Kevin Robinson succeeded Modern Technology Solutions Inc. co-founder Phil Soucy as president and CEO of Alexandria, Virginia-based government services contractor in early 2014.
Started in 1993, the employee-owned MTSI with 700 workers on its current roster focuses on technical and engineering services in areas such as unmanned aircraft, missile defense, intelligence research-and-development and cybersecurity.
Robinson recently spoke to ExecutiveBiz for this in-depth conversation on his agenda for MTSI since he started as CEO two years ago, perspective on the company’s role in the growing unmanned technology arena and the roles employee-owned contractors play in GovCon.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some main areas of MTSI you have focused on?
Kevin Robinson: The company is currently on a 65-percent employee stock ownership plan and we are planning to transition to a 100-percent ESOP in early 2017. Employee ownership is an integral part of our strategy to protect MTSI core values and culture. We are structured as an enduring company that is run without any plans of selling.
Innovation research and development has been a focus recently — developing highly differentiated capabilities for our selective markets. The capabilities we are investing in include model-based systems engineering, cybersecurity, unmanned systems, modular tracking systems, secure cloud-based software applications, and virtual reality technologies. As a $150 million business, we invest about $1 million dollars a year in company internal R&D.
A final focus is business development, where we have a developed a very strong capture and proposal center capability through several years of disciplined investments in people, processes, systems, and tools.
ExecutiveBiz: What do you see ESOP companies bringing to the GovCon marketplace?
Kevin Robinson: At MTSI, we operate with a different set of foundational goals. We are not growing to sell. We are growing to take care of our people in both the short and long term. Our number one core value is “employees come first.” Hire the best employees, take care of them, and they in turn do good things for our customers and their fellow employee owners.
We bid appropriate rates and price services at the right market points and also take care of our people and protect their benefits that are so important. We use over 50 percent of our company profits to protect employee benefits via bonuses and ESOP contributions. It is not all about the bottom line at MTSI. That is the different model we bring to the market.
We are in a hiring surge and need to bring on highly cleared engineers and technical experts. I believe this company has a lot to offer those individuals.
ExecutiveBiz: Where does MTSI’s OASIS contract vehicle position factor into the company’s market strategy?
Kevin Robinson: It is an important vehicle for us. We are a small business prime in three pools, 5a, 5b, and 6. As a 700-person company, we won a position in each of the pools with the small business NAICS code we qualify for: 541712 R&D.
While the Air Force was the first big OASIS player, we are now seeing the Army, DHS and other clients coming online with OASIS. MTSI is well-positioned in these pools across the federal market and we recently made a company decision to avoid any OASIS LPTA or “LPTA-like” competitions where price is the dominant source selection criteria. Our business strategy is to win on value and differentiation and LPTA-awarded contracts are not a good fit.
ExecutiveBiz: What role do you envision companies like MTSI playing as unmanned aerial systems technology becomes more prominent?
Kevin Robinson: It is an important capability area for us; we have been in an UAS business for over twenty years. I was working classified UAS and missile defense programs with the founder of MTSI, Phil Soucy, in 1993. Today, we have deep domain expertise with 70-80 people working unmanned systems capabilities and solutions for a diverse customer base.
We have a very trusted service role with key organizations such as DHS and NASA that are looking to employ UAS for missions such as border protection, disaster recovery, and environmental intelligence. We have our own UAS currently flying experiments at FAA Test Sites and DHS monitored border regions to prove out safe airspace integration concepts/technologies and innovative mission solutions.
Another key dimension of our strategy is partnership and we work with some strong venture-backed commercial partners. One such company is PrecisionHawk, who we see as a leader in this space and collaboratively we have a synergy in capabilities we bring to market together.
Finally we are working through the regulatory certification challenges with multiple partners and the FAA. As the market opens up, MTSI is going to be a trusted consultant adviser that enables bringing high-impact UAS capabilities to the market quickly and safely.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you want to see MTSI over the next five years?
Kevin Robinson: First and foremost, staying true to our core values, protecting the culture and making sure we stay true to who we are — taking care of and developing people. This goes back to our value that “employees come first.”
The second piece is very selective and consistent growth at about 7-to-10 percent each year. Basically, we want to consistently win on differentiation and solving problems of global importance with work that fits our core purpose.
We are selectively pursuing expansion in missile defense, cyber, unmanned systems, DoD-wide M&S experimentation and rapid prototyping, and intelligence community and space software development. You will see an incremental expansion of our contract portfolio beyond government high-end services into more product and solution business lines.
The product and solution business expansion has a synergistic benefit of further differentiating our engineering services work. Between the differentiated service-solutions we provide, our unique business model, and the passion for taking care of people, our goal is to be known nationally as a best place to work and the premiere employee-owned, mid-sized business in our markets.