Amr ElSawy, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the science and technology company, Noblis, will join ACG National Capital on July 27, as a special guest speaker for the chapter’s July Monthly Meeting. Mr. ElSawy has been CEO of Noblis since October 2007 and serves as the President responsible for the general management and strategic direction of its overall scientific, technical, financial, and administrative activities.
In advance of the July Monthly Meeting, Corporate Growth, Capital Style sat down with Mr. ElSawy to discuss Noblis’ recent acquisition of McKean Defense, as well as highlight some of today’s largest government IT and technology priorities and initiatives.
Corporate Growth, Capital Style (CGCS): Can you tell our readers a little about Noblis? And how did it get its start?
Amr ElSawy: Noblis is an independent science and technology company that works exclusively for the federal government, specifically in homeland security, intelligence, law enforcement, and defense.
We started back in 1996 as an independent nonprofit spin-off from the MITRE Corporation. We operated under the name Mitretek Systems until we rebranded to Noblis in 2007.
CGCS: Noblis recently acquired McKean Defense, and its affiliates, Mikros Systems and Cabrillo Technologies. What was it like to go through the acquisition process during COVID-19? What challenges did the pandemic pose? And how did Noblis overcome them?
Amr ElSawy: We have been going through acquisition review and search for many years. Working with Wolf Den as our buyside advisor, we’ve looked at over 200 companies. We had gotten into a pretty good rhythm in terms of how we were reviewing companies.
During the pandemic, we were going through the selection and acquisition processes with McKean. We did a lot of virtual meetings, but I think that we had a solid workflow because we understood the process. We spent a lot of time on WebEx and Zoom calls reviewing documents, and using portals to share information, etc.
Towards the end, we began holding socially distanced, in-person meetings. We then tried to keep things moving in that direction. Our team was dedicated to making sure that we received the information that we needed in a timely fashion. Having a team that has a history of operating and working together makes all the difference in the world.
“One of our key strategies was to use an agile approach to integration, in order to keep things on time and to ensure we prioritize the functions that need to be integrated, and to do so at logical points throughout the year.” -Amr ElSawy
CGCS: How is the integration process going? Pandemic aside, what integration challenges have you faced/are facing? What are some strategies you’ve implemented to solve them?
Amr ElSawy: Anyone who has gone through due diligence and integration knows that there are a million moving parts. You need to make sure that you have a team that is that is dedicated to focusing on every one of those things.
We were fortunate in that on the system side, we have a fairly robust infrastructure. We don’t have to do a lot of systems integration. We’re primarily focused on team and leadership integration and making sure that we are consistent, as well as taking advantage of the great capabilities that both companies provide.
One of our key strategies was to use an agile approach to integration, in order to keep things on time and to ensure we prioritize the functions that need to be integrated, and to do so at logical points throughout the year. Whether it’s matching specific integration points at the end of a month, or at the end of a calendar or fiscal year.
CGCS: How do these acquisitions fit into Noblis’ overall growth strategy? And what do they mean for Noblis’ future?
Amr ElSawy: Our work is really diversified across the entirety of the federal sector. The McKean acquisition bolsters our work in the defense sector, specifically with the Navy and the Army. It also adds to our portfolio of both Army and Air Force work.
The acquisition enables us to really position ourselves within the Department of Defense (DoD) space by applying our science, technology, and digital transformation expertise to the problems that are faced by the DoD.
CGCS: Noblis advises the federal government on issues relating to technology and engineering – helping them use advanced technology to overcome major problems. What are some of the largest government IT and technology priorities and initiatives today? What problems are agencies looking to solve with these technologies?
Amr ElSawy: At the highest level, I would say that we’re very much focused on digital transformation. Meaning we see the federal government focused on addressing problems in three different categories.
First is what I call critical missions. Second is the introduction of emerging and disruptive technologies. Third is fixing foundational enterprise management processes and systems. We are working with the government across those three elements, whether it’s work on strengthening the public healthcare system, reducing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, enhancing our ability to strengthen U.S. dominance in space, or countering deep fakes and malicious efforts.
“There’s always a ton of lessons learned. I think that the most important thing is to have someone whose job is to conduct a search and lead the internal acquisition process.” -Amr ElSawy
These are all areas where we’re working and bringing our ability, technology, and competencies in areas like data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, 5G, autonomous systems, and advanced cyber systems, to the table. Last, but not least, for life sciences, we’re working in both bioinformatics and synthetic biology.
CGCS: Are there any best practices or lessons learned from this recent acquisition that you would be willing to share with our readers and other business leaders in the National Capital Region?
Amr ElSawy: There’s always a ton of lessons learned. I think that the most important thing is to have someone whose job is to conduct a search and lead the internal acquisition process.
I think having the right advisors and having the right buy advisors was also key for us. Working with Kevin Robbins and the Wolf Den team over a long period of time was very helpful, because we held down our criteria and were able to do objective vetting of the criteria.
Through the acquisition process itself, working with the Baird team and having an investment bank in the deal that is experienced and can guide companies through the process, was essential. We’ve seen it from the other way, and it really leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of the process, the quality of the data, and the readiness of the data.
Internally, we used a very agile approach to both the decision-making process as well as the integration process. We always knew who was on point and we were always up to speed. We held daily and weekly stand-up meetings to keep things on track and we tried to resolve any bottleneck issues as quickly as possible.