.
“The Navy is all about teamwork and working together toward a common goal. I certainly learned a lot about leadership from the Navy; how to deal with crisis’ and dealing under pressure and working with a wide range of people.
The thing about the Navy is never get used to the people you are working with because it is bound to change sooner or later and you have to learn to work with new people all of the time as you move between demands when new people come into the command that you are in.”
WashingtonExec: What’s your secret? How have you been able to grow the company by 30% so quickly in this climate where people are reducing budgets and cutting back?
Dennis Kelly: I think there are a few different factors. First it starts by having the right team in place. When we were establishing the team here to grow our company to the next level we were looking for the best of the best so we have that in this team. I think second is that you have to be in a segment of the market that is actually growing or that there is a great demand for services. We serve the counterterrorism market and unfortunately that is a threat that is here to stay and that threat is certainly giving our government great concern. I think the third element is really having the solutions and the niche capabilities that those customers need to address their most demanding requirements. A-T Solutions has consistently done that; always listening to where the customer needs to go and helping them get there with innovative, sometimes disruptive solutions to their biggest problems.
WashingtonExec: How has your background in the Navy helped you execute as a CEO?
Dennis Kelly: The Navy is all about teamwork and working together toward a common goal. I certainly learned a lot about leadership from the Navy; how to deal with crisis’ and dealing under pressure and working with a wide range of people. The thing about the Navy is never get used to the people you are working with because it is bound to change sooner or later and you have to learn to work with new people all of the time as you move between demands when new people come into the command that you are in.
WashingtonExec: I’m sure that you’ve learned a lot of different lessons from Joe Kampf. I feel like Joe is kind of famous in the contracting world.
Dennis Kelly: Absolutely.
WashingtonExec: Has Joe ever given you any piece of advice that you have found useful or have you tried to model anything off of Joe?
Dennis Kelly: Joe is I think a real name brand in the government contracting world for sure. I’ve learned a lot from Joe. Really there are probably too many things I’ve learned from Joe to mention in one interview, but I will pick a couple. First, he taught me the value of having the best team possible. Joe was always big when he was the CEO of Anteon at making sure that when he was filling a key position on his team. Second, Joe very much believes in running the business by metrics. There are about 40 different metrics that we use – everything from financial metrics to human resources metrics or business development metrics to run the business on a day-to-day basis and really see trends in the business that can hopefully help you get ahead of a problem before it happens. That metrics based kind of management philosophy is something that I have found extremely helpful and we utilize that now at A-T Solutions extensively.
WashingtonExec: A-T Solutions has about $300 million in revenue. Have you ever felt a mid-tier squeeze?
Dennis Kelly: I think in other businesses like for example in my last company at Tech Team I felt it quite a bit because there were a lot of other companies out there that did what we did; IT services, help desk support. I think at A-T Solutions our skill sets are unique, our experiences are unique and I don’t feel it as much. The squeeze is really between the small business set asides and the large tier 1 companies kind of having a deep market penetration. We work all of the time with our small business teams. Our customers have small business goals, we understand that and we work with our customers and with small business partners to help them meet those goals; whether they are our subcontractors or their subcontractors. I think in the large business sense we probably were feeling a little pressure not having enough IDIQ contracts, these contracts that allow you to drive task order business. We’ve really set a goal to win more of those and we’re doing quite well with that. We just recently won the Red Team contract. That is a single award IDIQ that allows us to do the kinds of things that I’m referring to. Long answer to your question, but I don’t think we’re really feeling the mid-tier squeeze quite as much as others do.
WashingtonExec: What keeps you up at night either in terms of your job or personal or professional?
Dennis Kelly: Nothing keeps me up at night. I sleep like a baby. I really do.
As long as we are doing right by our customers we’re going to be in really good shape. I don’t have any trouble sleeping at night.
WashingtonExec: What is the fastest growing part of your business?
Dennis Kelly: The fastest growing part of our business is forensics intelligence or weapons technical intelligence. That’s basically the CSI work in the battlefield or wherever our customers need us to do it in the world. That’s when, unfortunately, a terrorist attacks one our installations or one of our people – we’re experts at piecing together what happened and who did it.