It’s no accident that Clark has a copy of “The Little Engine That Could” in his office. Clark also says you might hear senior staff say at meetings: “Never say something cannot be done. There is always a work around or another way to get the job done. It may be challenging, but if it’s important to our clients, we will find a way to do it.”
Although, Whitestone would have liked to get involved in government work sooner, he says the company was still too much of a fledging entity in the early 2000s. Whitestone’s first government contracts weren’t awarded until the firm worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Treasury and Department of Veterans Affairs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Having the ability to take on a big contract quickly, however, has always been Whitestone’s strength. Clark says the company has been fortunate to take over several contracts where other people have failed, with sometimes as little as 24 hours notice.
“Yes, you do struggle to be able to pull things together sometimes at the last minute when it happens like that,” he says. “But we’ve always had the attitude in the company that nobody takes no for an answer. Everybody steps up to the plate and does the job.”
Work around obstacles
That never-say-no attitude was tested when Whitestone was awarded a major Federal Aviation Administration contract during the recession.
The company was picked to secure sites in 27 states and two U.S. territories. Whitestone was hired because it had the best business plan to standardize the equipment and training.
The contract was for $78 million, if fully executed, but Whitestone needed a $5 million line of credit. Clark says all of the banks said no. They said they felt the situation was too unsure, but he believes it was more a case of not being familiar with government contracts.
Rather than give up, Clark and his team found a workaround by going to a factoring lender for a year. Then, Whitestone built a relationship with a bank that understood government contracts and how the Beltway of D.C. worked.
While the financing was the hardest piece of the FAA contract, Clark says they also needed the right people.
Whitestone had roughly 30 days to get the logistics together for 53 locations, and 60 days to transfer everything over. The retired colonel put in charge of the project told Clark and his COO that they couldn’t do it. They didn’t have the infrastructure, computer programs or banking.
Clark says they told him, “That’s not your problem or issue. Your job is to get the job done.”
Everything ended up going without a hitch — without the retired colonel.
“It’s the maintenance and the culture that we have, and the people — how we focus to get the job done, no matter what it takes,” Clark says.
You can create this kind of culture through ownership, pride, passion and holding people to standards, he says. Fortunately, Whitestone has a core of people who go the distance — and help drive that culture.
But you need to keep high hiring standards for your people, if you want to stay true to that mindset.
For example, Clark says Whitestone had recently received close to 70 applications for two new jobs. Some of the existing employees have the skills and training to stay on under the new contract, but of the 70 applicants, about 35 percent wouldn’t even pass the background check.
With growth, empower
Since 2010, Whitestone has grown almost 372 percent. Clark says you can take advantage of tremendous opportunities if you have a great product and deliver what you said you would.
He believes in putting together the best, hardest-working managers you can, even if they don’t necessarily know the industry itself.
However, with growth comes the need for increased infrastructure and processes. Whitestone has had to invest in proposal writers, a contract team, HR, operations, logistics and inventory, as well as software systems.
“A lot of our people wear multiple hats, and we’re able to pull together our complete resources,” he says.
To go to that next level, you need the proper programs in place to keep your company solid, Clark says. It’s about being efficient and streamlining.
The company also won its first overseas contract, which means those investments need the ability to be used outside of the U.S.