Large Contractor Executive of the Year (co-winner): Ernst Volgenau

Ernst Volgenau

Zaid Hamid

Young entrepreneurs often ask Ernst Volgenau what type of company he set out to build when he founded SRA International Inc. on a shoestring budget more than 25 years ago, and if he's surprised by the outcome.

Volgenau's answers are unequivocal. "I always wanted to create a large computer-systems services company that I eventually could take public," he said.

Today, his venture is rapidly approaching
$1 billion in annual revenue.

"And no, I wasn't surprised," he said, "because I thought I knew something about the market, and I knew good people who could help me."

Volgenau's tone is matter of fact, not boastful, because he attributes SRA's success to the skills and hard work of its executives and employees.

"Anyone who has tried to build a company knows it's far more than the leader that makes it successful," said the SRA chairman on being one of two winners named Large Contractor Executive of the Year at the Greater Washington Government Contractors Awards.

J.P. "Jack" London, chairman and chief executive of CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va., is the other recipient of the award, given to the top executives of companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue.

Volgenau founded SRA in 1978, bankrolling the venture by taking out loans against his home and other properties.

"My office was a small room in the basement under the stairs of our Reston home," he said.
The Fairfax, Va., company has grown steadily, averaging organic growth of 15 percent annually since its start. It is recognized as a leading provider of IT services to federal agencies. Since its initial public offering in May 2002, the company has reported annual revenue growth of 25 percent in 2003, 37 percent in 2004 and 43 percent in 2005.

SRA has 4,600 employees and reported revenue of $882 million and net income of $57.7 million for its 2005 fiscal year, which ended June 30. It's the company's 27th consecutive year of growth and profitability. But Volgenau said he stresses more than financial performance and has tried to create a corporate culture that rewards honesty and emphasizes service. For six consecutive years, SRA has been named to Fortune magazine's list of "100 Best Companies to Work For."

"People are motivated by an ideal," Volgenau said. "They want to have meaning in their lives, and they want to be part of an organization that's special." It's a philosophy that he attributed to his 20 years of service in the Air Force.

SRA's primary goal isn't to build shareholder value, but to serve society, Volgenau said. "If we do that, the shareholders will be rewarded," he said.

Volgenau in January stepped down as SRA's CEO, relinquishing the title to President Renato DiPentima, but he remains chairman. He needed the change, he said, to have more time with his family, writing and philanthropic work.

"Giving up the CEO position was not a traumatic event for me. I have plenty of things to do," he said.

One of those things, he said, is continuing to exercise oversight as SRA's chairman. But, he added, "if you have good people, you feel good about delegating."

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