(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series about local business executive Barry Goss. We recently posted an article about Pro2Serve forming a new subsidiary and licensing technology from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The article can be found at the following link: https://www.teknovation.biz/2012/08/27/pro2serve-licenses-ornls-piranha-software-forms-subsidiary/.)
Local business executive Barry Goss laughs when he tells the story of how his wife evicted his new start-up from their home, and he wondered where he was going.
“Thank goodness for Tech 20/20,” says the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Oak Ridge-based Pro2Serve, referring to the then young incubator facility in Oak Ridge’s Commerce Park that became his landing spot after eviction.
Goss recalled in a recent interview with teknovation.biz that he formed the company in 1996 after his current employer, SAIC, decided against acquiring a company that assembled project teams for work in the nuclear industry.
“It was a radically different business model for SAIC,” Goss explained. “I decided I could adopt the model and apply it to the high technology world. I would take it on up into high-end engineering work on a project-by-project basis.”
Goss praised SAIC, saying the international corporation “really taught me how to build and run a technical services business. It really took the SAIC experience to be able to do a cold start.”
He had planned to use his home as the new company’s initial base of operations, but soon found that he had made the wrong choice.
“Karen was writing her doctoral dissertation,” Goss said, adding that “she ejected me in 30 days when she said she was not my secretary and was tired of taking my phone calls.”
So, he found a “tiny office” at Tech 20/20, but ended-up taking much of the space in the building by the time Pro2Serve left to relocate in another building in Commerce Park several years later.
Within six months of going into business, Pro2Serve had secured several million dollars in federal government contracts.
“I did not see national security as a focus at the time, nor did I anticipate how heavily we would become involved in solving national security issues,” Goss noted. Today, the name of the company’s headquarters building in the Oak Ridge Science and Technology Park – National Energy Security Center – underscores how important it is.
He did, however, link-up with some very smart people who helped Pro2Serve grow during those early years. One was Bill Thompson, a retiree from the Y-12 National Security Complex, who correctly advised Goss to hand pick some recent retirees from the facility and fill a growing skills gap in nuclear industry. Specialty nuclear expertise is one of the core consulting areas Pro2Serve provides the defense, energy, and science markets.
Another significant mentor and partner was the late Otto Wheeley, one of the legends in local entrepreneurship and investment capital. He was an original investor in Pro2Serve and one of its first board members.
“Otto always helped anybody who asked, but he would only come onto boards if you met core elements on his business strategy checklist,” Goss said. “He taught me the value of good corporate governance.”
Goss said that Wheeley, who helped recruit other Pro2Serve board members and investors, once told him that “one of your best and cheapest investments is a good Board of Directors.”
Following Wheeley’s advice, Goss positioned Pro2Serve from the outset to be able to go public if desired. That has not happened yet, but Goss believes it will eventually.
Pro2Serve also raised its first venture funding within 18 months of its founding, again drawing on Wheeley’s advice – “don’t wait until you need money, get it now.”
One of the company’s more significant milestones occurred in 2003 when it acquired Lockwood Green Technologies, a large, well-known engineering services contractor to the U. S. Department of Energy.
“No one could believe this small start-up bought Lockwood Green,” Goss said, adding that the deal “shocked everyone in the Secret City (Oak Ridge’s nickname) mainly because they did not know about it until it was officially announced”.
“We had consulting engineering expertise, but not hard engineering design capabilities,” Goss said of the acquisition strategy. “We knew we had to have both.”
With the new acquisition, Pro2Serve was well-positioned for growth.
NEXT: Modifying the business model, exploring new territory.