FAST 50: Sev1Tech sees employee leadership as key to success

Sev1Tech gives its employees a lot of power to lead, and president and CEO Bob Lohfeld attributes their success to that trust.

If there is one thing to be said of Sev1Tech, it’s that the company allows its employees to lead.

The name, pronounced “sev-one-tech,” might sound confusing unless you are in the data center information technology world, where a Sev1 outage is an “all-hands-on-deck, systems down, gotta get it back up” outage, said president and CEO Bob Lohfeld.

The company is run by Lohfeld and five of his best friends, he said, including his wife. When Sev1Tech was just starting out, Lohfeld considered different strategic options such as whether the company would be woman-owned or another designation, but in the end decided to designate it as a straight up small business.

“We said, ‘look, if we’re going to build this company and go large business, let’s do it as hard as possible, let’s go on the principle of OCP—only competent people—and let’s build a really good small business so that when it crosses that $35 million threshold, we’re going to survive and go to $200 million,” Lohfeld said.

Right now, with a compound annual growth rate of 113.6 percent and $19.2 million in fiscal 2014 revenue, Sev1Tech is sitting pretty in the No. 12 spot in Washington Technology's 2015 Fast 50.

The company is headquartered in Woodbridge, Va., and the culture is extremely collaborative, Lohfeld said. Sev1Tech is focused on what it calls “Sev1Tech Connect,” which is an initiative that is about making the company more than just a body shop, Lohfeld said; “it’s about people relating professional and personally.”

To achieve that mission, the company has family picnics and other family friendly events. “We spend a lot of time and effort on our community service program and we really try to attract people who are interested in more than just doing their job,” Lohfeld said.

Sev1Tech gets an extra boost from employees like this, Lohfeld said, who has found that it is these kinds of people who end up driving innovation on client sites in the long run due to their passion.  “We want people to be all they can be, because if not, what’s the point of waking up? We hold the bar pretty high.”

And Sev1Tech benefits from its employees' commitment, which shows in the diversity of the company's customers. "We're in every [Homeland Security] component but FEMA and [the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service]," Lohfeld said, "and we also do work in commercial, about 25 percent, and that's all in geospatial technologies, as well as a lot of work in civilian with the Patent and Trademark Office."

The company used to be 50/50 commercial versus federal work, but once Sev1Tech landed a spot on the Coast Guard's $11 billion TABSS IDIQ contract, that tilted the company toward having a majority of federal work. "No kidding, when we started this thing, I thought we'd be doing data center relocations until I couldn't walk, but now when you look at our portfolio, we're much more diverse," Lohfeld said. "About 50 percent is hardcore IT and 50 percent is program management services.

Lohfeld is proud of the work they have done for the Homeland Security Department, in particular. The company supports the program accountability and risk management office that reports to Congress. "Since we took over that task, they've reported on time every quarter.

Lohfeld attributes the success of Sev1Tech, as well as its diversity of work, to his employees and their ability to lead if they so desire. "What I tell our employees is that it's not about me, it's about them. They are empowered to take the company in any direction that they want to take it as long as they are passionate and committed to the mission that we serve."

That's translated to spawning a new e-learning program and a new geospatial technologies program in addition to other new work like risk management and financial management.

"I’ve put the challenge out to everyone in the company and said if you want to lead, lead. Come to me with a plan, I’ll fund it, and let’s go build business in something you’re interested in because, quite frankly, some of the stuff that you guys are doing, I’m never going to do--I’m a hardcore IT guy," Lohfeld said.

The inspiration behind this style of leadership comes from earlier in his career, when his superiors gave him the same opportunity to lead. Lohfeld worked with American Management Systems before the company was sold to CGI, and at AMS, Lohfeld's principals asked him what he was interested in that we he was willing to work more than 40 hours a week to build. He then helped work on building out the company's logistics business.

It's a style of leadership that Lohfeld has been dedicated to implementing at Sev1Tech. "We'll go out and find the contracts, whether or not we have the clients. We don't care what it's in. What we care about is are you going to put in the time and the leadership."