It is not every day that a company is able to survive past its initial support from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program. Oftentimes companies that thrive while under 8(a) have trouble growing in an open marketplace upon graduation. However, NCI, Inc. continues to be an SBA development program success story in the defense, intelligence and civilian federal industries.
Brian Clark, President of NCI, Inc., spoke with WashingtonExec about the company’s 25th anniversary, how the organization has established itself as a mid-tier provider, as well as his team’s plan of action to grow to $500 million by 2017.
WashingtonExec: NCI, Inc. is celebrating its 25th anniversary. How is the company doing today and what’s the secret to graduating the 8(a) program and continuing to grow as a mid-tier organization?
Brian Clark: I’m pleased to say we’re doing well. Twenty-five years is quite a milestone for us and being a successful graduate of the 8(a) program in the late ‘90s is an important part of our history. NCI’s founder, Charles Narang, steered the company into and through the 8(a) process. He is rightfully proud of that accomplishment. I’ve had people come up to me out on the road and at conferences and ask me how he did it. What was his secret? So many 8(a) companies just don’t make it past six years in business.
I think what Charles did was try to bring in the right people at the right times to meet the evolving needs of the company. He often says, “I know what I know, and there is a lot that I don’t know, but there are a lot of smart people out there who can help me be successful and get to where I want to be.” He found the right people and brought them in at the right time and that has proven to be a key component of his success.
Second, Charles founded the company with the goal in mind of always putting the customer’s needs and interests first. He has always stayed true to that—in fact, achieving “total customer satisfaction” is a quality objective printed on each employee’s badge when they join the company. In the long term, he knew it would be in the best interest of the business. Along those lines, NCI also invested in several initiatives that get bigger, better and stronger for us every year, such as our quality management programs and certifications, including all of the ISO certifications and CMMI Level 3 for software development.
There is a theme of continuous improvement and investing to ensure our company is a step ahead. Instead of being a small 8(a) guy, Charles sought out a management team that knew how to win full and open business. Instead of just languishing along, he invested in being better and having infrastructure and disciplines that have provided a solid foundation for the company to succeed. Those are the kinds of things that I think have paid big dividends for us over time.
WashingtonExec: How would you describe NCI’s core competencies today? With the current contracting climate in the federal marketplace, are you all looking into adjacent markets?
Brian Clark: If I describe in a nutshell who we are today, I’d say we’ve remained true to being a “pure-play” in the federal IT and professional services space. We go anywhere from engineering and logistics work up to much higher-end complex cybersecurity and big data, and agile application development. At the center of what we do is really focusing on meeting our customer’s mission, being who they turn to with their issues and being their contractor of choice.
In 2003, we had one IDIQ vehicle, and today we have 17 major vehicles. That allows us to have a good flow of things to bid on. It also gives our customers options for getting to us in an efficient manner.
We have customers across the DOD, the intelligence community and the civilian agencies. As our tagline implies, we’ve built the company on a foundation of trust, integrity and performance—that’s building partnerships with our employees and our customers, having integrity in all of our dealings and providing consistent performance to our customers.
WashingtonExec: You are an EAGLE II contractor, could you talk about your process in winning that award? How is the work going?
Brian Clark: We were proud to be one of the 15 original awardees under EAGLE II before, and now following protest resolutions, we are pleased to be one of 62 in the large category and 102 contractors total. Prior to being awarded the contract, we started making strides at DHS, such as bringing on key business development hires, and working with consultants who knew the space and how to best align our efforts. As a result of that preparation and conversations between our team and DHS components, we started to build pipeline opportunities, some of which were even outside of EAGLE II and we expect to bid on DHS work through and outside of EAGLE II this year.
If I could plan out the perfect scenario today, it would be $500 million by the end of 2017 with a more diversified customer base. Half of the business would be DOD and Intel, and we’ve just got to continue this base and have some growth along the way to do that.
WashingtonExec: What will NCI look like in the next three years?
Brian Clark: If I could plan out the perfect scenario today, it would be $500 million by the end of 2017 with a more diversified customer base. Half of the business would be DOD and Intel, and we’ve just got to continue this base and have some growth along the way to do that. Our health business is 22 percent today, and that would basically continue to hold its share, and it would still represent about a quarter of the business, as we would continue to grow toward our next goal of $500 million.
One big piece is DHS. We will have to look at being able to serve other customers in the federal civilian market, and that’s one of the key things that we are looking at for acquisitions. To get to $500 million by then, I expect that we would have at least a couple of deals in the mix. As far as acquisitions—we are looking for organizations that would be highly strategic in terms of new customers and technical capabilities.
WashingtonExec: Jumping ahead, where will we see NCI, Inc. in the next 25 years?
Brian Clark: As we move forward, our top-level strategy is focused on being a leading IT and professional services contractor. I would say we are there on one hand, and on the other, we’re asking ourselves, “How big do we want to get?” and “What can we reasonably do to get there?”
We want to be a $1 billion company. Our next waypoint would be to get to $500 million. We are going to get there by maintaining our focus in the federal government space. You are not going to see us branch off into state and local, and you will rarely see us in the international or commercial space. We will continue the investments we have made in fostering organic growth. We will supplement this with strategic acquisitions that will bring new customers, new contract vehicles, new capabilities, and in some cases, key locations.
Scale is meaningful. In a downsizing environment with LPTA, organic and acquisition growth helps us to be able to bid larger programs, while more efficiently absorbing indirect costs and increasing margins and cash flow over time.
Of course, we would like to bring our experience and capabilities to bear. Maintaining our existing accounts and not losing recompetes, but being able to maintain our base set—that’s a key tenet in there. We will continue investing in the contract vehicles that allow access to new customers and allow them to more easily get to us when needed.
For the next 25 years, we plan to build on the formula that got us here in the first place. First and foremost, being a valued partner to our customers is our top priority. We’ll continue to invest in our employees and maintain an infrastructure that provides a platform for future growth.