As chief financial officer for Oceus Networks, Alan Stewart oversaw the company’s independence from Ericsson. Now leading the financial side of a thriving new company, Stewart spoke with GovConExecutive about the challenges and excitement of being on the ground floor of a new endeavor.
GovConExecutive: What brought you to Oceus Networks?
Alan Stewart: I’ve been working about 35 years, with the first 10 years as an auditor, and the last 25 in private and public companies. I have positioned five companies to go public, and I’ve successfully taken three of them through their initial public offerings. I have been through about 45 financial quarters of public reporting experience, and I’ve managed a lot of corporate growth activity, both organically and through acquisitions. I retired from ICF International after nine years. Then, I had a wonderful summer doing an around-the-world trip with my kids. However, by September my wife was ready for me to be out of the house during the day. So, I looked around and had some fascinating interviews with Oceus Networks, and was very impressed with the management, the vision of Doug Smith, the CEO, and the market opportunity. For me, it was very exciting to see their potential, and the possibilities convinced me to join in mid-September, before they actually did the spin off from Ericsson. This past winter was a very exciting time.
GovConExecutive: The time you spent as an auditor, how different was that from the government contracting work that you are doing now?
Alan Stewart: It was an intense period. I spent three years as a CPA in a public accounting firm auditing a wide variety of contracts and industries. There was about a year and a half as an internal auditor for Martin Marietta, auditing both government contracts and commercial units. Then, there was five and a half years with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the division of corporate finance, where I audited the filings of public companies. That really prepared me for the securities industry, and I gained a great deal of IPO knowledge that I was able to leverage in future jobs.
GovConExecutive: What unique challenges have you found as the CFO in the public sector, as opposed to the time you spent in the private sector?
Alan Stewart: I think the interesting difference is that government contracting is a regulated industry, so you have the same issues that you do in private industry as well as the challenges that come with compliance with government contracts, such as, rules on cost accounting standards, FAR regulations, and dealing with D.C. auditors. It sort of adds another block of requirements, skill sets and demands on you as a company, in addition to what you would do if you were just selling into the commercial sector.
GovConExecutive: You are still relatively new to Oceus Networks, aren’t you?
Alan Stewart: Yes, I’ve been here about five and a half months.
GovConExecutive: When you first arrived at Oceus Networks, were there any particular challenges that you’ve been able to get a hold of?
Alan Stewart: I think the first challenge was actually concluding all of the negotiations with Ericsson and finalizing the spinoff. It was a very complex transaction, with a lot of unusual moving parts. It was probably one of the most complicated transactions I’ve been involved with in my M&A history. At times, there was a little uncertainty whether it was going to go forward or not, but we were able to work through all of those challenges and get to a successful transition of the company.
GovConExecutive: Tell me a little bit about the company itself. What exactly does Oceus Networks do?
Alan Stewart: In brief, Oceus Networks provides broadband solutions to governments. We are in the very unique position of having 60 trained Ericsson telecom engineers who are very deep in the telecom industry, and we have our own R&D center, so we really provide some very interesting and unique solutions to the federal government using superior products from Ericsson as well as third party vendors. We design, build and operate very complex systems with cutting-edge commercial off the shelf technology. And since Ericsson is a company that puts in over $5 billion a year into R&D, we are able to leverage that development to give the government much newer technology and better products than traditional defense contracting has provided in the past.
GovConExecutive: What, in your opinion, makes Oceus Networks unique? Why would your clients choose you over your competitors?
Alan Stewart: I think that with the expertise we have with our engineers, our exclusive relationship with Ericsson, and our success record in the federal government, we’re quite unique. As a smaller company, we can be very nimble and flexible in being able to respond to customer needs and requirements, which is very different from large organizations that may be more bureaucratic and have more difficulty being highly responsive to clients. I think with the introduction of our 4G technology and with the government moving more to COTS products, we have the ability to more quickly implement the latest proven technology solutions.
GovConExecutive: What are your goals for Oceus Networks? Where would you like to see the company in five years?
Alan Stewart: I think we could see some dramatic organic growth over the next five years. I think we also have the ability to supplement that with some strategic acquisitions, so I would like to see us as one of the larger systems integrators in five years. I would like to say that we are a company that designs, builds and operates complex broadband networks. We are very nimble in addressing the unique needs of our particular government customers, and we believe we are the only company that is able to offer such a broad suite of broadband products and services to the government marketplace at this point in time.