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Meet Karlu Rambhala, the man who keeps your GPS on track

Meet Karlu Rambhala, the man who keeps your GPS on track - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Q&A | You know that GPS on your dashboard? You may have Karlu Rambhala to thank for keeping it on track. As president and CEO of Avineon, a global technology company specializing in information technology, geospatial, and engineering services for government and private industry, Rambhala has overseen Avineon’s increased focus on Geographic karlu-rambhala11Information Systems (GIS) capabilities; Avineon converts hard copy maps into digital formats. Recently Rambhala “” a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2009 Award in the Greater Washington Region “” shared these and other advances at Avineon, which is expected to reach $100 million in annual revenue in the next three years.

ExecutiveBiz: Tell us the mission and background of Avineon?

Karlu Rambhala: Avineon provides total systems solutions at the best quality. We do this by utilizing the latest available technology at a reasonable, competitive cost for our customers. We specialize in IT, geospatial, engineering and program management services for a number of organizations in the government and commercial sectors. We've been certified ISO9001:2000 for almost 15 years. We are also a CMMI Maturity Level 3 company. We plan to get to Levels 4 and 5 in the next year and a half.

ExecutiveBiz: What's the driving force of Avineon?

Karlu Rambhala: Our slogan is, “Visualize IT and See IT through.“ That's what IT is; we are in the business of data visualization. Avineon's name stands for Advanced Visualization of Information EON (into the future). We have never had a contract terminated for inadequate performance. Once we get somebody as a customer they don't go anywhere else; the customers that started with me when I started the company are still my customers. That [commitment to customers] is basically the driving force.

ExecutiveBiz: What trends are you tracking in the geospatial space?

Karlu Rambhala: We are business partners with three primary software providers. Those partnerships allow us to deliver a variety of solutions to our customers. For example, we just completed development of GIS (Geographic Information Systems)-enabled software for emergency management. The system keeps track of state, local, and federal emergency [personnel] as they respond to an event such as a natural disaster. GIS capabilities are really taking off these days due to wireless technology. You can even pass a store and get information on inventory through your cell phone. Previously, if you wanted to go somewhere you had to run to AAA for information or consult a paper map that was likely a few years old. Now you just go to services like Google Maps or MapQuest or use GPS devices, which contain the most recent map data. All of that is GIS-based; somebody has put the whole map in each system, it just doesn't show up.  That's the kind of information we develop “” we convert hard copy maps into digital formats and enable companies to more easily update GIS coordinates, ensuring that users of their systems have access to the most accurate data.

ExecutiveBiz: Avineon has managed to be profitable and have no debt.  What's your secret?

Karlu Rambhala: First, I really don't believe in luck. I feel the harder you work, the luckier you get. Second, you need a plan, and you need to follow it. You have to make sure that your business grows at least at or above the industry average. So, if your industry is growing at a 50 percent rate “” and you're only growing at 5 percent “” something's wrong. Business has to be profitable. At the same time, if you believe only in growing the revenue and the top line “” and you don't worry about the bottom line “” there is something wrong. Unless you focus on the bottom line as well, you won't be able to sustain the growth. Those are the two most important rules I live by.

ExecutiveBiz: Before you struck out on your own, what mistakes on the part of employers were you determined not to repeat yourself?

Karlu Rambhala: Prior to founding Avineon, I watched employers refuse to acknowledge industry change and adapt to meet evolving client needs, in particular, failing to diversify the customer base and relying too heavily on a single client. Seventeen years after starting my own company, I continue to emphasize serving a diversified client base, which has helped us achieve consistent, sustained growth.

ExecutiveBiz: What will the company look like in three years?

Karlu Rambhala: We expect to reach $100 million in annual revenue in the next three years. Even though the economy is not doing all that great “” not doing well at all ““ we are continuing to grow. Over the last seven years we have been growing at an average annual rate of around 30  percent, and we expect to achieve similar numbers this year as well.

ExecutiveBiz: What is your biggest challenge in business today?

Karlu Rambhala: Finding the right people. Even in this economy, it's difficult to find very senior level people with the proper security clearances for our government projects. So, when we do find the right people, we don't let them go. Avineon's senior management has been with me more than 10 years, 15 years in some cases. We are also a performance-based company; we reward people based on performance. We also educate people; we have several mid-level and senior management employees taking MBA and graduate courses at the company's expense. Ultimately, when you treat others the way you like to be treated, issues such as staffing automatically work themselves out.

ExecutiveBiz: What's something most people don't know about you personally?

Karlu Rambhala: Very few people know that I was in the Merchant Marines. I sailed for five years before I went back to school and got my Master's degree in engineering from the University of Michigan. It [the Merchant Marines] taught me a lot about working together in a close-knit team and that, no matter what it takes, you have to get the job done. If an engine or key piece of equipment fails in the middle of the ocean, no repair service is going to show up to solve your problem.

Interview conducted by JD Kathuria.

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