Making It Happen. Woburn, Massachusetts was not the kind of town its natives
usually escaped. Paul Maguire, the son of a union electrician and a stay-at-home
Paul Maguire _________________
Making It Happen Woburn, Massachusetts was not the kind of town its natives usually escaped. Paul Maguire, the son of a union electrician and a stay-at-home mom who witnessed his family and neighbors suffer long periods of unemployment through the 1970s, knew the story all too well. “There was a pattern where I grew up,” he reflects today. “If your father was in the trades, you would go into the trades too. But that’s not what my father wanted for me. In that regard, he became my first mentor.” Even at a young age, Paul had the foresight and vision to know that it wasn’t what he wanted for himself, either. “I knew exactly how my future would go unless I took matters into my own hands,” he continues. “I’d live at home, go to state school, and come back to be a teacher or to work at Raytheon. Those were the big opportunities where I was. But I decided I didn’t want to be limited by that, so I made a decision.” Now the president of Ultra Electronics, ProLogic, a government contractor providing breakout information technology services in the DC metropolitan area, it’s safe to say that that decision was the right one. Truth be told, it wasn’t a single decision that launched Paul down the path to success, but rather a series of positive steps that have successively landed him where he is today, the first of which being his commitment to doing well on the PSAT. Indeed, through his sophomore and junior years in high school, he had the decision to either go home early during his last free period of the day, or to stay for a PSAT class. While the vast majority of his classmates opted to leave campus and have fun, Paul instead invested himself in achieving the score that won him the merit scholarship that paid for his college education. “That decision gave me the freedom to choose where I wanted to go to school,” he remarks.
Paul decided on Long Island University because it offered him a free ride and because of its environmental biology program. “My goal in college was to reinvent myself,” he recalls. “I had done well in high school academically and athletically, but I wasn’t the best in any category. I decided that, while I was in college, I would start focusing on really trying to be better.” True to his word, he was elected president of both his freshman and sophomore class. He worked with the Dean of Students, now a U.S. congressman from New York, to change the provision in the school’s constitution dictating that only seniors could be student body president, instead opening it up to any class year. He then seized that opportunity and was the first person to serve in that capacity for both their junior and senior years. Paul had hoped to become an environmental lawyer but thought it best to change his plans after watching President Reagan dismantle the EPA and the Department of the Interior, eliminating many of the jobs he would have been interested in. As he wondered what to do after college instead, he was contacted by the Navy and the military, who were dismayed at the fact that they had not been invited to recruit at the university’s career day since before the Vietnam War. Since military contractors were invited, Paul thought it only made sense to advocate for the presence of military recruiters as well, and the Dean granted permission at his urging. As fate would have it, Paul himself felt drawn to the military, and he entered Aviation Officer Candidate School upon graduating from college. Paul was commissioned and sent to intelligence school in Denver, Colorado, and was then assigned to a navy carrier. After completing several deployments overseas in the late 1980s, he came to Washington, DC to work at the Office of 1
Naval Intelligence, serving in the Pentagon during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and working for a recently promoted Navy Admiral who allowed him to assist with and attend post war briefings at the White House, the National Security Council, and in Congress. It was then that Paul came across an opportunity to transition over to the POW-MIA office, an intelligence office that investigated the fates of POWs and MIAs from Korea, Vietnam, and World War II. “They were looking for someone two ranks senior to me,” says Paul. “Still, I reached out to the Navy Admiral for a recommendation and got the job.” Through that opportunity, he gained a much broader understanding of the world. Whether he was testifying in Congressional committee hearings or traveling to refugee camps in Hong Kong or on the ground in Vietnam, he found himself challenged by the position, but well equipped to rise to the occasion. In 1993, however, he and his wife decided it was time to leave the military lifestyle and venture forth into the government contracting realm. Paul accepted a position working for one of his former mentors in the Navy at a small firm, Autometric, which had been around since the 1950s but had not experienced much growth. The company was doing $17 million in revenue when he arrived, yet soon began to experience unprecedented growth, selling in 2000 to Boeing for more than $120 million while doing $104 million in revenue up to that time. “That growth was all organic, and it really gave me a taste for business,” Paul points out. “I benefited at every step of the way from phenomenal mentors—people who took an interest in showing me how to do just about everything I know about business. I eventually took over business development and marketing for the company, and after Boeing acquired us, I got to sit on the other side of the table and deal with mergers and acquisitions.” Having seen both parts of the equation and feeling as though this wisdom was his life’s calling, Paul knew he wanted to see if he could repeat the process and “make it happen” all over again. After staying a year at Boeing as part of the Autometric acquisition deal, Paul knew it was time to put his capabilities to the test. One of Boeing’s subcontractors was trying to break into the defense market at the time, and they brought over several key members of the former
Autometric team to help build a defense business practice. Paul, along with two former colleagues, formed the new management team for ProLogic in 2001, and their goal was to take the enterprise from $4.7 million to $50 million before selling it. “After we sold to Boeing, we didn’t have the appetite to go through the bootstrap process and start from scratch,” he remembers. “We wanted a business that had a platform already— something we could graft our business development and execution models on top of. The previous owner, who became a mentor to me, had hit an inflection point right around $5 million and couldn’t break through that barrier by himself. Rather than struggle along at that level, he decided to bring in people who had done it before, and it was a good fit.” Entirely organically and with no acquisitions, ProLogic grew to $62 million through the next seven years. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, and Paul remembers the early years as being especially challenging. “We’d buy our own office supplies on our personal credit cards and assemble our own furniture,” he recalls. “We were self-funded and without a line of credit.” Upon joining ProLogic, Paul and his team won a contract with the Air Force to do a study on 3D visualization technology. The Air Force was pleased with the recommendations Paul and his team made and hired them to implement several of the ideas. ProLogic then repeated this process with medical information technology contracts for the Department of Defense. Overnight, ProLogic went from being a NASA sub-contractor doing $4 to 5 million a year, to adding a $7 million IT business and a $10 million DOD visualization situational awareness business. Their goal was to add a new core competency in each of their first five years, and they did. ProLogic then stabilized, and Paul and his team have been focusing on perfecting those niches ever since. One aspect that makes ProLogic so unique is the fact that, while most other 8a businesses are run as sole proprietorships by individuals, ProLogic’s owner shared a large portion of his equity with the management team and the rest of the employees. “Our owner was generous enough to make it essentially an employee-owned company,” Paul points out. New talents were brought on board, and the company opened offices
in northern Virginia, California, Maryland, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. Paul certainly had bigger hopes for his future than what his circumstances had in store when he was a young boy, but he had never imagined he’d become president of a company like ProLogic. In fact, he was planning to leave the enterprise to run the M&A portfolio of another defense company in 2010, when he received a phone call from his boss. “Between Autometric and ProLogic, I’d worked for him for 17 years and he never called me on weekends, so I knew it was something important,” Paul remembers. “He said he was planning to leave, and he asked if I’d be interested in applying for the job.” Paul declined at first, but as other individuals began jockeying for the position and framing themselves as “heir apparents,” it became clearer and clearer to Paul that he might actually be a better candidate. Thus, he applied. “The funny thing is that I had never wanted to be president,” he acknowledges. “I was focused on my role in business development, and that allowed me to get along with all the presidents I worked for. They never had to worry about me wanting their job.” Furthermore, in 2008, ProLogic was acquired by Ultra Electronics, a UK company. The foreign ownership prevented them from being awarded several million dollars in re-competes virtually overnight. In order to regain its U.S. status, ProLogic had to establish a Proxy Board of Directors with three American citizens managing the company. The president thus had to report to a U.S. board, which then reported to a UK board—a reality that entailed too much oversight for the former president, who had always been his own boss. “I had always worked for somebody else, so it didn’t bother me to have a boss or bosses,” Paul explains. “Also, a large portion of the remaining revenue was business I had brought in. I knew all the customers, and most of the employees had come on during my nine years there, so I knew the whole staff as well.” Leveraging this knowledge base, Paul proactively created a 30-60-90 day plan, complete with staffing and role responsibilities, for his interview. The plan was keenly aligned with a strategy that the board itself had put together, cinching the deal. Since the advent of Paul’s leadership in 2010, ProLogic has grown back up to $52 million, employing 270 people across 13 offices as it focuses
on data planning, collection, sharing, and protection. In reflecting on the business world that young people are entering today, Paul notes how important it is to give employees the kind of mentorship that he received while climbing up the ladder. “My last boss taught me that everybody has value, but he also taught me that we all have a responsibility to add that value every day and to avoid feeling entitled,” Paul avows. The entitlement attitude he cautions against is nowhere to be seen in his own ascension to success, and it is in large part due to this absence that he was able to achieve so much. “I was blessed with a lot of fantastic mentors along the way, starting with my dad. However, when it came to succeeding in life, I really knew it was up to me,” he remembers. “My parents didn’t have the money. My dad would work two to three parttime jobs when he was laid off from his regular job, and I’d watch him get up at 3:30 in the morning to take the bus into Boston. From watching my parents, I got a wake up call early on about what was needed and expected of me if I didn’t want that to be my future. I knew I had to make it happen.” That’s exactly what he did, and exactly what other young people can aspire to do too. By Gordon J. Bernhardt, CPA, PFS, CFP®, AIF® About Gordon J. Bernhardt President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area, Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business-owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high-quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money. For more information, visit www.BernhardtWealth.com and Gordon’s Blog.