Dedication, teamwork propel Trowbridge onto the Fast 50

We explore how Karen Trowbridge took her father's advice and built a team that rocked its way unto the 2012 Fast 50.

Her name might be on the company letterhead, but Karen Trowbridge is quick to credit other people with the success of her small business, Trowbridge and Trowbridge LLC.

Making its debut at No. 46 on the 2012 Washington Technology Fast 50, the Vienna, Va., company has racked up a compound annual growth rate of 73.92 percent from 2007 to 2011.

The first person she credits for this success is her father, Ron Trowbridge, who was one of the principals at RS Information Systems. RSIS was a poster child for small-business success before being acquired by Wyle Inc. in 2008.

She’s also quick to credit her staff at Trowbridge, many of whom she worked with at RSIS.

“I won’t take the credit,” she said of her company’s success since its founding in 2006. “I have a phenomenal group of executives, and they are dedicated to our vision and mission. That’s a huge element of our success.”

One of her top priorities is keeping her employees happy, she added.

Her start at RSIS is also important because she was able to participate in an executive development program and then managed projects for the company.

“I learned a lot of great things, and I wanted to apply that to my company,” Trowbridge said.

The result is that Trowbridge and Trowbridge offers a broad range of IT, systems integration and telecommunications services. Its main lines of service are IT planning, operations and maintenance; systems engineering and integration; telecommunications; data center operations; cybersecurity; and software development.

“Instead of a niche player, we are an end-to-end provider,” she said. “We can do a lot for a company our size, and we can do it for a cost-effective price.”

Luck has also played a role in the company’s success, including events such as the acquisition of Altech Services Inc. in 2010, Trowbridge said. The move got the company into the unified communications business and provided a revenue boost.

“It was fortuitous,” she said. “The owner was looking to retire, and the timing was right. And we gained a new line of business.”

Although Trowbridge said she is following the model she learned at RSIS, she has had to make some changes along the way. “We’ve had to be adaptable because the market is different today,” she said. “Some of the things RSIS did wouldn’t work today.”

The biggest challenge in the market is the budget. “The constraints on the customers are different; they have to tighten their belts,” she said. “And we have to be creative.”

The company’s goal is to help customers reduce costs without reducing the level of service they need. “That’s certainly challenging,” she said.

Another change facing Trowbridge and Trowbridge is that the company is outgrowing its small-business designation. “We are getting into that scary midtier,” she said.

To prepare for the transition, the company is building its business pipeline and trying to expand its customer base. Currently, it counts the Army, Air Force, Labor Department, National Institutes of Health and Department of Veterans Affairs as its biggest customers.

“We want to build off those relationships and grow into new markets,” Trowbridge said.

An important win was the recent capture of NIH’s CIO-Solutions and Partners 3 contract. The $20 billion multiple-award vehicle is a prime contract for Trowbridge and Trowbridge.

“We’ve built a regimented business development process, and we’ve invested in our infrastructure,” she said. “That will position us for growth because we are very structured about growth.”

And focusing on growth is one of the “Ronisms” Trowbridge said her father taught her.

“He always said: If you aren’t growing, you are dying,” she said. “You always have to be thinking ahead and striving for growth. I live and breathe that.”