Louisa Jaffe, Technical and Project Engineering (TAPE)
Leadership. Results. Focus. Effectiveness. These are some of the words associated with Louisa Long Jaffe, co-founder and CEO of TAPE (Technical and Project Engineering, LLC) on paper. She commands respect simply by her background and accomplishments: 28 years in the Army Reserve while concurrently managing multiple grocery locations for her father’s business; building a solid and strategic career in media relations and public affairs at the Pentagon, including supporting the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff; and recently being named the first Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year, followed by a White House honor as a “Veteran Champion of Change.”
Have a conversation with Jaffe, and it is evident that there is much more to her success than cutting-edge ideas and thorough implementation. Word choices shift. Warmth. Accessibility. Honesty. Unassuming. From the delight in her voice when talking about holding her new baby grandson, Solomon, to her humble comments about her proudest career moment at the White House recognition ceremony, Jaffe exudes personality. All of these descriptions translate to TAPE’s culture.
Always a marketer first, Jaffe enumerates her key messages. She says TAPE – known for its systems engineering expertise – is about methodologies, employees and asset-based thinking. “We are employee-focused,” she notes. “We have offices in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and I personally visit all employees and customers. I want people to know I have an open door policy for anyone. People have access to me.” She says she expects the same policy from all her vice presidents and managers.
She explains that TAPE is focused on bringing processes and procedures to the federal government, using non-traditional approaches to problem solving and results. “We look at every situation as an asset. When we can all focus on assets, not complaints, we can generate better solutions,” Jaffe explains. She provides her employees the book, “Change the Way You See Everything,” by Katherine Cramer and Hank Wosiak, using its premise to encourage them to see the assets in any situation, rather than the deficits. Even in the face of the decreasing defense budget, Jaffe says she and her customers and teammates look for the assets in such a climate, along with ways to keep their services strong. “We try to listen more than we talk. We want to understand our audiences and tailor the process to their needs,” Jaffe says.
Louisa Long Jaffe’s business prowess took root at an early age, beginning with Girl Scout cookie sales. “I sold a lot of them – and I mean a lot,” she says enthusiastically. “I worked my way through college as an Avon lady, where I learned negotiation and salesmanship,” she explains. She joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1974, and she credits her military training for many aspects of her business success. “The military is the most awesome leadership training on the planet,” she exclaims. “You are taught to lead, be proactive about solving problems, and you are expected to be responsible, accountable and helpful to others. Military personnel are mission-focused.”
That’s exactly why she makes a point of hiring veterans. Of the 200 TAPE employees, nearly 30 percent are veterans. Her support of veterans and the military community led to the Champion of Change honor. “The whole thing gave me the opportunity to give voice to veterans. My message was one of confidence in our veterans. They are wonderful employees,” she says. Employees not only have the necessary skill sets for TAPE, but they also are people who will find it exciting to grow with the company. “We look for employees who will enjoy taking responsibility and being accountable,” Jaffe says.
TAPE was founded as an extension of Jaffe’s military experience. “My husband, Bill, helped me to realize that there was a way to serve my country in business,” she says. “He gave me the reality: the government can’t possibly hire directly everyone they need. The government contractor’s challenge, then, becomes how to bring them optimum service at the lowest price.” While her husband influenced her entrepreneurial aspirations, Jaffe says her father was her biggest life influencer. “He was an entrepreneur, veteran and businessman, and he had an attitude that every problem can be solved,” she remembers. “He also taught me that you don’t have to step out of integrity to solve a problem.”
Her time as an Army reservist allowed Jaffe to try her hand at a variety of industries, including real estate, law and contracts. When she decided to start TAPE as a federal contractor 11 years ago, her contract experience in law and real estate served her well, and her military training was an asset on the management side.
Jaffe advises aspiring entrepreneurs, “If you have a passion, then go for it!” But she cautions the need for financial clarity throughout the life of a business. “Have a way to support yourself – don’t count on revenue from your business immediately.” She says she and her husband sold their house to finance the business, but there are many other ways of financing. She also recommends being mindful of costs, and how dollars are allocated. “There is no right or wrong, necessarily,” she says. “Trust yourself.” Jaffe also recommends having clear company values that are discussed and referenced often.
Expanding TAPE’s cybersecurity, cost optimization and training capabilities are among Jaffe’s professional goals. Personally, she enjoys such leisure activities as reading, swimming, writing, and attending movies and theater productions. She also has joyfully expanded that list to include spending time with her new grandson. I95