Outgoing SI Chief Reflects on Success
Ray J. Oleson started his career in government contracting as an assistant programming manager in 1966, the days "when real men programmed," he says.
The computers were gargantuan, the work laborious.
Much has changed in his more than three decades in the business. The technology is smaller, faster, cheaper; the industry is bigger, meatier and more lucrative than ever.
Oleson founded Reston-based SI International Inc. in 1998, just as the federal information technology sector started to explode, and in seven years the company grew from four employees to nearly 4,000. Along the way, he became one of the most prominent executives in Washington's government contracting industry.
Now the 61-year-old Oleson is handing over the reins to his successor, Brad Antle . Next week he will spend his last five days as SI's chief executive.
Oleson spent his first stint in the industry with Sperry Univac , a predecessor to Unisys Corp. , working on computer programs that helped the military detect enemy submarines. When he moved to Computer Sciences Corp . in 1977, the firm's revenue totaled $120 million. When he left nine years later, the company had grown to nearly $1 billion in annual sales.
In 1987, Oleson joined Arlington-based CACI International Inc., and he eventually became president of the firm as it morphed into a technology-focused government contractor. Nine years later he decided to "try retirement."
But the lifestyle change didn't work out, so in 1998, as the Internet frenzy was starting to boil, Oleson decided to start a company doing what he's always done: building computer systems for the government.
"Everybody was asking me why I would do something as complicated as start a federal contractor," Oleson recalled. "But I could not figure out how to make money at a dot-com."
Building SI, the way he tells it, wasn't all that complicated. He recruited Walter J. Culver , a colleague from both CACI and CSC, and landed a $31 million investment from Chicago-based Frontenac Co. to launch the firm.
The next four years saw four acquisitions -- all companies that came ready-made with rosters of high-tech engineers and existing relationships with government clients -- and in 2002 SI raised $75 million through an initial public offering. The company's three subsequent acquisitions pushed its head count to 3,800, and the firm expects to post at least $390 million in revenue for fiscal 2005.
"It's not much fun to take a $20 million company and make it a $22 million company," Oleson said. "Now, taking a $20 million company and turning it into a $300 million company -- that's interesting."