Catapult Technology plans big for the midtier

Catapult Technology’s founder wants to propel his company into the midtier realm

If someone wanted to give a company a name that would suggest rapid growth, catapult would be an appropriate word choice.

That’s what Randy Slager thought when he founded Catapult Technology Ltd., a service-disabled, veteran-owned information technology company with $25,000. Over the next several years, he invested another $250,000, most of which came from his retirement savings. Catapult provides management services, including enterprise consolidation, human capital outsourcing solutions, information assurance and infrastructure management.

Now, after nearly 12 years as a small business that has competed successfully against much larger contractors, including tier-one giants, Catapult’s chairman and chief executive officer wants the company to vault into the midtier market, where it will face competition from both small companies and much larger players.

Asked why now of all times, he responds: “You never know — all the factors right now with the economy and all the uncertainty — where things are going to go before they settle down.”

“What you do is prepare so that, no matter what, you’re ready to go forward,” he said. “You position yourself such that you can succeed in that midtier and do well. And that’s really been our focus.”

A spinal injury during a routine training exercise ended Slager’s Army career at age 25. So he joined the FBI as a senior computer scientist. Among his assignments was to help automate the FBI’s 59 field divisions. “We brought computers out to the agents. It was a major transition,” he said.

Working on the FBI project with several contractors, Slager said he learned that most of them were averse to offering their own suggestions. “They would do what I asked them to do, but they didn’t tend to bring me ideas. So when I went to start my company I wanted something that was proactive, not reactive,” he said.

Upward bound

With a few years of experience gained in the IT industry after he left the FBI, he launched Catapult Technology in 1996.

Slager’s early business plan was to win contracts and solve problems as often as possible without expanding his workforce. That saves his clients money, which they could then use to hire Catapult for new projects, he said.

Slager's injury makes it difficult for him to walk, but it has not slowed his ability to chase more government contracts.

“That’s tended to work pretty well. My people are happier because they’re not doing the same thing over and over,” he said. “They’ve got something new to tackle. And that tends to keep the really good talent as well.”

Slager’s goal of reaching midtier status is partially motivated by what he sees as a decline in governmentwide acquisition contract vehicles.

Then there are the problems of the General Services Administration's Alliant contract, which has been delayed more than a year while GSA resolves contract protests. “You either had to be ‘very big to win the big’ — you had to do so many awards — or you had the small business [contract]. There really wasn’t any in-between land. We got caught in that,” Slager said.

Today Catapult will not think twice about bidding for an Alliant contract as a prime contractor in a full-and-open competition against “any of the megafirms, the giants out there, the $1 billion to $30 billion companies,” he said.

Catapult received Small Disadvantaged Business certification in 2000, and the company entered the 8(a) Business Development Program a year later. Catapult also entered the disabled veterans program in 2001.

He said Catapult’s 8(a) status has opened the door to win prime contracts from the Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and Homeland Security departments.

Catapult’s contract wins have come even as Slager has undergone numerous surgeries over the years as a result of the training accident. In 2006, he had a series of operations to help him walk better. Now, with the help of a cane, he can walk about one block before tiring, he said.

But that hasn’t stopped his drive to expand the company. By 2007, Catapult had more than 650 employees, a presence in 28 states and federal sales revenue of $77 million.

Catapult also won a $200 million General Services Administration IT global operations task order in 2007 under the 8(a) Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services GWAC. The award is designed to facilitate small-business sales of IT to the federal government.

Partially as a result of winning that task order, Slager predicts Catapult’s $104 million in federal sales in 2008 will increase to $130 million this year. He said his goal is to increase revenue about $26 million each year. Slager said he also plans to add another 150 employees, which would bring the company to about 850 full-time employees.

Expansion plans

Slager has his sights set on catapulting the Bethesda, Md., company into the midtier realm by reaching $200 million in government contracts in 2010 or 2011.

In addition, he wants Catapult to reach the $400 million level in five years by expanding further into the defense and intelligence communities taking advantage of his FBI background. “I used to play in that world,” he said.

Two recent big wins are propelling Catapult toward those goals.

The company won a GSA Infrastructure Technology Global Operations (GITGO) contract in 2007 worth $200 million over five years to help centralize GSA’s IT systems, improve reliability and create a standard enterprisewide resource management framework.

Casey Coleman, chief information officer at GSA, said GITGO was the answer to a complex infrastructure management challenge. The Catapult contract combined 39 separate awards into one consolidated contract, she said in an e-mail.

“Since its inception, the GITGO team has made solid strides to modernize, upgrade, consolidate and better secure the agency’s information technology, with very high customer satisfaction metrics,” Coleman added.

As a private company, Catapult has the advantage of being able to invest its own money to go after contracts that can help it achieve midtier status, Slager said. “Using GITGO as an example, we took first-year profits and we invested it in getting that contract,” he added. “Now we’re reaping the benefits of it and so is GSA.”

The other big win came in October 2008, when the Veterans Affairs Department gave Catapult a $91 million contract to install state-of-the-art wireless telecommunications at 236 VA facilities.

“We’re big enough and we have enough credentials that we can really do the work,” Slager said. But he added that he has no qualms about partnering with the large contractors when appropriate. Catapult is partnering with General Dynamics Corp. on that award.

“They make the effort stronger and reduce the risk because of their experience,” he said, citing General Dynamics’ previous work at VA. “They added to our knowledge base and lowered the risk for VA.”

Also, Catapult is assisting the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which Slager said is involved in law enforcement and intelligence.

“We were very strong in the civilian agencies, just because that’s where opportunity presented itself. Then we’ve moved more into DOD," he said. The company does backup and recovery work for the Pentagon and serves the Joint Forces Command.

“I see us continuing to do that type of teaming and more on the infrastructure contracts, the software development and management consulting," he said. “Not only do we do the IT, but we do the organizational transition, the people component,” he said.

“We look at when things go wrong, why did they go wrong?” he asked. “Is it a process problem or is it a people problem? If it’s process, you fix the process; if it’s people, it’s a training issue."

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