Geeks, Mush Heads and the IT Revolution: How SRA International Achieved Success over Nearly Four Decades

Geeks, Mush Heads and the IT Revolution: How SRA International Achieved Success over Nearly Four Decades

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 1442242809

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


SRA International grew from one person in his home basement to more than 7,000 people and nearly $2 billion in revenue in thirty years. The firm was profitable, revenue increased every year, and it became highly admired for its values and culture. SRA was on the Fortune list of 100 Best Places to Work in America for ten consecutive years. The company’s initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange was the sixth most successful in 2002, and the price of its stock soared. Then, at the height of success, the top management team changed twice, growth declined, the firm made a bad acquisition, and the market it served began to decrease.

SRA was sold to a private equity firm. The new owners (including the founder and author of this book) hired a dynamic young CEO who implemented changes designed to restore values, culture, and business success. As this account ends, the market was challenging, but the outlook was promising.

This book describes the lessons learned through varied phases: startup, rapid growth, changes in leadership, business problems, privatization; and it explains how high ethics and a sense of service to customers, employees, and society led to a very special company. Its intended audience is business professionals in emerging and established companies and for current and former employees and friends.

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work still left to be done, he also had a real challenge. That experience produced a story that became a part of SRA folklore. Two hunters and trappers, Sam and Eddie, lived in a cabin in Alaska. Like many hunters, they exaggerated their stories, drank too much, and irritated one another. One night in early spring, they were drinking and arguing over the paltry results of their winter’s efforts. Sam was particularly critical, and Eddie responded by boasting about his hunting and trapping skills.

about the high cost of weapon systems. Not long after he arrived at SRA, Russ wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post critical of the weapons work of one of our clients. Before sending it, Russ showed it to Stu and me. We decided to discuss the matter with our client, General Dynamics (GD). When we did, the manager of one of our projects at GD threatened to cancel our contract if we allowed Russ to submit the letter. This was no small matter because the contract represented a

particularly notable to the FEMA team that remained in old, somewhat seedy, offices at 1501 Wilson Boulevard. They reveled in the underdog status of that space and developed a unique subculture. They worked long hours for months at a time, and their efforts were rewarded with even more tasks. To ease the tension of late nights and long hours, FEMA project team members constantly played practical jokes on each other. Once, they wrapped everything in someone’s office in recycled paper, down to

all broker communications. Using natural language processing and expert system technologies, we designed Assentor to flag communications that might reveal high-pressure sales tactics, stock hype, and other illegal activities. It quarantined messages that set off our programmed alarms. It was up to the customer to determine what happened next. A suspicious message was sent to a compliance reviewer with an explanation of why it was intercepted. That person could intervene or release the message for

rationally and calmly. “Miles, I cannot agree with your statement. We are just beginning to hit our stride. There is so much more to be done. We are demonstrating that a company can stand for something and yet still be a business success.” I left the meeting feeling discouraged and almost betrayed. The directors did not seem to understand the true value of SRA, which was far more than its profits. I felt a keen responsibility to all the shareholders, and some of our key employees held

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