By Nick Wakeman
Walter Batson, chairman and chief executive officer of Camber Corp., has a simple formula for success: If you hire good people and take good care of them, they’ll take good care of your customers. It is hard to argue with Camber’s success. Since Batson co-founded the company in 1990, it has grown into a $400 million a year enterprise, and his plan is to hit $1 billion in five years. He spoke recently with Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman about his strategy for keeping Camber’s winning streak alive.
WT: What do you have to do to keep your company growing as it has?
Batson: The bigger you get, you have to put structures in place, and the question is how do you do that without losing what got you to where you are. I wanted to make sure we keep our entrepreneurial spirit, but I knew we needed a structured approach to business development. You need more capture management. You need more disciplined processes. We need to be doing both tactical business development and strategic business development.
WT: What is the difference between the two?
Batson: With tactical business development, you have a contract and a customer, and you add more work under that contract. But strategic business development is when you are going after new work and new customers. You are trying to unseat an incumbent. It is much more expensive to do, but you have to do that if you want to win larger contracts. You have to be efficient, or you end up spending a lot of time on something and have nothing to show for it.
WT: What do you see as Camber’s core strengths?
Batson: We are very diversified. I don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. But we do four things very well. One is our intelligence work; a second is our training, from front-end development to simulators. Training is a big thing we do.
Third is providing support to decision-makers. We help them in the program office. And fourth is the support we provide to the commands. We support all the joint commands. Whether it is helping them fight the war or getting ready to fight a war, we are really good at supporting them.
WT: What are the biggest challenges facing the market?
Batson: Insourcing has been a big problem for us. Our folks reside in the program offices, and those are some of the folks they have gone after. We lost about 100 last year, but we’ve still experienced double-digit growth in that area.
The economy is another challenge. Budgets are getting cut in some of the things we do, so to keep growing, we have just got to outwork our competitors.
WT: Camber is owned by private equity group New Mountain Capital. Do you expect to go public as part of their strategy to recoup their investment in Camber?
Batson: We are preparing for it. But I think there is a size you need to be, and I don’t think we are there yet, though companies smaller than us have gone public. But being public is very expensive, so I think you need to be more in the $600 million to $700 million range to make it work.
WT: Where to you see Camber in five years?Batson: There is no doubt we’ll be over $1 billion, but the question is what do we look like. We’ve won a lot of best places to work awards. Our employees love working here, so I want my employees to say they wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, and I want our customers to tell me they couldn’t complete their mission without our employees. If I don’t hear that, then I know something is wrong.