A half dozen years after successfully selling Savi Technology to Lockheed Martin, David Stephens is at it again, seeking to transform a woman-owned small business into a mid-tier contractor focused on financial management, cyber analytics and intelligence.
Stephens is now president and chief operating officer at Binary Group, a more-than 15-year-old Arlington-based contractor. His mission is to significantly grow the company — which recently graduated from the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program — over a three- to five-year period.
He comes to the 80-employee Binary Group from logistics informatics business Savi Technology, which he joined in 2003 and stayed on after it was sold to Bethesda-based contracting giant in 2006 (last year, Lockheed sold it to affiliates of private equity firm LaSalle Capital).
Stephens rose to chief executive of Savi in 2007 before departing in 2011. He spent about a year working with private equity and venture capital firms to learn that side of the business before joining the Binary Group last year — though the company only this month announced his appointment.
“I’ve always been attracted to small companies,” Stephens said in an interview in Binary Group’s modest Rosslyn office. “You have the ability to move the needle in a significant way.”
Binary Group got its start in 1996 as a commercially focused business, but by 2002 — following Sept. 11 — it had shifted to government work.
The company participated in the 8(a) program, meant to help small businesses grow, and graduated in 2011, meaning it is no longer eligible for certain set-aside work. Stephens and Rose Wang, Binary Group’s founder and chief executive, have already started to reposition the company to help it compete in a larger and more competitive marketplace.
The two have moved away from a strategy of aligning each employee to a contract and a customer and are now focusing on practice areas, such as financial management.
The adjustment is meant to help Binary Group grow — or scale — into a larger company. Among the focus areas will remain financial management — where Binary Group already has significant work with the Army, its largest customer — as well as cyber analytics and intelligence, said Stephens.
The company is also changing its culture, Wang said, from a less structured business to one with more employee accountability.
Still, Stephens recognizes that it’s not easy to grow a company amid government spending downturns. He said Binary Group is focusing on areas where it anticipates growth.
“We’re not going to go wide,” he said. “We’re going to really focus.”
It’s not an uncommon strategy. McLean-based Paragon Technology Group, for instance, left the 8(a) program last year and is also seeking growth in niche areas, including data analytics, to become a mid-tier contractor.
Stephens said the company will seek to improve its “referenceability” — or ensuring that all of its past clients are happy enough with its work that they would provide a reference — and “stickiness” — or ability to grow work within a particular department or agency.
He said the focus is not to build up Binary Group just so it can be sold — as it was for Savi.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I’m here for the long run.”