Investing in Infrastructure
In 2012, Jeff Unger retired after 30 years as a career military officer. His last role was as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, where he oversaw more than 6,000 people.
But white sand beaches and games of bridge weren’t in Jeff’s future.
Instead, he embarked on a new career, founding management consulting company Stratitia along with two partners, Ellen Embry and Chad Churchwell. Because of Jeff and Ellen’s previous positions, the company couldn’t do any work inside the federal government. They got their start working with large companies in the private sector and once the two years were up, expanded their work to government as well. “That’s when we really exploded,” says Jeff. They are now working on “everything from logistics infrastructure support for the Department of Defense to very high level management consulting.” Three years ago, Stratitia bought 2c4 Technologies, which offers IT solutions and professional services.
As a military officer in numerous command positions, Jeff had plenty of experience and ample leadership development training. But starting his own company still posed new obstacles. The government “is a very closed financial ecosystem,” says Jeff. “Everything is very regimented and your processes are already in place.”
“Our first step was to start building a very strong infrastructure,” says Jeff. The company started with four employees and has since grown to 90 team members spread out across the U.S. But even at the early stages, “we gave the company the infrastructure of at least a midsize company.” They hired a full-time CFO from a Fortune 500 and a controller. They hired VPs, HR professionals, recruiters, and others. “If you don’t make the leap and invest in infrastructure, you can’t grow the company.”
From the beginning, the founders knew that they wanted to be a “people-oriented company,” says Jeff. “When we developed our business plan we understood that we had an opportunity to be successful in the markets we were looking at.” They had ample experience and the ability to take risks, thanks to financial cushions from their retirement packages. “But we wanted to differentiate ourselves. We wanted to work on things that made a difference. We wanted people to want to work for our company.”
“Some government contractors put employees on a contract and then more or less forget about them until the next contract.” For Stratitia, an emphasis on continued communication is key — regardless of where their employees are based geographically or what they’re working on. “We wanted to develop a loyalty with our workforce.” The company’s world-class benefits and culture have translated to a sky-high retention rate. “The industry standard is about 50%,” says Jeff. “We’ve maintained about 95% of the all the people we’ve brought into the company.”
The company is also thriving financially; Jeff says he’s “astonished” at the growth over the past five years. “Most small companies have to bring in a lot of cash from investors. We carry no debt and have very high retained earnings.”
The secret to success? “We keep our heads down and we don’t really pay attention to how much we’re growing. We keep pushing forward and working and our finances keep going up.”