The Washington Post

Editor’s note: Are we building with a purpose, or just building?

I’m a sucker for little pearls of business insight you hear when you are networking or listening to a discussion.

Last month at a roundtable we hosted for chief executives at mid-sized government contractors, John Hillen, chief executive of Herndon-based Sotera Defense Solutions, said something that stuck with me.

Big deals, he said, don’t typically produce big companies in his niche. It’s what companies do with their deals.

“Their trajectory was changed when they won a big contract. That’s what marked their differentiation, when they took their company to a whole new level, not when they did a deal.”

I found that reassuring in a way, a reminder that enduring businesses are built on actual accomplishments.

Hillen’s words stayed with me as I read over the spate of earnings reports this quarter. There’s been plenty of dealmaking as companies try to position or reposition themselves.

I tried to assess the endgame. Were firms building with a purpose, or just building?

Two up-and-comers stood out.

One is GP Strategies of Elkridge. It spent much of 2011 buying an assortment of U.S. and U.K. training companies. It now calls itself a “global performance improvement solutions provider,” whose portfolio includes sales and technical training, e-learning, management consulting and engineering services. In a statement, chief executive Scott N. Greenberg talked about using the company’s acquisitions to create an “integrated offering” in the highly fragmented training industry.

Or consider Beltsville-based Vocus. The company, which specializes in online software for public relations, just announced a deal for e-mail marketer iContact. President and chief executive Rick Rudman said the acquisition not only adds to Vocus’s capabilities but more than doubles its customer base among small and mid-size businesses, helping better position the company in the “growing cloud marketing space.”

Here are two companies that are steadily getting bigger. Time will tell if they reach a whole new level.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.



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