Strategy 7: Sell yourself -- literally

Quality Research Inc.'s Gary Ryan: "We were too small to be big, and too big to be small."

Quality Research Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., was "too small to be big, and too big to be small" after graduation from the 8(a) program in 2001, said its former president, Gary Ryan.

QRI, an employee-owned company, was founded in 1990. By 2002, it had grown to $63 million in annual revenue and employed more than 630 people. Its specialties were modeling and simulation, training and technical and engineering services.

But it wasn't quite big enough to thrive while competing against bigger firms such as IBM Corp. and Lockheed Martin in full-and-open competitions, Ryan said.

As a smaller business, "you don't have the breadth and depth to compete with those people outside of your geographical area. We had staff predominantly in the southeast," Ryan said. And while large firms sometimes spend more than $1 million on a proposal, small firms can't afford that investment, he said.

"At some point, you can't achieve the growth rates you have experienced in the past," he said.

Ryan sold the company to SAIC earlier this year, and QRI's employees became part of SAIC's Applied Technology Group in Huntsville. Ryan is now a senior vice president at SAIC.

The two companies had been paired for years through a mentor-protégé program. Selling to SAIC meant selling to a known quantity that could provide growth opportunities for employees, and selling to another employee-owned firm that could provide liquidity for employees and owners, Ryan said.

"We have been fully integrated in the group here in Huntsville. We lost less than 20 employees in the transition, which I think is amazing," he said. *

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at gemery@postnewsweektech.com.

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