Adams Communication & Engineering Technology
It’s not every day that a veteran-owned, small, disadvantaged business finds itself in the enviable position of managing an industry giant like L-3 Communications on large Department of Defense Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts. But that‚Äôs exactly the situation for Adams Communication & Engineering Technology (ACET), a rapidly growing national security company whose Aberdeen-based Defense Solutions Division provides affordable technology, operations and maintenance solutions for the DoD.
After serving in a subcontracting role for nearly a decade, owner Charles Adams made the strategic decision to invest heavily in staff and infrastructure in order to compete as a prime contractor on very large government contract vehicles. That investment has paid off, leading to three multi-billion dollar IDIQ contract wins in the last two years, as well as a half billion dollars in task order award wins in 2012 alone, and the company shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Prime Conditions for Growth
Adams, a former Army intelligence specialist and University of Maryland graduate, spent 12 years working in software and systems engineering for companies including TRW, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and CTX (now a division of ManTech) prior to launching ACET in 1999. The original office, located in Waldorf, has since been expanded but still serves as headquarters for the 300-person company. In 2006, ACET opened an office in Reston, Va., to support the firm’s work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
After winning the Army’s R23G IDIQ in 2010, the company quickly moved to staff and open an Aberdeen office that would serve as headquarters for all of its defense work. Shortly after, the GATE at Aberdeen Proving Grounds opened and ACET relocated to 26,000 square feet of space located in the only commercial development on the military base.
Today, ACET provides operators and maintainers for complex systems as well as logistics and overall C4ISR support. Examples of current defense contract work include aircraft integration, operations, maintenance and intel aspects for a large airborne system; fabrication and installation of electronics systems and cabling; and R&D associated with improving efficiencies of Army HVAC systems.
According to ACET Vice President of Defense Solutions Michael Seldes, the latter is a particularly unique but important niche. He explains, “HVAC systems typically require a lot of energy, which in a deployment requires generators that use a lot of fuel, so if you have a significant efficiency improvement you can save the government a lot of money.”
A Simple Approach to Complex Solutions
It was when ACET opened its Aberdeen office that Adams hired Seldes, a Florida native who has resided in Maryland since 1981, and charged him with overseeing business development for defense work. For a company that works in very complex segments, the firm’s approach to marketing is surprisingly straightforward. Seldes says, “The key thing is to understand the customer, to be responsive to the customer and to provide them a cost-effective and technically solid solution. We do that by providing excellent personnel and a solution that is responsive to their requirements, rather than trying to sell them something we offer that doesn’t quite fit.”
Seldes is also quick to point out that because they work with so many partners, it’s always a team effort.
“When you’re small you can only do so much marketing on your own, but when you work together you can leverage a lot more business development efforts.” Seldes says it’s critical for ACET to be ahead of the RFPs coming out, to understand the customer’s requirements and to assemble the right team to respond. “Talking to the customers is critical in winning work and finding the right teammate with the right solution.”
The Right People
Seldes also acknowledges that staffing plays a huge role in the company’s success, and says the biggest key to successful recruiting is patience. “We have an excellent recruiting staff. They are all fantastic, they know what they’re doing and they’re very efficient and responsive.” He cites an example of when, for one of their larger contracts, they received a call on a Friday night requesting that two operators and maintainers be on-site in Yuma, Ariz., by Monday, and the recruiters were able to have them there Sunday afternoon ready to start work the next day.
According to Seldes, more than 90 percent of the company’s staffing is handled in house, by a large team in Waldorf as well as local personnel in Aberdeen and Reston. Seldes attributes ACET’s success in hiring to recruiters understanding the company’s culture and judging from interviews whether candidates will be a good fit.
Hitting It Out of the Park
While Seldes says ACET faces the same challenges as everyone dependent on DoD funding – contractors and government workers alike – he explains that knowing which programs are going to get funded and being able to wait out uncertainties are important.
In addition to their Army work, ACET does work for the Navy and is looking to expand that support in other areas such as Patuxent River, Md., Huntsville, Ala., and Fort Gordon, Ga. They are also currently in the process of opening a small office in Los Angeles to support the VA. “We’re looking for where we think the future is, but we know that Aberdeen is definitely going to serve as a large base for Army programs, which is why we have invested in the offices and personnel we have here,” says Seldes.
In terms of advice for businesses looking to break into working with the government, Seldes once again cites the value of patience. “I tell my stepson all the time that patience is a virtue. You have to take the time to understand the customer and be persistent in working to convince them that you are the one. Once you demonstrate with a small effort … that can grow. To use a baseball analogy, you can’t expect to hit a home run at the beginning; you have to start by getting singles.” I95