Meet Keith Tom of Wallace, White and Associates.
See why he is 8 months ahead of his long term business plan and why he believes that ”success” is not in dollars!
Tell me about Wallace, White, and Associates.
We are a small business that began in 2006. We specialize in human capital management consulting, business process reengineering, and change management. About 60% of my business is commercial and about 40% is federal and state government contracting.
So, management of people and business processes, what exactly is change management?
Anytime you do something different in an organization, you must manage that change: including: communications plans, blueprints for the changes, and how to get everyone to work with the change. The business processes and human capital management also go hand-in-hand with that. All three work together.
Could you tell me about your background and areas of expertise? How did these things lead to your current business?
Originally, I am a biologist by trade.
Yes, I worked for years at the NIH, then got out of biology and went into high tech. I spent 3 years at EDS (Electronic Data Systems) so that I could learn about technology, then 14 years working for another high tech corporation. But I always thought the people side was very important, so after that I left the IT world and went to human capital management. I learned how to do competency models, coaching, professional recruitment for executives, and development leadership. That made it all tie in. So I have that background, and my coaching and my live management experience, so you put those all together and it was okay, I am almost ready. But then I was hired by a Defense Contractor and they taught me how to do business process reengineering. So I got all three, and put it all together, which gave me a different kind of service to offer organizations.
And what inspired you to put all three- human capital management, business process reengineering, and capital management-together and open up your own business?
Well, a couple of reasons. One is that I had several friends, who all said “Keith, go and start your own business, because people will listen to you! They need what you do.” And more importantly, I always wanted to start my own business. So in 2006, I foresaw the recession, and decided, now is the time! I decided it just in case I ever got laid off. I had a five year plan, I spent nights, weekends, and vacation times building my infrastructure, going to workshops and seminars on how to manage your own business, networking, and building my own contracts, and preparing while I had a full time day job. Then when I got a reduction-in-force notice from the Defense Contractor, I was already to go full-time. My original long term business plan had me going full time in 2011, so I guess I am ahead of schedule, by a full 8 months!
Wow! It impressive to reach your five year plan a full year ahead of time. Since you have already achieved your five year goals, where you would you like to be in another 5 or 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, my vision is to be the go-to company with other visionaries working with me for those skills and competencies.
You mentioned the recession. Did it affect your business at all? Have you had any tough times with that?
Doing it part time it didn’t affect me during the first four years. But now that I am doing it full time, I haven’t noticed any problems yet. I have gotten 6 contracts so far this year. I mean, maybe it could have been 12, but I really can’t know.
So you haven’t had any problems in starting up your business?
One of the things is that I tried to do everything myself. Marketing and selling, reading contracts, bookkeeping—just about everything. I also have to be able to be compliant with government standards and conditions. I really struggled with that. Then I listened to my advisors. They said “Go and get some help! Get a good CPA, a good bookkeeper, and people who specialize in Government Contracting!” So I listened to them, and I found good help. That helped to manage the problems with starting up.
As far as growing your business, how do you gain new contracts and new business?
Well, I do a lot of networking. I do cold and warm calls. I belong to lots of professional organizations. I also go to tradeshows and conferences, where there are experts giving key notes and such. I don’t just write down what they say; I write down how I can help address the problems that they touch on in their speeches.
So, you’re the experts’ expert, you find solutions for the experts’ problems?
Well, I try to come up with ideas to help, and then I follow up with them. I say, I saw you, I heard you, and I think I can help you or at least share some insights with you. The best part is, even if I don’t come up with solutions, at least I make contacts. Sometimes it’s professionally; sometimes I make friends too, which is great.
Is there any other business that you admire, and would like to emulate?
Yes, I have strategic partnerships in the area, and am even a subcontractor to some. These businesses are great, they have great leaders, and some of them are even in the Inc 500 top companies. Talk about inspiration! I am either working with or for other businesses with great leaderships and great ethics. I want to be one of those guys! Dream big!
So if you admire them, are they your role models?
I like this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be good at it.” Also, my parents, they never held me back, never pressured me, never pushed me. My wife has a been a great support, as well. I think businesswise, the person I really admire is Ross Perot. The man went in and opened his own company. When his people were in trouble in Iran in the 1980s, he went in a saved them. It was great to see how an entrepreneur could be, and could grow his company into a machine and grow it into what it could be. His story really inspired me, especially the book by Ken Follett, “On Wings of Eagles.” This story inspired me to leave the NIH and join EDS (Electronic Data Systems) in the 1980’s, which led me to where I am today.
I see that where you want to be in 10 years, and I see that you want to be an Inc 500 company, so is that how you define success, or do you have another definition you would like to share?
When I see the look in a client’s face when they take my advice, or just listen to what I have to say and they make it happen, and they say “this is great, it works!”, that’s success. After that everything else follows. Just help them succeed.
What is the best way to achieve success?
I think you need three competencies: you need a vision, integrity, and establishing relationships. The vision means knowing where you want to be and where you want to go. Whether it’s opening your own business, or just having a conversation with someone, you need to know what you want to accomplish. The second, integrity, is knowing how to interact with a person, and letting them see you are honest. And the third is establishing relationships. You have to know how to establish a relationship with that person. You have to know what you want, have the integrity to get it, and know how to establish the relationships to achieve your goals, that’s how to achieve success.
If you had to give any advice to new entrepreneurs what would you say?
You need those three competencies. You also need organizational savvy. You need to know the person or organization you are speaking with. You need to know their goals and their views. You need to do the research, so you know how to approach them.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Well, I would like to add that you really need good advisors and listen to them. You need to listen and be willing to share. You need to be true to yourself. You need that vision, and you need to be true to that. You need to believe in yourself and be yourself 24/7. You don’t turn it off, ever. Just be yourself.