(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a two-part series spotlighting the entrepreneurial journey of Cathy Toth, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Acato Information Management LLC and the current Chair of the Board of Directors of the East Tennessee Economic Council and the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
As noted in the first article in this series, Cathy Toth did not have a goal of starting her own software testing and quality assurance company when she graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington. Yet, in 2010, she did just that, launching Acato Information Management LLC in Oak Ridge.
“We had too much work on the NNSA G2 project, so I had to hire some people,” Toth says of the initiative she was undertaking as part of a team for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Having worked in the government contracting world for about two decades, she had some distinct thoughts on what she should do in starting Acato.
“I wanted to control the culture and also be financially successful,” the focused business executive says. One of those key drivers was also work-life balance for Toth and for her employees.
For the first few years, the team included just Toth and two others, and they worked virtually. Acato opened its first physical office in 2013. When we conducted our interview, the President and Chief Executive Officer was adding two more associates – employees 21 and 22.
That steady growth has resulted in new opportunities as well as challenges. The firm added two new clients in 2018, serving as a sub to both Information International Associates Inc., another successful Oak Ridge-based firm founded by a female (Bonnie Carroll), and Cadre5, a Knoxville-based company active in Oak Ridge.
“Both of those came as a result of our reputation,” Toth says with a deep sense of pride.
That reputation comes from a strong focus on customer service. Acato’s website highlights the point: “Our size and structure allow us to give customers the personal touch of a small company along with the expertise and quality service that usually is provided only by larger companies.”
So, exactly what is it that the firm does? Acato provides software quality assurance (SQA), but with a distinctive difference. Toth explains that SQA is often relegated to the end of the process after a project is completed when it is challenging, if not impossible, to make substantive changes. Acato’s approach is to be involved from the outset, starting with fully understanding the customer’s business needs. That allows for the resolution of issues throughout the project, not just at the end.
With nine years under her belt as the top executive at a firm she founded, Toth has also learned a lot and grown in the position.
“One of the hardest things I had to do was trusting people,” she says, but adds that it is something that any Founder will have to do if she or he wants to grow a company. “Don’t shy away from tough conversations and decisions. Be clear on your priorities and expectations. Build and sustain relationships.”
It’s clear that she has held her own and thrived in the very challenging environment of government contracting.