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Tough Times Created a Stronger Business at Ishpi Information Technologies

Like so many other businesses, Ishpi Information Technologies, Inc. (or just ISHPI for short) has gone through some tough times in recent years. Noah Leask and his wife, Lisa, founded the federal contracting business in 2006, and experienced a period of significant growth. But three years later, the company was on the verge of going out of business. Thanks to some smart planning and effective hiring, Noah was able to turn things around. Now ISHPI is a thriving, award-winning business, with offices in multiple cities and annual revenues growing exponentially.

We spoke with Noah to learn more about his business’s turnaround and find out how ISHPI continues to make more happen.

Why did you start ISHPI?

Out of need. My wife and I had moved to Charleston, SC, with a company where I was an executive vice president, and it wasn’t what we thought it would be. We had the perfect balance between us, where my wife had all of the back office experience to set up the company’s accounting, human resources and administrative systems, while I could bring in the programs and run them while working full time for clients. We both knew we could do things differently, where the employee, the client and the client’s mission are really our focus. We didn’t want to be another company that just gave lip service while focusing on profits. So we founded ISHPI in August 2006 and opened the doors in our home office in September 2006, at which point we began traveling four weeks out of every month. That travel schedule lasted 22 months, and in 2008 we began to see significant growth.

That’s great! Has the business continued to grow?

Actually, no. In late 2009 and early 2010, we lost 68.5 percent of our 2010 backlogged revenue due to the sporadic nature of government wartime funding. We expected, planned for and had overhead costs to support a minimum of $6.9M in 2010 revenue, and, seemingly overnight, were left with only $2.1M. We had to lay off nearly 30 employees who were directly supporting government clients. I convened my senior managers group, only to find that our sales pipeline was sorely inadequate to support keeping us above a very low annual revenue of $3M. Immediately, I made the hard — but in hindsight, correct — decisions to let most of those senior managers go and to find the right team to get us through this challenging period. We worked very hard and were rewarded in 2011 with a four-year $20M win.

What did you learn from that experience?

Always understand your financial picture, both now and in the future. It is so important to know how you’re operating against the current year and constantly be looking at the backlog for the next five years against your growth plan. Be able to model decisions that have a financial impact so you can measure your risk. Taking risks is a part of the game in business, but there is no excuse for not understanding your risk fully. Additionally, never stop looking for the right team. When you’ve finally found the right team, change your organizational structure to maximize their talents and give them the people, processes and technology to support them 100 percent.

Technology is obviously an important part of what ISHPI does. How do you make more happen with the technology resources you have?

At ISHPI, we use technology to make our work lives easier. We only implement technology where it makes sense to do so. We do our best to keep it simple and not complicate our business lives with unneeded technology. That said, we’ve been able to keep costs down by maximizing our use of technology instead of staffing a process with people. We work hard to get the most out of our technology. We use a lot of IT for communication and to automate redundant tasks.

What has been your biggest professional achievement?

My most significant professional achievement has been to put the right team and organizational structure together. It has been a 5-year effort to position these two critical elements together so that we could experience the growth I demand and ensure smooth and seamless operations. This has been a significant challenge for the last seven years while my business has grown from zero to over $23M in annual revenue.

It sounds like there’s a lot for new additions to the team to know. How do you ensure smooth onboarding?

Staples’ Copy & Print service has been a godsend in this process. Service is quick and error free. We trust Staples with our new-hire packets, which are often the first “hard copy” impression of ISHPI for new employees. It’s critical that the packets be perfect, and we’ve never been disappointed.

How else has Staples helped you as you’ve grown your company?

Cleaning supplies, bottled water and paper products (paper towels, tissues, etc.) — finding all these things at Staples makes it possible for us to shop from our desks rather than taking the time to drive to a brick-and-mortar location to purchase them. It saves us gas and time.

How does your business make more happen? We want to know! Share your story with us in the Comments section below, and we might contact you for a future article.

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