In an era when so many business leaders struggle to separate work from family, Parker has thrived by allowing the lines to blur and fostering an office culture in which colleagues are treated like kin. That family has grown rapidly over the six years, as Parker, who won her first government contract in 2009, has since built DSFederal into a team of 125 employees.
“In the early years, I had all the birthdays memorized,” she said. “Today, I have to keep them in my Google Calendar.”
Parker’s success recently earned her the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Maryland Small Business Person of the Year Award. She and 50 other winners will be recognized this week as part of the National Small Business Week and a national winner will be selected at the end of the week in Washington.
A native of Taiwan, Parker moved to the United States to attend Illinois State University in 1979. She learned the federal contracting ropes while working for Northrop Grumman and SAIC, and when her two children left the house, she decided it was time to set out on her own.
“I knew the contracting space, and I thought I could do a better job taking care of customers if I started my own company,” Parker said.
It was a difficult time to embark on a new venture, especially in Washington. The economy went into a tailspin right around the time DSFederal won its first contract, and a few years later, the sequester struck and federal spending started to dry up.
And yet, Parker believes the timing was largely responsible for her firm’s success.
“We don’t know what it’s like to work in any other environment,” she explained. “While others have been forced to adapt, we had to be lean and agile from the start, and we learned how to operate with little overhead.”
DSFederal’s clients have included the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. In most cases, the company — which is comprised mostly of engineers and software developers — helps the agencies build mobile apps or other digital communication channels, and then supports them in culling data from those portals.
Parker has no plans to slow down. She hopes to reach the $75 million revenue mark by 2018, largely by expanding her company’s teamwork with the Defense and Health departments. That includes building on some recent work the firm has started with the Wounded Warrior transition training program.
Parker also expects to keep the company — and by extension, her work family — rooted in Rockville.
“This is home for everybody,” she said. “We want to continue to grow our home.”