Raj Deshpande, CEO
Contracts: $47.869 million
inning the confidence of its partners has been a cornerstone of Camber Corp.'s ascent from a fledgling Huntsville, Ala., consulting services firm to one of the top 10 8(a) companies in the country.
"We always had the confidence that we would be a real company," said Walter Baston, the company's president and the second employee hired by the company's founder Jay Wadekar in 1990. In 1992, Raj Deshpande bought out Wadekar's interest in the company, which specializes in geographic information systems, simulations and management information systems.
The company showed its confidence in itself by sticking to sound business practices, especially accounting and project management procedures, Baston said.
This is especially critical when trying to convince companies like BDM International Inc., McLean, Va., or Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif., that they should team with your company, Baston noted.
"If you have a good contracts
department and are doing things the right way, [the larger companies] will feel more comfortable with you," he said.
Hiring competent people also is important, Baston said. "A lot of [8(a)s] will hire their sons or daughters or wives," a practice that doesn't always result in top-flight personnel, Baston said.
The quality of its people are another cornerstone of the company's success, Baston said. "We will do what it takes," he said. "We will work weekends, nights, whatever, to make a project happen."
The company has won contracts with the U.S. military as well as civilian agencies such as the departments of Energy and Transportation, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
In fiscal 1996, Camber pulled in $47 million in obligations through its 8(a) contracts with the federal government, according to the market research firm Input, Vienna, Va. That was good enough for the No. 6 spot in Washington Technology's 1997 list of top 8(a) contractors serving federal agencies.
"[The 8(a) program was] the key to getting us into the government market," he said. "The government market is not easy to break into."
As the company has grown - it had $54.3 million in revenues in 1996 - its dependence on 8(a) has lessened, he said. The company is on schedule to graduate from the program in March 1998.
As the company tries to expand its commercial business, officials are looking to convert government applications to commercial uses. One goal is to build an entertainment division by creating amusement rides using simulation technology, Baston said.
These "rides," which actually do not move, can seat two to 14 people and simulate the sensations of a roller coaster, a flight or a ski run.
The company also is commercializing its air traffic control and GIS systems, Baston said.
Its GIS expertise helped Camber win the Oncall GIS Technical Support contract with FEMA. Under the contract, Camber sets up, tests and sometimes runs GIS equipment in disaster field offices, said Ed Corvi, an operation research analyst for FEMA. The value of the contract will depend on how often FEMA taps Camber.
Camber also trains replacement staff on GIS when a several month deployment is needed and checks the equipment when it is returned after a disaster, he said.
The contract began at the end of 1996, and so far Camber has worked on seven disasters. "I've been pleased," Corvi said. "When it comes to serving the public, we have the same focus."
- Nick Wakeman