When Mark Stafford was a college student at Tulane University, he knew he someday wanted to run his own company.
Following his college graduation, Stafford joined the Air Force and served on active duty from 1994-1998, but continued to carry those aspirations.
So after he left traditional service (he’s still in the Air Force Reserves as a colonel) Stafford launched a career that began in aerospace engineering and eventually led him to the industry of defense consulting.
He joined Delta Solutions & Strategies LLC, an international defense consulting firm based in Colorado Springs, in 2015, and soon moved into the role of COO before being promoted to CEO in January.
Since then, Stafford has helped steer the company toward unprecedented growth and financial success, with the firm having nearly doubled its 2018 revenue over the past year.
And with plans on the horizon to open up a new office in Huntsville, Ala., this spring, it appears Delta Solutions & Strategies is well positioned to continue building upon its current momentum.
How did you end up at Delta Solutions & Strategies?
When I got out in ’98 I worked for a company called the Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit, federally-funded research company. So I worked there for a few years and then moved to (information technology consulting company) Booz Allen Hamilton, where I was for about 11 years.
Delta Solutions was one of their partners, and they had an opportunity and they asked me to come over and help run the company. So I jumped at the opportunity. I had a lot of respect for Delta and what Kelly [Bain] had done in founding the company, so it was a unique opportunity.
To what do you attribute the company’s recent success?
When I took over in January, there were definitely some things I wanted to change going forward. So we went after a couple different markets … that really helped us. But putting the infrastructure in place over the past four years and diversifying the company, it took some time to put that all in place, but once we did that and had the right employees ... that really enabled the success.
Once you hire the talent, then you can win these contract vehicles and things seem to explode. But you’ve got to put that culture in place. Your reputation is really important in this industry so people know that when they partner with you, you’re going to deliver. Once we did that … the growth took off.
What qualities, would you say, separate good leaders from bad ones?
I think in leadership, you have to set an example. As the CEO, running the company every day, I don’t go around asking people to do things I wouldn’t do. Everyone in the company has a responsibility here.
So for example, when we go out and we’re looking at business opportunities, development, marketing, or even working on the contracts, that goes all the way up to me.
Even as the CEO, I still work on the proposals. I still bid the contracts. I do business development, and I even work on some of the contracts occasionally.
And I think that’s important. It keeps me in touch with everybody else and sets an example that everyone has to be involved in the company and in the direction we’re going.
And I think integrity and ethics are critical. So I have to set an example for the company of what I expect from all the employees. Once you set that example, everyone buys in.
How have you seen the business change over the years?
One big thing is cybersecurity. We really have to be cognizant of protecting our networks, so that has been one of our big changes. That is one of the things I started about a year ago, is making sure our networks are protected and making sure our employees’ private data, and the government’s data, is protected.
So that’s the biggest change on the cyber side in the last two years.
As for the market, here in Colorado Springs the economy has been booming the past few years. So that has really changed everything. Previously, with housing here and the market, it was fairly easy to do business. We could find a lot of employees, salaries were reasonable, housing costs were great. But in the last 24 to 36 months as we’ve exploded here, salaries have gone up dramatically. So we’ve really had to readjust how we do our hiring. That has been the biggest change in the last 15 to 20 years working in this environment, is we’ve never seen this kind of explosion. It’s great for the city — it’s fantastic — but for us, all the employers, we’ve had to adjust. And that means better salaries and better benefits.
We also have a flexible work arrangement, so we don’t have dictated hours or vacation time. We make sure our employees — we tell them what needs to be done and we trust them. It’s amazing, when you give people that flexibility, what they’ll do for the company.
Where do you hope to take the company from here?
As a small defense contractor, you get that question a lot, because you’re competing in this market with other small businesses. And as you grow, you have to adapt to the market.
There’s no plans to sell the company right now. We’re having fun. Business is good. When you’re growing like this and you have excellent employees, there’s no plans to sell in the short term. So our plan is to keep growing the company within our value structure of integrity and ethics going forward.
I do see us growing here in Colorado Springs in the space market. We’re going to continue to grow in the operations and maintenance market — that’s been excellent for us —and then keep growing our services. So I see us on a good growth path going forward for the next 10 years.
— Join Phil Long Dealerships and the Colorado Springs Business Journal for the 2020 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Mark Stafford, 4:30-6 p.m., Nov. 11, via Zoom. Sponsors also include Amnet and Stockman Kast Ryan + Co.