Vince Marucci and Joe DiGangi were in the same class at the U.S. Military Academy, went to Stanford University for master's degrees, returned to West Point to teach and later ended up working at the same Columbia tech firm.
So it's not surprising that they decided to start a business together. Their lives kept intersecting.
Their 11-year-old company, Trusant Technologies in Ellicott City, employs 25 and provides information technology services to the federal government. Trusant made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies for five straight years through 2012, a string ended by the federal budget cuts known as sequestration. It's a brick wall familiar to many Maryland firms doing business with the government.
Marucci and DiGangi chatted with The Baltimore Sun about growth, budget cuts and the influence of their shared Army experience on Trusant.
What factors most influenced your company's growth in recent years?
DiGangi: We developed our capabilities and have grown over recent years in a very steady and methodical manner. That could be perceived as good or bad, but overall we feel it's the right way to go. We bid on the work that plays to our strengths, and avoid bidding on work that we're not sure we can do right.
That's the important part — whatever work you win, do it right. And, frankly, that's what's kept us growing. … We focus on doing our tasks well and customers and partners come back to us for more work.
How has Trusant been affected by sequestration cuts and other federal actions out of your control, like the partial shutdown? And how are you dealing with those challenges?
Marucci: Although we always competed for contract positions, before sequestration our biggest challenge was finding great people with a combination of the right technical skills and clearance level. As soon as sequestration occurred, several projects eliminated positions. …
Most significant for us, though, sequestration caused the number of open positions to drop dramatically — from about 20 new opportunities down to about two each week. This significantly increased the competition for these positions, and essentially paused our growth.
The shutdown also impacted us directly. For the first week, we were forced to put half of our technical staff "on the bench" [via paid vacation time]. When the [Department of Defense] returned to work, half of our benched personnel returned to work, but we continued to run at 75 percent of capacity until the government shutdown ended. Unfortunately, the lost revenue for the shutdown is money we will never get back. This may significantly impact our ability to reward our employees at year end.
The good news is that we recently won two new contracts that should allow us to grow rapidly in the future. Although both contracts were put on hold during the shutdown, we expect to at least double in size over the next year — if our government customers are allowed to use the contract vehicles, and are not forced to defer again due to another round of continuing resolutions or shutdowns.
Maryland has a lot of federal contractors specializing in IT. Does that cluster make life harder because of all the competition or easier because it offers more opportunities to collaborate?
DiGangi: Well, it depends on how you approach it.
When we first started, we specialized very deeply in what's called "content management." That's managing all the unstructured data on your computer (e.g., Word files, PowerPoint presentations, media files, etc.). This was an area that we saw as a growth opportunity — initially without a lot of competition in the particular agencies we were targeting, which is a very key strategy for a company just starting out.
So, we were able to gain a foothold by specializing. From there, we grew to other, more generalized IT skills. … In the generalized IT market, yes, there is a lot of competition.
The two of you have ended up in the same place multiple times. How has your shared history affected Trusant and the way you run the company?
Marucci: Based on our overlapping past, Joe and I have very similar values. In the Army we were taught "mission first, men always." For us, this translates into doing the right thing for your customers through hard work combined with technical excellence and an underlying commitment to honesty and integrity, while at the same time, you have to be sure to take care of your employees. …
We are very proud to support the Fisher House Foundation [which provides housing for families receiving treatment at military hospitals]. We just held our fifth Eagle Classic golf tournament, and we earned over $23,000 for the Fisher House. That brings our total donated over the years to over $166,000 to support the men and women of our armed forces. As a small company, we are very proud to have achieved those kinds of results.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
DiGangi: I think some people are surprised to learn that I spent a full career in the Army — retiring after 20 years, two months and 20 days — not that I was counting.
Marucci: Not only is my business partner a fellow West Point classmate, but so is my brother-in-law. Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville, Ala., was my roommate and classmate, and is the older brother of my wife.