- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A McLean satellite-communications company is helping American soldiers talk to each other across the globe.

Arrowhead Global Solutions Inc. provides engineering and design support to the Defense Information System Agency’s global satellite program under a $2.1 billion, 10-year contract awarded in 2001.

Arrowhead, one of three companies selected to share the contract, designs and builds the ground stations while providing technical support to the orbiting satellites.

The company’s ability to land Defense Department contracts helped it win the Small Business Administration’s Prime Contractor of the Year award for the region covering Virginia, Maryland, the District, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

SBA officials also picked Arrowhead because owner Mary Ann Elliott is American Indian.

The company, founded in 1991, is in the running for the national version of the award, to be announced in September.

“There is an old native American proverb that if you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there,” the 60-year-old widow said. “From the first day I started, I had a vision of where I wanted the company to go and what goal to achieve.”

The SBA recognition is one more step toward Ms. Elliott’s main goal of hitting $100 million in annual revenue.

While Arrowhead has not reached that goal, which she had set for 2000, the 175-employee company projects it will grow to 250 workers and reach $150 million in sales by 2004.

Ms. Elliott said she missed her original goal because of project and management problems in 1997. Despite the problems, Arrowhead swelled from $60,000 in revenue in 1991 to $34.3 million in 2002.

The company began as a consultant to the satellite-communications industry in the basement of Ms. Elliott’s Rockville home. She moved to Falls Church in 1993 to be closer to the federal agencies she serves, which include the Defense, State, Homeland Security and Transportation departments. Arrowhead later relocated to larger headquarters in McLean.

Though she has no college degree, Ms. Elliott has an extensive career dealing with satellite communications, including sales stints with Motorola, Navidyne, Talon Technology and Contel Corp.

But after working for companies that went through five mergers in eight years, Ms. Elliott said she wanted to leave the corporate world for a chance to start her own business. She had a $5,000 line of credit.

“I started the company at the same time as Desert Storm, and I saw that the way we fought was through satellite communication, which was moving to the digital age. I knew the market would be a niche for consulting services,” she said.

Ms. Elliott subcontracted for bigger companies and outsourced most of the construction and engineering work. She later hired a handful of engineers and her son, Dan Elliott, to increase the company’s services.

“I never planned to offer Web-site services or graphic support, but agencies want you to have all these internal capabilities, and we had to get them to grow the company,” Ms. Elliott said.

At one point in 1998 she feared the company would fold.

“I made some mistakes, and the company hit a point where I thought we would have to start all over again,” she said.

Arrowhead made $4 million, $6 million short of its 1998 forecast, prompting Ms. Elliott to lay off three employees.

After reorganizing management and consolidating divisions, the company’s sales climbed 40 percent in 1999 to $5.59 million. Annual revenue jumped each of the following three years.

Now the company is hiring 10 to 15 employees in the next month.

“I need five employees right now just for one project we have in progress,” Ms. Elliott said.

Much of the growth has come from increased federal spending for satellites and information technology after the September 11 attacks and for the war in Iraq, said Mr. Elliott, Arrowhead’s director for enterprise-management services.

For example, Arrowhead also is designing and implementing the Cyber Warning Information Network, a secure communications system to connect all federal cyber-alert centers for the National Communications System. The company did not disclose terms of the contract.

The company focuses on defense contracts, butting heads with smaller competitors such as Marshalls & Associates, an Olympia, Wash., consultant on government information systems; and huge companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda.

Though Arrowhead is expanding its fiber-network division, Ms. Elliott said she has no plans to move the company’s core business out of the defense market, which makes up 75 percent to 80 percent of Arrowhead’s business.

“It’s important to go after contracts where the company has reputable skills and expertise to get the job done,” she said.

“Anyone can win a contract, but you have to work hard and have the right skills to keep that contract and grow it.”

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