Industry mourns death of Agilex CEO

Current and former colleagues of the late Robert LaRose remember him as leader and mentor who helped start successful careers as government contractors.

The legacy of Robert LaRose, the chief executive officer of Agilex Technology Inc. who died this week, can be measured in several ways.

There are three successful government contracting companies LaRose founded over the last 35 years, and the financial results those companies achieved.

LaRose sold his first company, Advanced Technology Inc., for $175 million and his second, Integic Corp. for $300 million. His third company, Agilex, is just three years old and is on a faster growth track than the first two and will likely hit $100 million in annual revenue in 2011.

But LaRose, who was 65 when he died Jan. 11, may best be remembered for the people whose careers he helped launch. There are the alumni of Advanced Tech and Integic who are now leading their own companies or have led companies. People such as Bill Hoover, chief executive officer of American Systems Corp., Mac Curtis, CEO of Vangent, Paul Lombardi, former CEO of DynCorp, Jim Regan, CEO of Dynamics Research Corp., Lem Pomata, former PRC CEO and Virginia Technology Secretary. Former Rep. Tom Davis, (R-Va.), also worked for LaRose.

Another group are the executives at Agilex, several of whom worked for LaRose for more than 30 years.

In interviews with current and former employees, LaRose was described as a man who could set demanding goals, but was quick to reward success. As one interviewee said, LaRose gave people opportunities and respect and in return, he earned intense loyalty.

He also was described as a mentor and teacher, who passed on business principles that helped many have very successful careers in the government market.

“To understand Bob you really need to look at him in three ways,” said Larry Albert, who joined Advanced Tech in 1977 and has worked for LaRose since. He currently is the president of Agilex’s health care business. “There was the businessman, the leader and the person.”

As a businessman, LaRose had great focus and an ability to decide where he wanted the company to be and then methodically work back from that point to its current position to determine what kind of investments and resources were needed to reach his goal, Albert said.

As a leader, LaRose would reach down to the lowest levels of the company to reward people who contributed to its success. “He created a culture where working hard and working together just came naturally,” Albert said.

As a person, he was very humble and unassuming, a sentiment that was repeated during multiple interviews.

“He was always thinking of others,” said Carole Scott, formerly Carole Guerin. She started as LaRose’s executive assistant at Advanced Tech and is now Agilex vice president for communications and administration.

“When my father passed away, he made sure he attended the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery and he took the time to talk to my mother and took my mother to dinner to hear about the type of man my father was,” she said.

Bill Hoover, CEO of American Systems, said he started his career in contracting in 1980 when he picked a job offer from LaRose over a second, more lucrative offer from another company.

“There was a vibrancy to the organization and that was the culture Bob created,” Hoover said. “Everyone was considered a business developer and he expected everyone to be part of the company’s growth, and if you were, he rewarded you.”

Mac Curtis, now CEO of Vangent, joined Advanced Tech in 1984. “Not to sound silly, but those were the good old days. We have a real esprit de corp because it’s where so many of us got our start.”

Curtis said he didn’t have as much direct contact with LaRose as the others, but “everyone in the company felt his presence. He was sort of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

Paul Lombardi had worked in government for 17 years and was leaving the Energy Department when he joined Advanced Tech in 1981.

“Bob took a risk with me,” Lombardi said. “When you’ve been in government awhile and you leave, you think you know everything, but you don’t know anything about government contracting.”

LaRose earned a reputation for setting high, seemingly unattainable goals, Hoover said, “Like doubling your revenue in one year, but he’d reward you if you failed nobly. People would go through walls for him.”

Lombardi related the story of when he convinced LaRose that Advanced Tech should go after a $100 million contract, a huge leap up for the company at the time.

LaRose gave him all the resources he needed, but after working on the proposal for several months, Advanced Tech lost the bid.

“I was despondent,” Lombardi said. He wrote a letter of resignation and took it to LaRose’s office.

“He wouldn’t accept it,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You were willing to step up and take a risk. We need more of that.’ Then he put his arm around me and whispered, ‘Just don’t let it happen again.’ ”

Curtis said he manages Vangent around the four pillars he learned at Advanced Tech: customer service, contract management, team building and business development.

Despite the success of Advanced Tech and Integic, LaRose believed he had a chance to build an even better company, which is why he and Jay Nussbaum, Agilex’s chief operating officer, founded the company in 2007.

The pair had known each other since about 1975 and over the occasional beer would talk about launching a company together if the conditions were right, Nussbaum said.

After his obligations under the Integic sale to Northrop Grumman were over, LaRose called Nussbaum and said it was time.

“He told me shame on us if we can’t make this the best thing we’ve ever done,” Nussbaum said.

LaRose’s idea was to find the brightest people and match them against key government markets – health care, intelligence and homeland security, said John Gall, Agilex’s executive vice president. He also worked with LaRose at Advanced Tech and Integic.

“The reason he came back for [company] number three was that he was excited to be around the talent he and Jay brought together, and he wanted to help them do the best work they had ever done,” Scott said.

“I’m saddened by the fact that we can’t see the dream through together,” Nussbaum said.

LaRose’s funeral will held 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Centreville, Va., United Methodist Church. A reception will follow at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles in Chantilly, Va.

LaRose is survived by his wife Gail LaRose; a daughter, Michelle LaRose; a son, R. Scott LaRose; four grandchildren; and a brother, Howard LaRose.