After serving in the Air Force, Duane Piper went on to work for Science Applications International Corp. and General Dynamics IT. He later helped grow a small business that was eventually acquired before finding GovCon firm PiperCoughlin in 2015.
Years later in 2019, Piper met fellow industry executive Sunny Singh. Shortly thereafter, Piper would join Artlin Consulting, a firm Singh had purchased at the end of 2018, focused on supporting Defense Department acquisition and data management.
Now, Piper has begun a new phase.
In early 2021, Artlin entered into a strategic relationship with private equity firm Enlightenment Capital. Later in the year, the firm acquired Sehlke Consulting and rebranded as Aeyon, which has since purchased Manufacturing Technical Solutions and Marick Group. And today, Piper serves as chief administrative officer at Aeyon.
In short: Big things are happening.
The move to merge with Sehlke and then acquire MTS and Marick began filling out a picture of building a diverse consulting business and expanding the customer portfolio from just the Defense Department and its military services, into NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“In just under 365 days, we went from having 72 employees in the legacy Artlin business to having over 650 employees as today’s Aeyon,” Piper said.
To scale that big and that fast, the company’s leadership team worked closely with its investment partners to support the company’s merger and integration activities.
“We reached out to the folks at Enlightenment Capital early and said, ‘You guys have been down this path, tell us what we don’t know,'” Piper said. “They very quickly started supporting us to meet the challenges of an integration, connecting us with other senior-level folks who had done this kind of thing before.”
During the transition of the Artlin-Sehlke merger, close attention was paid to messaging around the merger and its expected value, and reassuring employees of both entities the change would benefit everyone.
“We needed them to know that we were merging for complimentary reasons, and it would take all of us working together to keep it moving,” Piper said. “We are utilizing this same messaging for the most recent acquisitions.”
To make the messaging real, the executive team also made some physical changes, literally tearing down walls within the company’s Tysons Corner headquarters in Virginia to create a larger contiguous space to pull more employees into the headquarters.
“It showed that it’s not ‘you and us’ — that we are truly one family,” Piper said.
The leadership team also worked to create touch points.
“We went out amongst the crowd and started introducing ourselves and socializing our vision,” Piper said. “Then we began taking the best of breed of both of these organizations to create this operating platform that we now have. And we’ve lost very few people along the way.”
In creating Aeyon, Piper’s own title evolved: He went from COO at Artlin to CAO. His role in the company has evolved as well.
At Artlin, “With exception of actual delivery of our services contracts, I had some touch point on pretty much everything else in the company,” Piper said. Now, he’s in a more focused, strategic place. His new scope of responsibility includes overseeing contracts, human resources and performance management, legal affairs, quality, security matters and facilities.
“And because we now have grown into a large business, we established our first corporate code of conduct and ethics hotline, and appointed a corporate compliance officer, a role I also serve in,” he added.
How to juggle all those diverse responsibilities?
“We have hired and are still in the process of hiring fantastic people who have the requisite experience for our rapid growth and integration challenges,” Piper said.
And where does Aeyon go from here?
Step one: Make sure the existing customer base is kept happy and completely satisfied.
“We will vigorously defend what we have, we will fight hard not to lose any of it,” Piper said “We’ve essentially been on a road show, meeting with our new employees and speaking with our customers letting them know: We are still the best at what we have been doing for you for years, and look what else what we can now do for you.”
At the same time, the new Aeyon executive team is looking to expand the base of business — both by landing new customers, and by deepening engagements with existing clients.
“With the agencies that we’ve been selling into for all this time, we now have the ability to sell more and better, and for new customer opportunities we offer greater depth and breadth of capability and past performance” Piper said.
“For example, if we look back on our legacy Artlin business, we have been providing high-level acquisition management and data support to the DOD,” he added. “Now, we can walk in and also sell them robotic process automation and AI, financial management consulting, program planning and control, and knowledge management.”
On the question of further acquisitions, Piper said their eyes are always open. Meaning, if something were to come along that strategically made sense and further complimented what Aeyon does, Piper suspects it would give that serious consideration.
And on a personal level, Piper said he is excited to be engaged for the first time in such a fast-growth scenario.
“I have worked for very large businesses and very small businesses, but I had never come into that $25 million business and helped grow it to north of $200 million, making it a middle-market player that has to be paid attention to,” he said. “What we’ve done here has certainly checked that box for me.”
That evolution “comes with its challenges and a lot of hard work,” he added, “but I just could not be more proud of what we’ve done. I am very excited to see where we go from here.”