Saalex navigates solutions for the defense industry
By Dana Olsen
When Saalex Solutions landed a $163 million government contract early last year, it solidified the engineering and information technology company’s role as a heavy hitter in the defense industry.
The Camarillo-based company saw its annual revenue jump nearly five-fold from $5.5 million to $24 million between 2010 and 2011.
Founder and CEO Travis Mack told the Business Times those impressive numbers are largely thanks to the five-year contract it signed in January 2011 to provide test-range support services to the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at Naval Base Ventura County’s Point Mugu and China Lake in Riverside County. Under the terms of that contract, Saalex helps those U.S. Navy bases with day-to-day operations, from scheduling weapons tests to reporting the results to their manufacturers.
“A lot of our growth is due to that contract,” Mack said. “In the span of about six months at the end of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011, we won about $205 million worth of projects. We had to ramp up real quick. We hired close to 170 people during that time, too.”
The hiring blitz brought Saalex’s employee count to 315, up from 25 employees
in 2004 and just one when Mack founded the firm in the late 1990s. It also contributed to the firm’s June move from Oxnard to Camarillo.
Saalex’s corporate headquarters is now located at 811-A Camarillo Springs Road, a move Mack said was necessary because the company needed more space to accommodate its growing client roster.
Mack, a Navy veteran who received two Navy Achievement Medals during his tenure as a military serviceman, founded Saalex in the late 1990s as an information technology firm that primarily supported dot-com commercial organizations with things like database administration and software development.
“But in 2000, 2001, the dot-com bubble burst. I was sitting in my living room thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’” Mack said. “Then I got an opportunity from someone who was looking for
a person to do a software test for a major aerospace player. They needed a small, disadvantaged business to help them meet some social and economic goals.”
That company hired Mack, and he sent a software engineer to handle the contract, which was an army battlefield digitization project for the Force Battle Command Brigade, a component of the U.S. Army.
“Our entry into the defense world started with one person doing one task, and then we leveraged that,” Mack said.
Seeing a window into the defense sector, Mack quickly took advantage of courses offered by the Small Business Administration to hone his knowledge of the industry and learn how to do business with the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense.
Over the next several years, Saalex slowly grew.
The company was hired to do more support projects for the government, and with each new project, Mack hired a few more employees.
The year 2004 was as game-changer for Saalex, as that was when the Naval Air Warfare Center at Point Mugu first hired the firm to help with weapon technology and evaluation. The company’s employee count shot up to 25, and “from there, the rest is history.”
Although Saalex has embraced new business over the past two years, Mack said he started the company as a small business and he wants to keep it relatively small.
The company grew 242 percent from 2010 to 2011, but he expects growth to slow to a 35 percent clip from 2011 to 2012.
“We want to be smart about our growth,” he said. “We will continue to grow, but at a more manageable pace.”