Skin in the game
Employee ownership gives NES Associates a can-do attitude
One evening in 2007, Tim Murray walked into a restaurant where his wife, Teri, and his best friend of 20 years, Andy Gomer, were waiting for him. “It was an intervention,” Murray recalls, laughing.
The two told Murray they were afraid that he was working himself to death in his government job. He had gained too much weight, and his blood pressure was sky high. Gomer, who had started a small IT company, NES Associates, told Murray to come work for him — even though he didn’t really have a defined job for him. “That’s the kind of guy Andy is,” Murray says.
When Murray joined the company, he was officially employee No. 17. “We were in 1,000 square feet on the ground floor of an office building. There was a hallway with some offices off it and a kitchen, and when we wanted to get everyone together, we had to borrow someone else’s conference room,” he says.
Today, NES Associates has about 230 employees, most of them based in Northern Virginia. The headquarters is in Alexandria’s Metro Park with another office about four blocks away and a third in Springfield.
The company provides IT services for government agencies, primarily the Department of Defense, as well as some commercial businesses and hospitals. A big break for the company came in 2008 when it was awarded a contract from SAIC. “We’ve been a subcontractor since then,” says Murray, now the company’s chief operations officer.
NES was selected to provide support as a prime small business contractor under the CIO-SP3 program, which provides comprehensive IT support for all federal and Department of Defense agencies.
Working jointly with SBD Alliant, the company also was awarded the Alliant Small Business Contract for the Defense Logistics Agency’s Network Infrastructure Support Services, a $12 million contract that has NES upgrading and establishing network infrastructure at 11 military bases.
NES employees act like they own the company — because they do. When Gomer created the company, he set aside 85 percent of the ownership for the employees.
“Someday in the future, if the company is sold or goes public, every employee here has a potentially life-changing benefit,” says Lori Severson, the company’s director of business development. “It truly is incredible, and Andy did it because he believes it’s the right thing to do.”
There are advantages to the company, too, though. “We can attract top talent. Our employees want to go in every day and make a difference,” Severson says. “They know it’s in their best interest, so it was a brilliant, generous and remarkable strategy” to give them a stake in the company’s ownership.
Severson had used NES for installation work when she was a COO of a small company. Gomer and Murray asked her to join NES Associates when they heard she was leaving her job. She became employee No. 21. “I knew them and liked them. You want to work with people you trust.”
The guiding philosophy for NES staff is to make their contractor look good. “Our people throw their bodies at a problem,” Murray says. “Contractors have told us about former subcontractors who would go to a site and discover that the material maybe hadn’t arrived yet or someone wouldn’t let them in. The subcontractor would leave and reschedule. Our guy would work the problem and be on the base getting the job done. So jobs that used to take two weeks were now getting done in days.”
Murray says it’s a mindset that is reinforced. “The government pays a lot of money per hour for our folks to be working on their sites. So we need to constantly ask ourselves, ‘Would I be willing to pay this much for the work I’m doing?’ If the answer is no, we’re not doing enough.”