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CRGT makes third acquisition in three years

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Reston-based technology contractor CRGT, backed by private-equity firm Veritas Capital, made its latest purchase last month in Herndon-based Guident Technologies, the company’s third buy in less than three years.

The purchase is one indication of how Veritas, one of the more active private-equity companies in the contracting industry, is reshaping what was a small defense-focused IT business. CRGT now has seven times the employees it had in 2008, and it has rights to offer services under two dozen contracting programs.

As private equity plays a larger role in contracting, CRGT is an example of a company remade by outside investor backing. Now more than four years into investment, it’s also a company whose backers may be seeking an exit in the coming years.

CRGT was previously known as CherryRoad Government Technologies, one part of an IT services business with both government and commercial customers. The government business was spun out, bought by Veritas and changed its name to CRGT.

Tom Ferrando, who had led CherryRoad’s government business since its 1998 formation, became president and chief executive of CRGT.

When Veritas acquired CRGT, the company had about 200 employees, and 95 percent of its work was concentrated in defense, according to Ferrando.

It specialized in relatively straightforward technology services, including program management, data center management and call center operations.

Building up the company

The company set off to diversify its work and customers, seeking to build up its expertise in anticipated growth areas such as cybersecurity and big data.

Ferrando said he has pursued new lines of business differently. Sometimes the quickest route to add capabilities was through acquisitions — but in other cases, it made sense to build within the company. Cybersecurity companies, for instance, were particularly expensive, and he instead established his own cyber-focused group.

About two years after being bought, CRGT made its first acquisition in Chantilly-based business intelligence company Johnson McLamb. Last year, CRGT picked up the federal unit of Ciber, which had most of its government unit in Atlanta and Colorado Springs and gave CRGT new customers and contract vehicles.

Its most recent purchase was Guident, which improves CRGT’s big data capabilities.

The company also has pursued companies that had already won prime contracts or had secured places on contract vehicles, giving the firm a leg up on nabbing additional work.

“We were always looking at the emerging technology market,” said Ferrando, noting that the company now works in areas like custom software development, data analytics and business intelligence.

Today, about 45 percent of CRGT’s work is in defense and intelligence; the remaining 55 percent is with civilian agencies. The company has about 1,400 employees and $200 million in annual revenue.

While private-equity firms often seek an exit after about five years, Ferrando said there’s no “mandated exit date.” Veritas declined to be interviewed for this article.

“I still think we have runway left,” he said. “If we think this is really going well and we want to grow it bigger, we could continue to do this for many years.”

Mitchell Martin, a principal with the investment firm McLean Group, said some private-equity firms are holding onto their portfolio companies longer, assuming business will improve once federal leaders reach consensus on budget policy.

“We are in a trough, and so much of it is just the uncertainty surrounding sequestration and everything else,” he said. Once companies know what the cuts will be, “the thought is the market will improve.”

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