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Last Update: Thursday April 2, 2020

Key Idea: Partner with Big Business

Arnold Punaro of SAIC explains how their $6 billion company looks for the right small businesses to play on its team.  Jodi Johnson (Oberon) and Joe Fergus (COMTek) also comment.

Key Question:


Look for mentoring from a big company or even a trade association.  All of the businesses in this episode have been or are currently involved in SAIC's mentoring program.  SAIC needs small companies who have particular talents to be part of the work it does for the federal government.  SAIC must actively look for owners like Joe Fergus, Dave Young, Jodi Johnson and Mark Gross.

SAIC guides the small businesses through complications of doing business with the federal government.  For example,  one of the big problems any company has when doing business with the government involves paperwork compliance which requires specific accounting processes.  The hardware and software for this is expensive so SAIC will put the small companies it works with into their system to save the small business owner the up-front cost.  As the small company grows and proves itself to be a player as a supplier to the federal government, it will buy its own accounting system.

SAIC has a formal relationship with about 5,000 small companies and the goal is to help those small companies grow.  Wouldn't it be great if every owner had a support system like SAIC?  Pamela Rodgers, owner of Rodgers Chevrolet, told us that General Motors is a great partner to her and that without their training and their financing she would not be a dealer.

Trade associations are good places to find partners and mentors because each association is full of mature companies.  To form an informal partner relationship, seek out founders of some of the mature companies.  These veteran owners will be flattered when you asked them for advice.

Think about it

Which big companies are in or related to your supply chain?  Do you know if any of them have a mentoring program for small business?

Clip from: Veterans Think Big

Let us celebrate and honor the contributions of our veterans. 

Washington, DC and the nation:  Defenders of freedom. Patriots.  Veterans.   These people come from every part of society and from every corner of the nation.  They get special training and they serve their country.  Some enter combat and some get injured. In one way or another, they all come home,  and are discharged or retire from the military.  Many join the workforce and begin re-creating their life with the special honors and experiences of being in the US military.

Meet four veterans who came home and started a business and each of them has become enormously successful.  They have all been creating jobs for many years now and are all highly respected within their industry.

In this episode of the show they each tell how they started companies to provide services to the military.   They explain that doing business with the federal government is different than selling goods and services to the private sector. 

All three have fast-growing businesses that range from $26 million to $70 million in annual sales.

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Science Applications International Corporation

Arnold Punaro, Senior Vice President

1710 SAIC Drive
Mail Stop 1-14
McLean, VA 22102

Visit our web site:

Business Classification:
government contracting

Year Founded:

Partner with Big Business

VOICEOVER:   SAIC’s 44,000 employees provide professional services primarily to the US government.  Arnold Punaro’s responsibilities there include the recruiting and mentoring of thousands of small businesses. 

ARNOLD PUNARO (SAIC):  Well small business is essential to SAIC, it has been from the early days.  We’ve always had a passion for working with our small businesses.  We started as a small business.  We started with $100,000 contract and now we’re nine plus billion.  So we take that innovation,   that leadership, that enthusiasm, that laser focus on accomplishing the mission that comes with having served in the US military and we give them the business skills to be successful.  Teaming together we go work with our government customer and solve their most difficult problems. 

VOICEOVER:  SAIC was key to Joe’s first government contact but it was Joe who got his foot in the door.

JOE FERGUS (COMTek) :  I told him, "General,  I’m Joe Fergus.  I’m former Bell Laboratories.  I have a company that specializes in technology, particularly telecommunications and I’d like to come out and tell you what we do."  Without thinking the General says, sure, come on out and I got the appointment.  Flew all the way to Arizona, drove 90 miles to Fort Huachuca.
When I got there, his secretary led me to his conference room and there were about five or six people in this conference room, colonels and directors and so forth.  And, of course I am alone with all these guys and I don’t know what to expect.  He spoke to me for about 25 minutes, telling me about his challenges.  I just stood there intently listening.  When he was done speaking, I found myself going through various permutations of network architectures.  A month later I got a call from SAIC that says a general would like you on the team. 

So that’s, that’s how we practically got started  in this company. 

JODI JOHNSON  I stay very focused

VOICEOVER:  Like (COMTek) , Oberon works with SAIC.

JODI:    We actually along with SAIC have developed and fielded the first ever tactically deployed biometrics collection system* in the history of warfare.  It’s very important and it is saving lives every day.

ARNOLD:  We have a mentor-protégé program, where we go find small businesses or they find us and we work with them to try to make them more successful.  Many of these small businesses don’t have the back office capability that they need to basically do government contracting so we help train them and help them put in systems to be able to work with us and work with the government.  But our main goal is to take these small businesses, to give them the same kind of chance our company had when we got started, to hopefully make them as successful as our company has been over the long term.

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