Calculated risk drives DRT’s Fast 50 success

Founder Susan Kidd focuses on employees and delivering results

Susan Kidd didn’t have a burning desire to launch a company. It wasn’t part of a long, well-defined career plan. It was more about seizing an opportunity and taking a risk at the right time.

As a result, DRT Strategies has become a success since its founding in 2003, and it landed at the No. 30 spot on the 2013 Fast 50 with a compound annual growth rate of 70.9 percent over the past five years.

DRT got its start when Kidd was approached by a friend and former co-worker who had just launched his own company and needed a subcontractor. Kidd was returning from maternity leave after having her second child and saw it as a good opportunity to focus on what she liked best about consulting: solving a problem and delivering a result.

“My background is computer science and math. I really enjoy problem-solving and helping my customers get across the finish line,” she said. “I love the delivery aspect because I get a lot of satisfaction from coming into an organization and understanding their challenges and then applying the principles of problem-solving to help them.”

In the beginning, the company had one employee — Kidd — but that didn’t last long. Today more than 100 employees provide consulting services related to IT, program management and financial management services.

Launching her own company also gave Kidd an opportunity to apply the lessons she had learned during graduate school, where she studied the employee-centric model of Southwest Airlines.
“Consulting is a very tough industry,” she said. The work environment can be demanding because personality issues, clients’ office politics and tight deadlines often rule the day.

“I can’t control those things, but what I can control is the employees’ experience within DRT,” she said. “We like to say, ‘Happy employees equal ecstatic customers.’”

The culture she built at DRT is based on a collaborative environment where smart people work together and help one another succeed, she said, adding that DRT stands for Driving Results Together.

The company has landed customers at a variety of agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Department, the Agriculture Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Travel Management Office and the Navy.

About 70 percent of the company’s work focuses on project management and IT support, another 20 percent is devoted to financial services, and the final 10 percent focuses on the IT that supports citizen-centric and mobile solutions.

As DRT has grown, Kidd has worked to build the infrastructure to sustain that growth. In the past year, she created what she called tiger teams around particular needs. DRT University focuses on employee development and training; DRT Quality addresses methodologies and certifications, such as Capability Maturity Model Integration and ISO standards; and DRT Cares is the company’s charitable organization. Other tiger teams focus on innovation, infrastructure and quality of life.

The company participates in the government’s 8(a) small-business program and is woman-owned, but Kidd said the keys to its success have been relationships and adaptability.

“You have to be flexible and willing to change,” she said. “You have to be open to new opportunities and not be afraid to take risks.”

She credits her willingness to do that to her upbringing. Her parents divorced when she was 12, and Kidd took on a parental role with her younger sister as her Korean-born mother struggled with English and understanding American culture.

“I had to grow up right away,” Kidd said.

Her mother worked as a seamstress in a factory. “I grew up in humble means, but I don’t view it as difficult,” Kidd said. “We lived paycheck to paycheck, but we had each other and we were happy.”

Although Kidd accepts risks, she is not reckless. She said she couldn’t sleep before hiring her first employee, and she is often driven to make sure everyone is taken care of.

But fear does not rule her decision-making. When it came to starting her business, she said she thought, “I’ve already lived on minimum wage and stood in an unemployment line and we made it, so what’s the worst that can happen?”

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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