Bob Smith is putting his 40 years in GovCon to work as a newly branded consultant in an industry he spent nearly a lifetime learning. His career began in 1980 as an Air Force contracting officer who happened into that position by a happy twist of fortune.
He went on to hold positions in a number of private sector companies, managing the infrastructure and built sale value, including most recently as chief administrative officer of IntelliBridge, a position he left in December 2020 to focus on his consultancy. He now assists firms through a full range of corporate infrastructure efficiencies, complex mergers and acquisitions, and integration-related consulting advice to help clients advance their own businesses through organic growth and/or acquisition.
Better to be Lucky than Good
In 1980, after two years of college, Smith enlisted in the Air Force. On the strength of a high score on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery test, he elected to have the Air Force choose his specialty based on its needs. He considers himself lucky to have been slotted as a contract specialist and, ultimately, a warranted contracting officer, paving the way for a long GovCon career.
“To give you an idea of technology in 1980, one of the criteria for the contracting specialty code was ‘having use of all 10 fingers’ so as to be able to dial a rotary phone,” Smith said. “This was certainly fortunate for me as I learned a marketable skill during the era of Reaganomics that allowed a then 20-year-old to learn government contracting in an era of high government spending.”
During the next 7 years, Smith managed Air Force service and supply contracts at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi and later construction and architect engineer contracts at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1987 as a staff sergeant.
“I share the perspective of many who started their careers in the military — it gives you the necessary discipline to be successful later in life and, if you’re lucky, provides you a technical skill that can springboard a private sector career,” Smith said.
Combining Government and Industry Experience – Start Big, then Go Small
After the Air Force, Smith went to work at Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services, Inc. as superintendent of procurement for a government-owned, contractor-operated facility at Vance Air Force base in Enid, Oklahoma, focused on T-37 and T-38 trainer aircraft.
After two years with Northrop, Smith returned to Washington, D.C., as a contract manager for AT&T Federal Systems, where he managed national-level programs with the Defense Information Systems Agency, from 1989 to 1994. Smith values his time at Northrop and AT&T for the experience he gained learning the inner workings of larger companies — values he would soon transfer to helping build and mature smaller ones.
In 1994, amid the Clinton-era focus on small business in government contracting, Smith shifted his career focus and began a 25-year run as a CAO helping build value and cost savings for growing small business government contractors and assisted five different owners to grow and later exit their businesses in ways that met their goals.
Experience in M&A through Relationships
Between 1994 and 2019, Smith was a key member of multiple management teams that grew and sold preeminent, emerging, high-growth, small business government contracting companies.
Smith joined I-NET, Inc. in 1994, and in 1996, assisted owner Ken Bajaj as vice president of administration in the sale of I-NET, Inc. to Wang Laboratories.
“Ken showed me how to successfully delegate to others to grow an organization’s size and scale while keeping indirect expenses low,” Smith said.
Smith joined SIGNAL Corp. in 1996, and in 2002, assisted owner Roger Mody as CAO in the sale of SIGNAL to Veridian (now GDIT). He said Mody helped him understand the value of “building a high-energy team who worked hard while playing hard, thereby building mutual trust and creating a force multiplier in the executive suite.”
This team also included executives Cass Panciocco, Scott Goss and Barry Kane, who all went on to be key players in government contracting M&A with industry-leading firms. Smith would collaborate with each of them in subsequent growth and sale activities of other GovCon firms.
Smith joined RSIS Information Systems in 2004, and in 2008, was involved as CAO in the sale of RSIS to Wyle Labs (now KBR). While at RSIS, Smith worked for co-owner Ron Trowbridge, a consummate GovCon marketeer who now owns BlackWatch International, and with Panciocco, who was COO, and with Goss who worked as a financial consultant.
Smith also met Ron’s daughter, Karen Trowbridge, who was a participant in a rotational training program for high-potential employees Smith managed.
In 2010 after completing the integration of RSIS into Wyle, Smith reunited with Kane, who was president of Catapult Technology and recruited Smith as CAO to assist in the continued growth and the ultimate sale of Catapult to DC Capital, which closed in 2012.
Smith joined Trowbridge in 2014 as CAO, and in 2019, he assisted owner Karen Trowbridge, whom he had mentored at RSIS years earlier in the sale of Trowbridge to Enlightenment Capital.
“From the time I met Karen in 2006, she always said that when she started her own company that she wanted me to come work for her,” Smith said. “Frankly, I didn’t put a lot of stock in it at the time, but 8 years later in 2014, sure enough it came true. Working for Karen was a poetic career milestone and brought me full circle from working for her father to working for her and assisting both of them in meeting their growth and exit goals.”
Panciocco and Goss were also part of the Trowbridge team, Panciocco as chief operating officer and Goss as a financial consultant.
The Importance of a Good character and the Golden Rule
Smith believes long-term success requires more than strong technical and managerial skills.
Staff-level employees are conditioned to say “no” to customers and teammates, he said, and “Invariably, execs must be able to escalate to their C-suite peers to get to ‘yes.’ This can only be done when one accommodates others when they need help.”
“This quid pro quo always serves individuals and companies well,” he continued. “No matter how experienced you are, you never know it all. Your staff all have unique knowledge, experience and talents that when utilized and fostered are a force multiplier resulting in profitable, fun and rewarding environments that also promote retention of high performers.”
And the best long-term deals?
“Those happen when both parties get something they want,” he said. “This fosters an environment more likely to favor long-term customer engagements and a sense of customer loyalty among the employee base. Executives who live [by]this principle seem to have long-term success in working with and for others based on their reputational capital.”
Smith lives in Maryland and has three children in their 30s. He credits wife Merle with being the life partner who supported his career success while they raised a family. When they are not in the D.C. area, they enjoy time at their “safe haven” home in Newport, Rhode Island.
In addition to support from his wife, Smith credits his mother, now hale and hearty in her 90s, for giving him a foundation that helped him be successful. She continues to influence him today.
“I’m the youngest of six boys,” he said. “My father died when I was 16, and my mother had to raise six boys on her own. She’s always been the matriarch of the family.”
From her, he learned patience, authenticity and the importance of treating everyone the way he wanted to be treated.
“You should be nice to everybody from the CEO down to the janitor,” he said.