Leading his team to victory
- By Judi Hasson
- Mar 11, 2001
To Rodney Hunt, building a business is a lot like playing baseball—success depends on a combination of team spirit and individual initiative.
"Baseball is a thinking man's sport," he said. "You have to think independently, almost like an entrepreneur."
He learned that lesson during six years as a minor-league pitcher, and he applies it today in his role as president and chief executive officer of RS Information Systems Inc., which he cofounded in 1992 with a $5,000 investment. Today the McLean, Va., company, which had $80 million in revenue in 2000, handles a wide range of government information technology contracts, from providing IT solutions for NASA's Mars Orbiter program to helping make the Social Security Administration a model of electronic government.
The idea for RSIS began to take shape after Hunt left a St. Louis Cardinals farm team in the mid-1980s because of an injury and went to work for a consulting firm. There, he watched experts write reports and deliver them to clients, only to drop the ball when it came to delivering solutions.
"Being an IT guy, I thought, "We should take this one step further,'" Hunt said.
He and his co-founder, Executive Vice President Scott Amey, did just that. The company's revenues have doubled every year since 1998, as has the number of employees, which now stands at 825. RSIS also has $450 million in contract backlogs.
The company is the prime contractor on more than 80 government contracts. Two-thirds of the company's employees have top-secret security clearances so they can handle the most sensitive contracts. And its reputation is growing as a minority-owned company that has used 8(a) certification, named for a section of the Small Business Act, to help it win federal contracts.
"Hunt very much gets the job done. He has both political skills and understanding of technology," said Mike Curtis, chief information officer at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates commercial-truck safety.
With tens of thousands of forms pouring in from trucking companies, the agency was in danger of being overwhelmed by paper. But more than half the forms are now handled electronically as a result of help from RSIS. "[Hunt] has a lot to do with Web-enabling the system," Curtis said.
At 40, Hunt is a self-made success and proud of it. "I have always been an entrepreneur," he said, recalling the successful lawn-care business he says brought in $100,000 when he was just 14.
He credits his success to a willingness to take risks, combined with the know-how to use government tools to help get contracts and deliver the goods. Along the way, he had help from the government's program to help small, minority-owned businesses.
Focusing on the kind of contracts he could deliver, Hunt went after government IT work. And year after year, he succeeded.
Today, RSIS provides help-desk support to more than 75,000 users in 15 federal agencies. It has government contracts in electronic commerce, software engineering and Web applications development. The company also supports the mission of the Pacific Air Forces.
Among RSIS' biggest contracts:
$65 million for engineering support services to the SSA. $62 million for telecommunications services to the Environmental Protection Agency. $54 million for IT support services to the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. $50 million for engineering support services for the Next-Generation Weather Radar at the National Weather Service's Radar Operations Center in Norman, Okla. Now in its seventh year as an 8(a) company, RSIS will have to graduate in just two years from the federal program. But like every other mountain that Hunt has scaled, he is ready for the challenge.
His advice to other minority-owned companies: Use the 8(a) program to establish yourself. By the fifth year, go after non-8(a) business, and by the seventh year, be ready to fly without government help.
That's what RSIS has done. Today, 70 percent of the company's contracts are awarded outside the 8(a) program.
As for Hunt, his business plan is to produce $135 million in revenue by the end of 2001 and acquire other companies. If all goes well, he might even buy a baseball team.