Ron Trowbridge was semi-retired for years, but when an opportunity arose to become chairman of an infant company he was invested in, he emerged to take the helm. Now, he is witnessing Blackwatch International experience what leaders believe is the beginning of exponential growth.
“We’ve made so much progress in the last year, and the way we’re positioned for going forward is pretty exciting,” Trowbridge said. “We recently won a contract with the Department of Defense that significantly increases our revenue.”
Trowbridge has led a number of successful endeavors. During one of the most intense times of his career, he served as executive vice president at RS Information Systems where he helped establish the company as one of the fastest-growing in the country. For eight years in a row, RSIS landed on Washington Technology’s Fast 50.
After RSIS sold in 2008, he established The Trowbridge Company LLC for executive consulting services related to federal engineering and IT contracts. By 2017, he was semi-retired but still dabbling in a handful of ventures, including Blackwatch. His involvement began with an investment into what was then a new company formed from a handful of smaller ones. About a year ago, it was decided that Trowbridge would also own and run Blackwatch.
His post-retirement approach and leadership style are informed by decades of experience and tempered with an intensely customer-driven approach. Trowbridge said he and his team have been attentive to hiring experienced, savvy and trustworthy leaders. Clifford Webster leads as president, and the team is rounded out with several industry leaders in key executive positions. The result is a seasoned executive team with access to capital and a willingness to invest in the customer, he said.
“As a small company, that’s unusual,” Trowbridge said. “We have the ability to invest and be aggressive risk takers.”
Blackwatch’s strong value system and the emphasis it places on exceeding customer expectations is a differentiator, Trowbridge said. There is also an emphasis, he said, on giving team members the tools they need to be successful, rewarding their successes and giving back to the community.
David Wolf, who previously worked at Steampunk, is now senior vice president of operations and capture. Wolf said he appreciates the freedom of working with an experienced team and had heard mentors speak highly of Trowbridge long before he came to work for him.
“We’ve flipped the model upside down,” Wolf said. “Often, the companies become big and successful and are beholden to Wall Street. We’re beholden to our customers. It is 100% mission- and employee-focused. People are at the core, and the customer is at the center of everything we do.”
Historically, Blackwatch has worked with defense customers but is expanding its reach into civilian markets. As the company grows, its patented artificial intelligence process, unique cloud experience and complementary cybersecurity will be assets to customers moving through an age in which those capabilities are fundamental to fulfilling missions, Webster said.
“We’re still new and developing, but we have talented people that have done cloud, have done artificial intelligence and have done cybersecurity,” Webster said. “We’re in cutting edge fields with really talented individuals in very customer-missioned areas.”
Wolf’s background in working with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and in the Department of Commerce will come to bear even more as Blackwatch moves beyond its infancy, Trowbridge said.
As Blackwatch grows, Trowbridge said his aim is to lead from a strategic level, avoid micromanaging, and enjoy both work and non-work endeavors.
“I’ve always believed in the adage of ‘work hard, play hard,’ but you’ve got to keep those in balance,” Trowbridge said. “I’ve done that even when I was developing companies and working for big corporations. You always have to have the play part in balance.”
That includes learning new play skills to have proficiency.
“I love skiing,” Trowbridge said, “and I’m still pretty good at it. But in order to be able to do it at my age, you have to do some other things along the way. You have to make sure you exercise. You’ve got to surround yourself with a good medical team. You have to eat right and try to be outside as much as possible staying close to nature.”
Trowbridge describes his leadership style now as less forceful and less anxious than earlier in his career. Wolf said Trowbridge’s teaching style — sharing his experience to help build next-level leaders — is an asset as Blackwatch continues to grow. “We expect continued growth to help solve our customers’ most critical mission challenges before year’s end,” said Trowbridge.
“There is a strong leadership team that has done this in many other places where in the past you’ve potentially had handcuffs that would prevent you from really making an impact with your customers,” Wolf said. “Having an angel investor like Ron removes all those handcuffs. The sky is the limit as to what we can present from an opportunity perspective to helping solve those missions.”