Hall of Fame: Earle Williams
- By Nora Macaluso
- Nov 02, 2005
When Earle Williams in 1970 moved his young company to Washington from El Paso, Texas, he took on the job as president of the fledgling Professional Services Council.
"Our annual budget was $27,000, and we were $27,000 in debt," he said. "Technically, we were bankrupt."
In the business atmosphere that pervaded Washington at the time, the goal for government contractors was to avoid attracting attention to themselves, he said.
"Some were fearful that if you got too high a profile, customers wouldn't like it," he said.
Williams was instrumental in changing that view. Hailed as one of the founding fathers of the government IT industry, he was inducted Oct. 19 into the Greater Washington Government Contractors Hall of Fame. The professional association he lead now represents more than 185 government contractors, and his business, BDM International Inc., has grown into a multinational corporation.
Williams became chief executive of BDM in 1972, and held the job until his retirement 20 years later. During that time, the company saw 16 straight years of 29 percent or better annual growth.
"We really were the best in the business," Williams said. "We had to compete for most everything we did. We got lots of renewals, and our customer base expanded because of the reputation we had built."
As the company grew, Williams said he made sure it also was helping Northern Virginia, through promoting the region in national advertising campaigns and sponsoring charity events at home.
"A company that makes its living somewhere owes something back to that community," Williams said. "I can't show you on an accounting sheet how what you're doing as a community ultimately goes back to the bottom line, but it does. It paid off in the long run."
Williams took BDM public in 1981, sold it to Ford Aerospace in 1988, and along with other managers and the Carlyle Group, bought it back two years later when Ford Aerospace was sold to Loral Corp. He remained on the BDM board until TRW Inc. bought the company in 1997.
Williams, who graduated from Auburn University with an engineering degree, learned the ins and outs of government systems in the Army. Called to active duty in the Korean War, he was sent to Albuquerque, N.M., to study nuclear weapons technology
Following stints with Standard Oil of Indiana, and Sandia Corp., in 1962 he became the 17th employee of the El Paso company that ultimately would become BDM.
By 1970, it was clear that Washington was where the money was, Williams said. "Customers didn't believe we could support them from El Paso. So we moved," he said.
In interviews, he would tell potential hires that the one guarantee he could give them was that they would never be bored. "No one ever came in later and challenged me on that," he said.
BDM's work included research on the effects of nuclear weapons on communications, testing aircraft and missile systems, and developing computer programs to help the military reduce collateral damage ? on-the-ground casualties ? by more precisely honing in on targets. The company was involved in every major system used in the Gulf War, Williams said.
"I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been a part of all this," he said. "I'm really proud of what we accomplished."
Today, Williams serves on the boards of software startup Jnet Direct Inc. and Auburn University, and is chairman of the capital campaign for Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va.
Meanwhile, he said, "I'm trying to create a little spare time."