Making It
Disability leads to opportunity for a veteran of the Persian Gulf War

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, November 11, 2007

David Gilchrist gained a lot from the Navy: maturity, leadership skills, contracting expertise, a breathing problem. All have come into play in his new career as co-owner of a technology sales and services company in Herndon.

David, 45, grew up in Centreville and enlisted in the Navy in 1981, becoming a logistics management specialist who served all over the world, including in the Persian Gulf. "I learned a lot . . . but I guess the main thing it gave me was maturity and confidence I could do things on my own," he says.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, David began having respiratory problems, leading the Navy to eventually classify him as seriously disabled. In 2001, he retired as a chief petty officer, partly because of his disability but also because he no longer wanted to be away from his wife, Sandra, and young sons Colin and Christopher.

The Gilchrists bought a home in Warrenton, and David took a job in government services with an Internet startup that went under. Then he approached his friend Rusty Palmer, an Air Force veteran who had founded Four Points Technology, a small firm that provides information technology products and services such as systems engineering, maintenance and technical support, to the federal government. David proposed buying into the business at 51 percent, relying on a combination of personal savings and loans. He cited as advantages his government contracting experience and the fact that Four Points would become eligible to compete in the federal Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business initiative. The program sets aside 3 percent of federal contracts for technology firms owned by disabled vets.

David and Rusty sublet an office in an executive suite in Loudoun County, "just me and him sitting there, trying to make things happen," David says. The company's revenue rose from $2.4 million in 2004 to about $25 million in 2006. This year, revenue could reach $50 million. David estimates about 15 to 20 percent of the company's business results from the disabled veterans program. In August, Four Points, which now has 25 employees, made Entrepreneur Magazine's Hot 500 list of the fastest-growing companies in America.

David and other Four Points employees are "honest and trustworthy, and they focus on solving the customer's problems as opposed to solving their own," says Ron Sullivan, the federal sector vice president for InterSystems Corp., a Massachusetts-based company that is partnering with Four Points on a $35 million contract to provide health care database software to the Veterans Administration.

David acknowledges being a little "shellshocked" by Four Points' rapid growth. But while his family's quality of life has improved -- they bought a larger house in Warrenton, and Sandra, a radiologic technologist, can stay home with the boys -- David says, "Chances are, you're not going to see me running around in a Mercedes."

He appreciates being able to donate to veterans organizations, he says. "If people just understood how much it means to someone like me to be able to give back."

As for the future, David says: "I'm not in business to sell my business. My business plan is to have a good company that is customer- and employee-centric and going to be around for a while."

Are you a veteran enjoying a profitable second career? E-mail

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company