Leading by example
Making the team | How to land the right partners
- By Gary Arlen
- May 11, 2007
Abbas Yazdani, founder and chief executive officer of Artel Inc.
Abbas Yazdani, founder and chief executive officer of Artel Inc., could delegate the hunt for alliances to other company executives. But he often chooses to lead the quest himself, as he did recently at the Defense Information Systems Agency Customer Partnership Conference in Nashville, Tenn.
Yazdani remembers his roots 21 years ago when Artel consisted of five consultants and himself. Now that the company has grown to $135 million in annual revenues, Yazdani wants to stay connected with other small businesses that can help Artel accelerate its growth. That's not to say he doesn't also delegate. He recently sent a business unit director to a business fair in Germany to look for partners for NATO and Defense Department projects in Europe.
"I take calls [from prospective partners] and so do our business unit directors," he said. In April, Yazdani had a 30-minute introductory meeting with a prospective partner that quickly turned into a two-hour planning session.
"We always want to identify creative, innovative people who can bring ideas to the table," Yazdani said. "We want to partner and take it to the market. You don't need a sophisticated marketing proposal. Just do your homework very, very well."
Artel, No. 89 on the 2007 Top 100, focuses on three categories of activities: information assurance, managed network services and solutions integration. Yazdani said each of these sectors represents the next step beyond traditional information security and systems integration.
"We want to add to our critical core competencies," Yazdani said. "With the right set of partnerships, we can build from a $200 million business to a $1 billion company."
About 86 percent of Artel's government work comes from defense and intelligence agencies. The other 14 percent involves tasks for the Homeland Security Department, other civilian agencies, and state and local government offices. Artel also has a small commercial operation, which accounts for less than 1 percent of its current revenue.
Three-quarters of Artel's business is supplying turnkey managed network services, Yazdani said. The focus on communications maintains the company's original mission.
"Our vision had two specific objectives," Yazdani said. "Everything would go global, so we'd need partnerships worldwide. And there would be a convergence of IT and communications."
Artel has established 20 offices worldwide, including its newest in Romania, to support its defense customers. It is working on strategic and tactical projects. Its defense assignments that use small-business partners include next-generation engineering services and software engineering. For those projects, Artel is seeking software developers and systems engineers.
Reflecting its inception 21 years ago when it was mentored by TRW Inc. and GTE Corp., Artel seeks to support young companies, even though it does not maintain an official mentor/protégé program.
"We develop a close, trust-based relationship with our partners," Yazdani said. He cited Artel's work with Access Partners, a woman-owned business that helped negotiate licenses that Artel needed overseas for its satellite communications program. Similarly, Artel allied with Sidhu Associates Inc., an Asian-American 8(a) firm, based near Baltimore, on a Maryland program.
Its other small-business partners include Karta Technologies Inc., a San Antonio company that has worked on training and information assurance projects for a defense project. Asynchrony Solutions Inc., a St. Louis-based, woman-owned small business that had partnered with Artel on previous projects, became the prime contractor on an Air Force information technology and networks contract, and it brought in Artel as a subcontractor.
Altogether, Artel is now working with about 20 small-business partners, including 8(a), Historically Underutilized Business Zone, woman- and veteran-owned businesses and others whose skills match Artel projects. In particular, Artel needs information security and networking engineering specialists, along with satellite engineers with security clearances.
Artel is upgrading its Web site to handle online registrations, a process that the company expects to be ready by summer. Ron Seward, Artel's vice president of corporate development, invited prospective partners to contact him directly.
"We go through a process of due diligence," Seward said. "We check references for past performance. We want to have a relationship that works two ways."
In addition to attending meetings, such as the DISA conference, Seward and his team seek prospective partners through the Central Contractor Registration database, plus referrals from other partners and from customers.
"We don't like to limit our partners," Yazdani said. "We helped advertise to get the right people. That's what a true partnership is all about."
Throughout its relationships with small-business partners, Yazdani reminds his staff of Artel's own small-business roots.
"Cash flow is vital to small business," he said, hence Artel pays its partners every two weeks. Sometimes they pay partners even before the invoices are due, he said.
"When we were a subcontractor to GTE and TRW, they taught us to be in front of the customer," Yazdani said. "It took us 20 years to transition from subcontractor to prime."
The lesson he learned was that "sometimes you need to get [small-business partners] under your wing and help them to grow?so they can do what you need."Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications in Bethesda, Md.
He can be reached at GaryArlen@ columnist.com.