Rene LaVigne is president and CEO at Iron Bow Technologies.
The 25-year IT and financial industries veteran was president of Northrop Grumman‘s computing systems business and a VP at Federal Data Corporation before that company was acquired by Northrop.
LaVigne spoke with ExecutiveBiz about Iron Bow’s separation from Apptis, what he learned about business by working at Northrop and what he has accomplished in his time at Iron Bow.
ExecutiveBiz: I understand you commute from Annapolis, Md. to Chantilly, Va. several times per week. How do you convert travel time into productive work time?
Rene LaVigne: First and foremost when I’m traveling to Chantilly, I get a very early start to reduce the time on the road. And usually have late evening departures. That, coupled with lots of cell usage usually keeps me fairly productive…no texting of course.
ExecutiveBiz: How is your company aligning to address off-the-shelf technologies and Bring Your Own Device?
LaVigne: Iron Bow has been a leader in data center design, consolidation and virtualization for many years. There is no doubt that our customers are facing challenges that come with the consumerization of IT and that challenge is not going to go away. In fact, we see that it’s growing daily with our customers. Furthermore, we see this in our own environment where most of our employees want to bring their own devices to work and link and connect right to the network.
So whether it’s the iPhone or Android devices, or the various tablets that are on the market, there’s a growing concern over management and security of confidential information and obviously the security of the device itself.
We have both mobility and information security practices. And the two groups are working together to bring solutions to customers. They encompass a comprehensive strategy that allows for the end user to have the benefit of mobility and the flexibility of being outside of the immediate work environment and at the same time, protect critical assets and information that government and enterprise clients hold in high regard.
ExecutiveBiz: What was the hardest part of the split with Apptis, and where do you and your company go from here?
LaVigne: Well the most challenging element was decoupling Iron Bow from a joint treasury approach with Apptis Holdings Corp. and implementing independent financing exclusively for Iron Bow.
That had never been done before in the history of the business but we accomplished it. And believe me, it was no easy feat. Going forward, we continue to look at the federal market and understand we’re going through a transition of sorts with budgetary pressures, technology consumption and economics changing.
Nevertheless, we believe that we are properly focused in the right areas. Areas such as security, collaboration, virtualization and mobility are critical elements in this transition forward and critical for our clients in their ability to further their business missions.
ExecutiveBiz: As your company continues to grow, what do you see as its biggest growth driver?
LaVigne: Our business is heavily driven by the performance of individual resources as they fit within our team environment. So making appropriate hiring decisions will continue to be extremely important as our company continues to grow.
Further, our ability to make timely moves regarding technology preferences and future IT consumption economics will remain a priority. Finally, the timeliness of executing on buying or building certain markets will be very meaningful to our future success.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you see sequestration changing your company’s outlook?
LaVigne: The budget pressures that our clients are experiencing have certainly impacted the market this year. And everybody that you talk to, be it a manufacturer of technology, a systems integrator, solutions provider, and even government employees and clients have been frustrated with the project and procurement delays that have occurred.
I think the budget challenges and the constraints that we’re looking at currently is really the new normal. And so, you have to get your team in the mindset that you have got to deal with this on a holistic basis.
For us to be successful downstream, I think you have to understand early on and help shape client direction for their requirements and technology needs even more so than before. And really apply a laser-like focus on your targeted markets along with complementary portfolio diversification in order to be successful.
ExecutiveBiz: Are there any specific contracts Iron Bow is trying to win?
LaVigne: Well, wrapped around your questions are some of the frustrations revealed in new awards. For example, the NETCENTS contract, which we’ve been awaiting for a couple of years was finally awarded this year and we were an awardee; however it was protested.
The Air Force is diligently responding to that effort. We’re just anxiously awaiting the re-award if you will, so that we can get on with the business of helping the Air Force.
But that’s an example of a challenge that the market’s dealing with in 2012 that has really constrained both the client as well as its service providers.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you highlight any of the successes you’ve had since taking over as CEO?
LaVigne: I’ve been the CEO since January of 2010. It was my leadership that led to the decoupling of the two entities, Iron Bow and Apptis, thereby paving the way for Apptis to be acquired by URS in June of 2011.
That secured the opportunity for me and my partners to execute the management buyout of Iron Bow in September of 2011. So those are some fairly substantial successes in the history of Iron Bow.
Putting the financing package in place in September 2011 not only to get the transaction done, but to provide the necessary working capital and operational financing for Iron Bow was the first of its kind.
Additionally, we finished 2011 with 11% growth over 2010 and 2010 results were 33% better than 2009. And while we’re right in the heat of the busy season right now, we’re hoping for, incremental gains in 2012. Overall I’d say these were the more notable operational accomplishments.
Additionally, Iron Bow received several honors in the spring of 2012.
First and foremost, in April we were recognized as Cisco Systems Federal Partner of the Year for 2011, a first in the history of Iron Bow
We were also recognized in CRN’s 2012 Tech Elite 250, Solution Provider 500 and the 2012 Fast Growth List.
And recently we were noted as #34 on Washington Technology’s Top 100 List. And the unique thing about us at #34 is that we were the top technology solutions company on the list, exclusive of manufacturers and notable systems integrators. So for companies that are in our space, we were #1 at #34.
ExecutiveBiz: What did you take away from your time at Northrop Grumman that really taught you the ropes in government contracting and prepared you for your current position?
LaVigne: Just to provide a bridge, prior to getting into the government contracting business, I spent ten years with Ernst and Young in public accounting where I was an auditor and provided business advisory services for companies, executing IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, etc.
When I left public accounting, I joined a small technology solutions company as the CFO. Within a year I transitioned to being the General Manager.
Three years later we sold that business to Federal Data Corporation and the Carlyle Group. I went on to lead the integration and run that business. Three years from that timeframe we sold the company to Northrop Grumman and I did something similar in integrating and managing the business. Essentially, we had an organic business that we grew from $20 million in 1993 to a billion dollars in 2003. My three years with Northrop Grumman was noteworthy being a part of a very large and powerful systems integrator, as prior to that my experience had been mostly entrepreneurial.
In an entrepreneurial setting you get used to having to do pretty much everything. And you do everything. At Northrop we were blessed with having a lot of extended resources around us, be it government affairs folks and resources in other aspects of the business that were certainly available to assist.
So I think the biggest lessons learned from Northrop were understanding large company philosophies operational dynamics, big business structure and the application of leverage. The benefit of leveraging the extended resources and extended family that we had around us at Northrop was helpful to me and the good of the business.