The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Chief Officer Awards were announced March 17, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person May 10.
Next is CEO finalist in the Private Company: Annual Revenue >$500M & <$1B category Rene LaVigne, CEO of Iron Bow Technologies. Here, he talks key achievements, proud career moments, career advice and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2022/2023?
It’s been a fantastic 15 months as CEO with record new contract bookings approximating $1.5B, eclipsing the 1,000 employee milestone including the addition of some of the industry’s most sought after talent, bidding and winning one of the top contracts in our history approximating $750 million, and consummating an acquisition of a cyber managed security business.
As a result of these many accomplishments, I was recognized as an Entrepreneur of the Year for the Mid-Atlantic Region and National Finalist through the EY Global entrepreneur of the year initiative, I received the Maryland Tech Council’s inaugural ICON award, as well as the Maryland Daily Record’s ICON award. It has been quite a run!
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
The biggest professional risk I took was when I left public accounting (EY) after investing a decade of my career with them to join a small technology company with approximately 25 employees as their CFO. I was on track to become a partner in one of the top global audit, tax and advisory firms but I had the itch to get into the private sector and see business from the inside rather than the rearview mirror.
Given a transition from CFO to CEO, four unique private equity transactions, building and selling multiple companies, and growing two companies to $1 billion, I would say it all worked out.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the teams I built and careers I enriched. More specifically, the management buyout from a private equity firm I accomplished of a business we incubated within another company I was leading which became Iron Bow Technologies. We took that business which had almost no investment and was nothing special 13 years ago, to be viewed as one of the preeminent businesses in the government contracting market today.
This was a 20 year journey for me, my partners and a host of other teammates and all things considered, for a myriad of reasons it was the most difficult challenge of my career.
When I look back at all that was required to start the business, evolve the business, acquire the platform, and where we are today with nearly $1 billion in revenue, $240 million in services of which 85% is annual recurring, over 1,000 teammates strong, 700 technical resources, and recognized as a top workplace for many years, it’s truly amazing!
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest career struggle came shortly after completing the management buyout referenced earlier which included a large sum of debt drawn from a bank to consummate the transaction. Fifty-four days after the MBO without any warning or notification we were placed on the federal government Excluded Parties List System which precludes a company from being awarded any new federal government business. This action was unfair, unreasonable and inappropriate but nevertheless it happened.
I learned that this type of action had happened to some of the largest businesses in government contracting. It’s a mechanism used to halt work and get your undivided attention. We had to prove our innocence as opposed to the government proving our guilt.
We rallied key members of the team, hired some of the best GovCon lawyers, and worked on the issue day and night to prove to the Government that the action taken was inappropriate and that we were actually guilty by association.
Ultimately, we prevailed but it was a dark period and I was concerned obviously for our ability to continue operations and for the jobs of 200 employees and the support of their families. It cost us $500,000 in legal fees to resolve the matter over the longest month of my life.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Business is a team sport and culture is #1! A company with a great culture has a good chance of success while one with a poor culture will likely not last. Invest in people who want to invest in themselves and are motivated to grow their careers.
If you empower people through delegation of responsibility with accountability, show them that you care about them as individuals, and treat them as the most significant assets in the business, you will build a great business and lifelong relationships.
Operate with the highest level of integrity, no matter the level of success and remain humble. Lastly, you have one reputation and it’ll either be good or bad depending on your actions, once it is bad, it will never be good again.