Client 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 transitioned from a small-sized business to a mid-tier organization that competes with some of GovCon’s big players.
GovCon Wire spoke with Amy Bleken, CEO of CSA, to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing the company during this transitory period, and to get her thoughts on the solutions and policy changes that could better support small mid-tier companies in the GovCon space.
Bleken joined CSA in 2019 and became CEO when the company acquired Capstone in July 2021, and now, she’s leading the organization through its next phase of growth with the help of a newly bolstered executive 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 are the attributes of CSA’s mission that attracted you to the role? What do you hope to accomplish at CSA?
Amy Bleken: “What attracted me to CSA and what I hope to accomplish really are the same thing. I want CSA to deliver impactful solutions and expertise to advance our client’s mission. I think it’s an awesome privilege and responsibility to lead a company where our culture and our environment celebrates diversity, acts with integrity, inspires transparent engagement and also commits to the success of both our clients and our employees.”
GCW: With the current administration focusing heavily on small business in the federal sector, how will your company move with the market to ensure success through changes in policy and compliance into the future?
Bleken: “I’m very passionate about this topic. I’ve had a few opportunities to speak with the Defense Acquisition University about the challenges of what it’s like to be a mid-tier company in the current acquisition space. CSA is a business that directly benefited from the Small Business Administration program, and CSA is a successful mid-sized business today because of the small business programs that were successful.
Over time, CSA made investments in our culture, we made investments in our employees, infrastructure and even the resources to pursue new business. But all of that was put at risk the minute we became successful as a result of the small business program.
There are many benefits and incentives for our clients to continue to do business with mid-sized companies like CSA. We have the ability to move fast and nimbly with no bureaucracy, and because of our size, CSA is able to give our clients attention directly from our executive leadership. CSA offers some of the best technical capabilities and expertise available to our clients, but most importantly, CSA has proven our ability to perform and to deliver on large scale contracts through the receipt of outstanding CPARS.
However, now that we are a successful mid-tier, there are too many barriers of entry for small mid-tier companies to compete for unrestricted contracts.
Some of the recommended policy changes that have frequently been discussed in other forums are contracting officers and acquisition offices should consider using a NAICS designed for 1,000 employees. If you are a small business prime on a restricted IDIQ and you graduate, you should be automatically on-ramped to the unrestricted track. And I think that there is a scarcity of those smaller size contract solicitations. So it would benefit to keep those acquisitions in the $50 million-150 million range set aside outside of the small business program to allow for more contract competition within the mid tiers.”
GCW: What are the most significant ways that CSA is working to advance its contract bidding offerings and processes in order to drive company growth and establish itself as a big player in the GovCon sector?
Bleken: “We recently hired Tim Spadafore and Ron “Fog” Hahn as part of our new executive leadership team, and we have spent a lot of time focusing on our growth roadmap. The three pillars of that growth map really for us are differentiated and demand-generating offerings, attracting and retaining high-functioning talent, and expanded and highly-leveraged contract vehicles. You can’t boil the ocean, you have to have focus, and those are our three focus areas. So we are now developing specific growth initiatives tied to that roadmap and establishing metrics to measure our success. In doing so, we will ensure our continued advancement and growth throughout the GovCon community.”
GCW: An important part of having strong business ethics in the federal sector is about giving back to the community. Can you speak to the various charities and work with other organizations that your company does to make a difference?
Bleken: “CSA’s community outreach program has been in place for more than 18 years. We lead several charitable endeavors, which vary from monetary donations to participation events every year, which means that we have the ability to not just serve one or two communities, but we are able to serve communities all over the globe where we have employee representation.
For instance, when COVID-19 was ravaging our nation, we were able to partner with several food banks in the communities that we serve and have a large presence in places like San Diego, Philadelphia, the DMV and Mechanicsburg. These partnerships gave our employees a really easy and straightforward outlet for giving. Through that giving, we were also able to do a company match donation, and we all saw the impact and the result of that giving, especially in the communities that we serve.
During the holidays, I like to think we offer a very unique way to help our employees pay it forward to the charities of their choice. We launch a 12 days of giving campaign every year that selects a random number of employees each day for 12 days. The employees receive a prize that they can either keep or that they can donate to a charity of their choice. If they choose to donate, we donate the cash value of that prize, plus we do a company match to the organization or the charity of their choice. Last year, through that giving, we were able to give away more than $60,000 to several different charities specific to our employees and their own personal impact.
An additional charitable success for us is witnessing our company’s culture come to life outside of the office. Living a healthy lifestyle through physical fitness has been in CSA’s DNA since its inception. In 2022, we sponsored a spring and summer 5K run/walk series that carries on the tradition of improving the quality of life for our employees through exercise and also impacts the communities that we serve. In doing this 5K run/walk series, we supported communities all over the U.S. Plus, through our employees efforts in Germany, we raised over $35,000 in the fight against cancer by organizing and participating in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. So those are just some of the ways that we’re trying to make an impact throughout all the communities we serve.”
GCW: CSA is known for its strong commitment to our veterans — can you expand on why this core value is so important to CSA’s company culture?
Bleken: “I am a service disabled veteran, and CSA was founded by a service disabled veteran 18 years ago. We have a long and rich history of supporting and participating in outreach events highlighting veterans and their spouses. CSA’s employee demographic is almost 50 percent veteran. The mission-centric work that CSA performs depends on the enriched and unique skill sets, experience and knowledge that only veterans can bring. We recently achieved the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Certification. This is a significant responsibility that recognizes CSA’s commitment to the veterans and military members transitioning to civilian life, so it’s a deep and active passion for CSA.”
GCW: You mentioned your Army service. Can you talk about how your military experience has shaped your executive leadership style and values and prepared you for an impactful career delivering mission solutions to military customers?
Bleken: “I joined the Army at 17, and it exposed me at a very young and impressionable age to the discipline and impact of the Army core values. I learned the true meaning of character, confidence and commitment, and I believe these truly laid the foundation for my personal values in action today. As a CEO who is responsible for delivering impactful solutions and expertise every day to clients around the world, I am reminded that CSA’s own core values of integrity, diversity, transparency and commitment reflect really what I learned in basic training so many years ago. I think that’s the foundation that has to be set to do what we do every day.”