The call of the wild
- By Michael Hardy
- Jun 23, 2003
Perhaps a men's guru like Robert Bly would have thrown a few rugged clothes into a rugged rucksack, tossed it into the back of a rugged four-wheel-drive and driven the rugged roads all the way to Alaska, if he were ready for a major change of pace in his life.
James Dunn took a less romantic, more pragmatic approach. Last year he resigned as vice president for bid proposals and technology sales at GTSI Corp. and became chief operating officer for Eyak Technology LLC, better known as EyakTek. The 8(a) company is owned by Alaska natives in the village of Cordova, Alaska, but Dunn moved just a few miles to the company's Reston, Va., government office.
The two companies maintain a close relationship, with GTSI guiding EyakTek in a formal mentor/protege program. As an Alaska native-owned company, EyakTek receives some advantages under the 8(a) program, including exemption from the $3 million cap for sole-source procurements.
Another benefit for Alaska native companies is that their sizes are measured without regard to parent or subsidiary companies. EyakTek, established last year, is a subsidiary of Eyak Corp. owned by the Eyak tribe in Cordova. EyakTek, with 19 employees, is headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska, and has its government headquarters in Reston.
Although the parent company has almost three decades of contracting experience, "information technology is new to them, and that's what I've been doing for the past 20 years," Dunn said.
Dunn, who made the move last August, said he was motivated by a longstanding interest in travel and foreign cultures.
"I've always had an interest in doing things like this. I've traveled all around the world to different Third World countries," he said. "Reaching out to people is just a passion and an interest that I have. When this came along it was an opportunity to provide some true value to the native community and not give up my career to do it."
"I remember he's taken trips by himself in the last three or four years," said Dendy Young, GTSI's chairman and chief executive officer. "He spent a good bit of time wandering around China and Mongolia trying to understand the people there."
The village of Cordova sits nestled in Alaska's southeastern corner on Prince William Sound about 100 miles from the Canadian border. Dunn speaks of a vision for the Eyak natives, including a book drive and educational services funded with some of the company's profits.
"There are a lot of 8(a)s and not to knock any of them, but a lot of them are sole proprietorships and have one beneficiary of the fruits of their work," he said. "That's perfectly fine, but our company was created to facilitate socio- economic change for a whole group."
He added, however, "I don't want to paint an altruistic vision that says we're nothing but philanthropists. We're not. We're in business to sell technology to the government." GTSI found EyakTek while searching for suitable small- business partners, and the relationship is good for both companies, he said.
So far Dunn is pleased with EyakTek's acceptance in the government market. Within a month of opening, the com-pany won a contract to run a call center for TriCare, part of the health care system at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage. The company has also won contracts to provide information technology hardware at other Air Force bases and software for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"Our primary objective is to make a difference for some agencies, to solve some problems for them," he said. "We hope we are generating sufficient profit to continue to reinvest in our business and expand significantly so that we're of a size where we can truly make a difference back to the native community."
Dunn is no stranger to building personal fulfillment on professional endeavors. He's married to Carole Dunn, a program manager at GTSI. They met in 1998, when GTSI acquired BTG Inc. — a merger that brought Dunn's future wife into his company and his life.
Dunn said he traveled to Alaska only once before joining EyakTek but has been there several times since. Apart from the travel, the work is similar to his early days with GTSI, he said.
"GTSI was fairly small when I started. It's the early development of a business, and I quite enjoy it," he said.
Young said Dunn's move made sense personally, even though it might have seemed less professionally savvy.
"You have a guy who's been successful in the corporate environment, and he's at an age and stage in his life where he wants to try something new," Young said. "There's nothing more challenging than a start-up situation, but it happens to be in a market he's familiar with. He's very quiet on the surface, very intense underneath. On the surface he's soft- spoken and humble, but underneath there's a driving ambition to succeed."