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Latino makes his mark in government IT

Exclusive interview with Tony Jimenez, CEO of MicroTech, a company that grew from a kitchen table startup into a profitable half-billion-dollar business. Recently, the company Awarded $20B CIO-SP3 Small Business (SB) Group Contract Award.
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It was his second career that bought Tony Jimenez the most success. As the founder, president, and CEO of MicroTech in Tysons, Virginia, he oversees a small business with a large impact on the federal government’s information technology infrastructure. He didn’t set out to do that. He set out to be in law enforcement.

After high school, he chose to enlist in the Army because it offered him the fastest route into military police training. “I served my three years and could not wait to get out,” he says. 

He went back a few years later because of an offer to fly helicopters. That didn’t work out, but because of his hard work in college classes, he received an Army scholarship to finish his bachelor’s degree as a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was commissioned as an officer, and then the Army developed other plans for him, plans that led to where he is now. 

“After you have served in your military basic branch — whether infantry or military police or whatever — they look at ways to maximize your development and give you additional training and capabilities,” Jimenez said. 

At the time, the Army’s Acquisition Corps was starting up. It handles all of the purchasing, management, and program management for the service. There are subdivisions for IT, program development, and contracting. Jimenez was invited to join, and the Army also paid for his master’s degrees, one in program management, and the other in IT. 

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When Jimenez retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2003, he received dozens of good offers from private companies eager to use his skills and experience. He chose one company, but six months later he received a Federal 100 Award. These awards are presented annually to the 100 people or companies who helped improve government IT. (Since then he’s won the award twice  as head of MicroTech.) People advised him to start his own business because of the distinction and prestige associated with the award, he said. In 2004, he founded MicroTech.

MicroTech focuses on integrating new technology into federal government technology systems. IT equipment and software become obsolete quickly, but the sprawling and complex federal systems cannot be shut down while they’re upgraded, Jimenez said. Instead, companies like his integrate new technology to federal IT systems while the systems continue to operate. It’s like building an aircraft while in flight, he said. 

Yet translating his extensive government experience into a successful business career was not automatic. The business training he picked up in the Army was useful but not essential, he said. “I know lots of folks who were in the Acquisition Corps and attempted to start a business and just couldn’t figure it out.”

What he didn’t understand, he said, was all the things that could go wrong. From inside the government everything appears well managed, and that can lead to the notion that success will follow from completing the proper steps in the proper order. “I think, honestly, I was naive,” Jimenez said. “I had no idea of the challenges of getting capital. I had no idea of the challenge of getting credibility.”

A government salary didn’t provide the savings necessary to ensure MicroTech’s success, he said. So Jimenez sold 40% of the business to investors 

“When I did eventually buy them out, it wasn’t for the $150,000 they initially invested; it was for millions of dollars. It was a great investment for them. And truthfully, it was a great investment for me because I probably would not have been as successful had I not had that initial seed money,” he said. 

At one point, MicroTech grew to 650 people, and Jimenez realized it was too big. “As you get bigger, it’s hard to specialize.”  

He sold some assets, paid off some debts, reinvested and refocused. The staff shrank to about 50 people. Because of the sharpened focus, MicroTech can grow for a decade and can become a billion-dollar company without any new acquisitions, Jimenez said. In its 17 years in business, he said, the company has done a little more than $2.5 billion in business.

Last year he was named alumnus of the year at Webster University where he earned his IT master’s degree.  When he took classes there, he said, he was the only person of color in his class. There was one woman.

“It’s pretty cool to be in a field that Latinos are not prevalent in,” Jimenez said. “What I have found, in my very long career, is there are a lot of people out there who, unfortunately, don’t want to see the kind of success that many minorities have had and women have had.”

When you’re successful, you receive a lot of scrutinies, he said. “But the good news is we just keep doing what we’re doing, and we keep moving on, and we’ve had success, and we’ll continue to have success.” 

David Steinkraus/Negocios Now

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