The Wright stuff

The first thing you notice when you step into Robert Wright's bright, spacious office in Alexandria, Va., is the company he keeps.

One wall looks like a U.S. Politics Hall of Fame. Displayed are photographs of Wright with George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Trent Lott, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and many others. For Wright, chairman and chief executive officer of Dimensions International Inc. and a former politician himself, maintaining friendships with those in political circles is simply a smart way of doing business in Washington, D.C.

"Washington is a political town," he said. "If you're in business, you need friends. You can't divorce good business and politics."

As the wall makes clear, Wright has friends. And business is good. An information technology, systems engineering and logistics company that serves government and commercial clients, DI has grown to more than 450 employees at offices in 40 cities and has topped $55 million in revenues. Founded by Wright in 1985, the company is working on a piece of the multimillion-dollar Airport Movement Area Safety System being deployed at 34 of the nation's busiest airports to provide runway accident warnings (see box, below).

The company is also doing work for the Defense Department, the Coast Guard and others. In July, Wright was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Wright has come a long way. He grew up in Columbus, Ga., the son of a bricklayer with a sixth-grade education who had two goals: to own a house and educate his children. He achieved both. Wright's brother became a lawyer and Wright earned a degree in optometry from the Ohio State University.

Wright worked as an optometrist for about 15 years in his hometown of Co.lum.bus. He also served three terms on its city council as a Republican, fulfilling a desire to use his time and talent "to improve the lives of our citizens," he said.

A strong believer in the power of private-sector innovation, Wright volunteered to serve on President Reagan's 1980 transition team, working on small-business issues. That led to Wright's appointment as the Small Business Administration associate administrator for minority small businesses.

After serving for two years, he founded Bob Wright and Associates, a business development firm that helped com.panies "navigate the maze" of government contracting and regulations, he said. The company evolved into DI, whose first contract was with the Agriculture Department to run a computer facility. The company eventually expanded into its four current core competencies: IT, logistics, airspace management and airspace products.

One thing that has helped him build the company, Wright said, is respect for customers.

"There are some customers who may require less effort than others, there are some that require more effort than someā€”but from our perspective, they're all important," he said. "You build your business on reputation, just like you built your credit. And it's [as] important to pay that $10-a-month bill on time as it is to pay a $1,000-a-month obligation on time."

He brings that same philosophy to the management of DI, which is an employee-owned company. "The primary thing that keeps me grounded is the way you treat people, and my philosophy is to treat people the way I'd like to be treated," he said. "It's very simple."

"He does have a genuine concern for the people that work for him," said Dave Dougherty, a DI program manager based in the company's Denver office. "He listens well."

"I like to think of ourselves as being very competent, very efficient, giving attention to detail, building on our reputation, taking care of our people," Wright said. "And at the end of the day, being able to say, "We performed a good day's work for a good day's pay.'"

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