Satcom firm embraces government as part of growth strategy
MTN Government Services likes to 'penetrate and radiate'
- By David Hubler
- Jul 27, 2011
Jim Ramsey, president of the recently formed MTN Government Services, naturally has his eyes firmly focused on the heavens.
A former White House communications officer for nine years under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Ramsey is trying to take a page from parent organization MTN Satellite Communications’ 30 years of providing satellite services to the cruise ship industry and the yachting community.
During the past five years the Miami-based company’s annual revenues have increased 15 percent on average due largely to the growing popularity of vacations at sea and the addition of new luxury liners.
Ramsey came to know MTN founder Richard Hadsall and his satellite work when he called on him in 1990 to solve a communications problem.
As a result, Hadsall developed the industry’s first stabilized, “transmit and receive” Ku-Band satellite antenna system for the U.S. Navy and installed it on the USS Iwo Jima during the first Persian Gulf crisis.
The system kept the ship’s communications system locked onto its satellite no matter where the aircraft carrier went, Ramsey said.
When communications problems arose prior to President George W. Bush’s scheduled landing at sea on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to make his now famous May 1, 2003, Iraq “mission accomplished” speech, Ramsey called on Hadsall again.
Hadsall came through once more by creating the satellite link that transmitted the live TV feed of the event to the American public.
Six years later, in February 2009, it was Hadsall’s turn to call Ramsey.
“Out of the blue” Ramsey said, Hadsall offered him the position of president of MTN’s newly created government unit.
The retired Army colonel said he wondered why MTN wasn’t already in the government market considering its previous ground breaking work.
“Unfortunately, through the process of growth, and buying and selling,” [MTN] went to the commercial side and kind of forgot about the government,” Ramsey said.
“If they’d have focused on the government,” he added, “we’d be [as big as] Harris today.”
For about the first four months his government business unit was a one-man show. In addition, because of the size of its parent company, MTN Government Services was ineligible for 8(a) small business status.
“My struggles probably have been harder than somebody that could have started as an 8(a),” Ramsey said.
But Ramsey added that he’s not sorry because being free of 8(a) regulations has allowed him to lead the company as he chooses.
Ramsey said he built up MTN government satellite business largely by teaming with established satellite companies CapRock Communications Corp., now party of Harris, and Artel Inc., taking whatever work “they were willing to throw on the ground.”
That approach brought in about $15 million in business, Ramsey said.
Artel remains one of MTN biggest government partners. The company also now works closely with Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and L-3 Communications, he added.
Having achieving a GSA Schedule 70 in November 2010, Ramsey looked for more contract work.
Ramsey also had to get a Commercial and Government Entity code, a five-character ID number that is used extensively within the federal government, and a security clearance.
“In [the Defense Department], to play you’ve got to have Secret or Top Secret clearances,” he explained.
“We called a lot of people who were primes,” he said. “We gave them our capabilities – ‘Here’s what we think we can bring.’ ”
It took “a lot of paperwork, a lot of time, due diligence and a lot of hard work,” he said. But word slowly got around that MTN had satellite solutions that worked.
“It’s just been a whirlwind” of activity, he added.
Today the company has grown to about 50 employees at two locations, a headquarters in Leesburg, Va., and a second office in New Jersey.
Some contracting experts might label Ramsey’s approach to winning federal work unorthodox, but he stands by what he calls his “penetrate and radiate” tactic.
“We try to penetrate [a target agency] at the lowest level we can,” Ramsey said. “I’ll be the first guy to say I’ll take $50,000 contracts or give me one piece of bandwidth. Because once I get in, I’m going to show you how great my system is.”
He said that proof of superiority then radiates upward throughout the targeted agency.
“We’re not sitting back and waiting for the RFPs,” he insisted.
The government services unit now has annual revenues in the $27 million range, Ramsey said.
Ramsey’s efforts have paid off also with a place on the Homeland Security Department’s Eagle contract, another GSA Schedule and a couple of contracts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which became aware of MTN when it provided bandwidth services and maintenance support as a subcontractor to Americom Government Services on a 2005 NOAA contract.
In September 2010, NOAA awarded MTN a firm, fixed-price contract worth approximately $5 million.
The 2.5 year award calls for managed broadband satellite services, maintenance and technical support for the NOAA fleet, said Douglas Perry, chief of the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operation's Information Management Division, which oversees NOAA's research ships and aircraft.
The company’s maintenance support covers the very-small aperture terminal systems that consist of dome-enclosed radar antennas gyro-stabilized to maintain satellite contact as the ship moves, he explained.
“We’ve found that MTN has been a pretty good partner and been responsive under the terms of the contract,” Perry said. “We’re getting good support.”
This past May, MTN Government Services secured its first competitive task order to provide managed network services on the Future Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) contract, a $5 billion, 10-year GSA and DISA joint-contract vehicle developed to simplify the process of establishing government contracts with the commercial satellite industry.
FCSA includes a comprehensive set of acquisition activities intended to replace expiring contracts with the Defense Intelligence Systems Agency (DISA) and the General Services Administration, including Inmarsat and SATCOM II.
“What I’m trying to do now is diversify into other sectors,” Ramsey said.
Recently MTN Government Services joined a large group of government integrators vying for a prime position on a new DISA Omnibus Network Enterprise 1 contract that includes 30 task orders areas, Ramsey said.
The winners are expected to be announced in October.
“I’m jumping way off the ledge here,” Ramsey said. “I went out and got 14 subs. And this is the first time I’ve ever done it, but I hired a company called Kelly, Anderson [& Associates] to help me put the [DISA contract] proposal together.”
As for the future, he said, “The first $10 million, okay, now you’re a real business. Now I think my next big hurdle is $50 million,” which he wants the company to reach within two to three years.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he added. “I think from $25 million to $50 million is going to be my hardest road because now that you’ve got $25 million [in revenue] you’re playing with everybody else on the Beltway.”
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.