Good is the enemy of great. Several years ago, an already successful entrepreneur pondered the lessons outlined in Jim Collins’ groundbreaking book. The results speak for themselves. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, a Greenbelt, Md.-based business focused on aerospace engineering, science, information technology, and project management. Along the way, the company has seen its revenue and performance measures rise from good to — you guessed it — great. A key to the company’s success, says Ghaffarian, is recruiting top talent. “We’ve worked hard bringing in top talent,” he says. Recently, Ghaffarian shared these and other best practices that are ensuring SGT’s ascent as a rising government contractor.
ExecutiveBiz: How did SGT get its start?
Kam Ghaffarian: SGT was started in 1994 by two people: myself and Harold Stinger.
ExecutiveBiz: Over the last several years, particularly, SGT has undergone rapid growth. Tell us about that.
Kam Ghaffarian: From 1994 to 2002 we grew the company to $10 million a year; today, it’s $320 million. In 2002 our backlog was $30 million; today it’s over $1 billion. In terms of award fee scores with government customers, our performance was good; today it’s in the excellent to stellar range. In fact, we won George M. Low award — the most prestigious NASA award you can get for quality and performance. Another contributor to our growth is a strong win ratio. In 2002, it was 10 percent; today it’s close to 70 percent.
ExecutiveBiz: What explains SGT’s growth?
Kam Ghaffarian: When Harold and I started SGT, we were guided by a founding principle: to build a company where integrity and ethics were important and where we took care of our customers and our people. We also created an environment where people came to work with the idea of fun and joy — an environment they felt good about working in.
ExecutiveBiz: What concrete steps did you take to create that environment?
Kam Ghaffarian: In 2005 we fine-tuned our strategy; we began using the book, Good to Great. We set out to ensure that SGT totally aligned with the principals in that book. At that point, we really encapsulated our core values into three letters: ICE. That stands for Integrity (keep integrity and ethics at the center of everything you do), Customers (take care of your customer needs), and Employee (keep your employees front and center with every decision you make). Those are our values. Every decision we make is made through that prism.
ExecutiveBiz: What’s your biggest challenge in business today?
Kam Ghaffarian: Over the last several years — since we’ve had this phenomenal growth — our central challenge has been to create an infrastructure that keeps up with the growth. Last year we worked really, really hard focusing on that area. Our efforts included adding some experienced people who have “been there, done that. They have taken organizations from where we are today to where we want to be. They understand the challenges and requirements and are able to jump in and make things happen. We also added processes and embraced technology that makes us more efficient and flexible to respond to employee and customer needs.
ExecutiveBiz: What will SGT look like in three years?
Kam Ghaffarian: We will be about $500 million in revenue, with penetration into new markets. Most of our business today is with NASA. Recently we created two new business. One is the civil business unit; it is focused on all agencies outside of NASA. The other unit is the National Security Program (NSP), which is more of a DOD-type marketplace.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you describe your management style?
Kam Ghaffarian: Collaborative and participative. I work closely with my group. Before I make a decision, I bounce ideas off them. We do a lot of brainstorming. As a result, I find myself making much better decisions.
ExecutiveBiz: Any plans to acquire companies?
Kam Ghaffarian: Yes. This is a major element of our strategic plan. We are looking at companies that will help us strategically go where we want to go specifically in the DOD marketplace.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most passionate about?
Kam Ghaffarian: My passion is aligned with the vision of the company: to create a company where we are able to improve the state of humanity over the long term. I believe we accomplish this through space programs — which is really my passion from childhood — as well as through our attempts to create a higher consciousness for the company. If you look at companies like Enron, you realize how important it is to create a business where you doing the right things — and you are still able to be successful I want to change people’s mindset that doing right can have a positive impact on your bottom line.