Customer Solution Architects, a digital transformation and IT services consulting firm, is positioned at a critical point in the GovCon market. After successfully graduating from the Small Business Administration program, CSA has grown from a small business to a mid-tier organization that rivals some of the big players at GovCon.
GovCon Wire spoke to Amy BlekenCSA CEO, to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing the company during this transitional period, and to get his thoughts on solutions and policy changes that could better support small to midsize businesses in the GovCon space.
Bleken joined CSA in 2019 and became CEO when the company Capstone acquired in July 2021, and now she is leading the organization through its next phase of growth with the help of a newly strengthened leadership team.
Read below to find out what Amy Bleken has to say about CSA’s commitment to veterans, the pillars of the company’s growth roadmap, giving back to the communities they serve and more.
GovCon Wire: It’s been a year since CSA acquired Capstone and you took the helm as CEO. What attributes of CSA’s mission attracted you to this role? What do you hope to accomplish at CSA?
Amy Bleken: “What drew me to CSA and what I hope to accomplish is really the same thing. I want CSA to provide impactful solutions and expertise to advance our client’s mission. I believe it is an incredible privilege and responsibility to lead a company where our culture and environment celebrate diversity, act with integrity, inspire transparent engagement, and are equally committed to the success of our customers and employees.
GCW: With the current administration focusing heavily on small businesses in the federal sector, how will your business evolve with the market to ensure success through policy and compliance changes going forward?
Bleken: “I am very passionate about this subject. I’ve had a few opportunities to speak with Defense Acquisition University about the challenges of what it’s like to be a mid-sized company in today’s acquisition space. CSA is a company that has directly benefited from the Small Business Administration program, and CSA is today a successful mid-sized company thanks to successful small business programs.
Over time, CSA has invested in our culture, we have invested in our people, our infrastructure, and even the resources to pursue new businesses. But all of that was put in jeopardy the minute we made it through the small business program.
There are many benefits and incentives for our customers to continue doing business with mid-sized companies like CSA. We have the ability to act quickly and with agility without bureaucracy, and because of our size, CSA is able to give our clients attention directly from our executive management. CSA offers some of the best technical capabilities and expertise available to our clients, but most importantly, CSA has proven our ability to execute and deliver large-scale contracts through the receipt of outstanding CPARS.
However, now that we are a successful mid-sized company, there are too many barriers to entry for small to mid-sized companies to compete for unrestricted contracts.
Some of the recommended policy changes that have often been discussed in other forums are contracting officers and acquisition offices should consider using a NAICS designed for 1,000 employees. If you’re a premium small business on a restricted IDIQ and you graduate, you should automatically be propelled to the unrestricted path. And I think there’s a scarcity of these smaller contract solicitations. It would therefore be beneficial to keep these acquisitions in the $50-150 million range outside of the small business program to allow for more contract competition within the mid-tiers.
GCW: What are the most important ways CSA is advancing its bids and bidding processes to drive business growth and establish itself as a major player in the GovCon industry?
Bleken: “We recently hired Tim Spadafore and Ron “Fog” Hahn within our new management team, and we spent a lot of time focusing on our growth roadmap. The three pillars of this growth map are really for us differentiated and demand-generating offerings, attracting and retaining high-level talent, and expanded and highly leveraged contract vehicles. You can’t boil the ocean, you have to focus, and those are our three focus areas. We are therefore currently developing specific growth initiatives linked to this roadmap and establishing metrics to measure our success. In doing so, we will ensure our continued advancement and growth within the GovCon community. »
GCW: An important part of strong business ethics in the federal sector is giving back to the community. Can you talk to the different charities and work with other organizations your business does to make a difference?
Bleken: “CSA’s community outreach program has been in place for over 18 years. We carry out several charitable actions, which vary each year from monetary donations to participation events, which means that we have the capacity not only to serve one or two communities, but we are able to serve communities all over the world where we have employee representation.
For example, when COVID-19 was ravaging our country, we were able to partner with multiple food banks in the communities we serve and have a broad presence in places like San Diego, Philadelphia, the DMV, and Mechanicsburg. These partnerships have given our employees a really simple and direct outlet to give. Through this donation, we were also able to make a matching donation from the company, and we have all seen the impact and result of this donation, especially in the communities we serve.
During the holidays, I like to think we offer a very unique way to help our employees donate it to the charities of their choice. We run a 12-day giving campaign every year that selects a random number of employees every day for 12 days. Employees receive a prize that they can either keep or donate to a charity of their choice. If they choose to donate, we donate the cash value of that prize, and we do a business match to the organization or charity of their choice. Last year, through these donations, we were able to donate over $60,000 to several different charities specific to our employees and their own personal impact.
Another charitable success for us is seeing our company culture come to life outside of the office. Living a healthy lifestyle through fitness has been in CSA’s DNA since its inception. In 2022, we sponsored a spring and summer 5k run/walk series that continues the tradition of improving the quality of life of our employees through exercise and also impacts the communities we serve. By doing this series of 5K runs/walks, we have supported communities across the United States. Additionally, through the efforts of our employees in Germany, we have raised over $35,000 in the fight against cancer by organizing and participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. These are just a few of the ways we try to make an impact in all the communities we serve.
GCW: CSA is known for its strong commitment to its veterans. Can you explain why this core value is so important to CSA’s corporate culture?
Bleken: “I am a disabled military veteran, and CSA was founded by a disabled military veteran 18 years ago. We have a long and storied history of supporting and participating in outreach events showcasing veterans and their spouses. CSA’s employee demographics are nearly 50% veterans. The mission-focused work that CSA performs depends on the enriched and unique skills, experience and knowledge that only veterans can bring. We recently achieved Virginia Values Veterans (V3) certification. This is an important responsibility that recognizes the CSA’s commitment to veterans and military transitioning to civilian life, so it is a deep and active passion for the CSA.
GCW: You mentioned your military service. Can you explain how your military experience has shaped your executive leadership style and values and prepared you for an impactful career providing mission solutions to military clients?
Bleken: “I joined the military at 17, and it exposed me at a very young and impressionable age to discipline and the impact of the core values of the military. I learned the true meaning of character, confidence, and commitment, and I believe these really laid the foundation for my personal values in action today. As CEO responsible for delivering impactful solutions and expertise to clients around the world every day, I remember that CSA’s core values of integrity, diversity, transparency and engagement truly reflect what I learned in basic training so many years ago. I think that’s the foundation that needs to be established to do what we do every day.