Former Stanley execs launch new growth platform

Eric Wolking and Pat Flannery, former Stanley Associates execs, have acquired GAP Solutions as a platform for growth. Wolking shares their strategy and next steps. Will lightning strike twice?

No one can achieve success without taking a few chances along the way. For Eric Wolking, taking risks is something that has benefitted him throughout his career, and he expects to allow his newly inherited employees at GAP Solutions to do the same.

Wolking, GAP CEO, together with his colleague and executive vice president of operations, Pat Flannery, just acquired the professional services firm, and are prepared to drive serious growth within the company while remaining committed to its employees and customers.


 

GAP Solutions acquisition named one of the Best Small Business deals of 2013 in Washington Technology's annual M&A Special Report.


 

“We knew that we were going to go out and find a company to acquire as a platform with the expectation that we were going to do a series of acquisitions fairly quickly, and that’s certainly the path that we’re headed down,” Wolking said.

GAP Solutions specializes in program management and administrative support, emergency management, warehouse and logistics support, security and information management and natural resources management. Wolking and Flannery acquired the firm with backing from Bluestone Investment Partners.

The two former Stanley Associates executives have 35 years of combined operational, strategic, business development and M&A experience, and are planning on taking what they’ve learned and applying it to today’s federal market.

It took a little while to decide to acquire GAP Solutions, though; the two began looking around for companies in March, and looked at nearly 25 other potential acquisition targets before deciding on GAP Solutions, which they picked because of its promising team and infrastructure.

 “The management team is exceptionally strong and capable of managing much larger organizations,” Wolking said. The infrastructure was such that “we saw a path where we could add additional contracts whether that be through organic growth or through acquisitions,” he added.

It also helped that the company is predominantly a prime contractor with a diverse base of customers; no one customer accounts for more than 35 percent to 40 percent of the company, which adds some stability during a time where the market is known for its uncertainty, Wolking said.

GAP Solutions was also a good target because it wasn’t going to be facing any recompetes within the first 12 months after Wolking and Flannery acquired it. 

“We wanted to have our feet underneath us and really get the foundation established,” Wolking said.

As the two get their foothold, they’re looking for ways to help the company succeed. Since GAP Solutions already had a good pipeline of business opportunities when the two joined, they are looking to maximize on that and accelerate organic growth by getting their hooks into more pots, Wolking said.

 “And on the acquisition side, we’re continuing to evaluate acquisitions, and we would fully expect to do another acquisition hopefully within six months,” he said.

For Wolking, divestitures are fine acquisition targets, and in a market like today, big businesses are making numerous divestitures in order to hone their business capabilities.

There’s a lot of variance in the targets that GAP is looking at, as well; Wolking and Flannery are looking at some companies with less than $10 million in annual revenue, and others that are exceeding $50 million, Wolking said.

The one requirement is that they are a federal services provider. Wolking is extremely dedicated to serving his customers’ missions, so he’s looking for acquisition targets that share that mentality.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve these customers,” he said.

But he also wants to serve his employees well, as they are crucial to GAP Solutions’ success. Here, Wolking draws from lessons he learned while working at Stanley Associates.

“I learned at Stanley very early in my career how exciting it was to have a boss who said, ‘go out and take some risks,’” Wolking said. “I personally benefitted from that, and over time at GAP Solutions, we expect to do the same thing; it’s really going to be a culture of employee empowerment.”

Employees who are empowered to take risks, and have the right tools and opportunities, are employees who will stick with the company for a long time, he said.

 “You also have to have a culture that acknowledges and rewards performance and reinforces principles,” Wolking said. At GAP Solutions, the company’s main principles are a focus on growth and an emphasis on integrity when it comes to customer relationships.

“Employees will stay at companies longer if those companies are growing, and if they’re offering more opportunities, and that’s a fundamental aspect of what we’re doing; it’s not growth for growth’s sake,” Wolking said.

Of course the market is more difficult today than it used to be. Building a company is different than building a company 10 years ago. “The most significant difference is how you view your company’s incumbent work, and how you’re going to perform on recompetes,” Wolking said.

There are no guarantees in this market, “We spend a disproportionate amount of time today on how we’re going to retain our existing clients, whereas before, you could spend so much more time on new clients,” he said.

He is not deterred, however. He believes that GAP Solutions is in a good spot, despite the doom and gloom of today’s market. With major customers like the Health and Human Services and Justice Departments, GAP Solutions is already at a “good starting point” for new growth.

 “Despite the market headwinds, we firmly believe that a customer-centric firm will succeed in any market; there will be ups and downs, but this is still a good market,” Wolking said.

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