By Lawrence Emerson Editor, Fauquier Now
The Warrenton-based defense and federal government contractor could serve as a case study for Fauquier County’s economic development aspirations.
Strategic Alliance Consulting Inc. started in a home basement six years ago.
As his company began to grow with employees embedded at clients’ sites, Army veteran Ken Lukonis needed someone to handle the accounting. But, he deemed it inappropriate for the newly-hired Lauren Frumusa to work in his basement.
Mr. Lukonis thought Ms. Frumusa might have to work from Starbucks or Panera Bread, until he read a news story about the new Mason Enterprise Center, a business incubator opening on Warrenton’s Main Street.
Ms. Frumusa about four years ago started in the center’s open “coworking” space. Then, as SACI continued to grow, it rented office space in the center.
This year, with 50 employees and about $8 million in annual revenue, Mr. Lukonis and his staff decided they needed to “graduate” from the incubator and in May rented about 1,100 square feet of second-floor office space at 53A E. Lee St. in Warrenton. Seven employees work there, with the rest scattered at clients’ sites.
“He has grown enormously in terms of the size and scope of his organization,” county Economic Development Director Miles Friedman said of Mr. Lukonis at a June 18 celebration in the new office. “Our first incubator graduate has brought such a smart and innovative company to our community.”
The company founder, 48, has no desire to go anywhere.
“We picked Fauquier right away,” when his work for a big government contractor brought them back to Northern Virginia in 2003, Mr. Lukonis said. “My wife (Andrea) is from Germany. It reminded her of home, and we did not want to raise our kids in the hustle and bustle.”
They rented for 15 months while waiting for construction of their new home in White’s Mill, just outside of Warrenton. Last year, they moved to the Orlean area.
For his purposes, a downtown Warrenton headquarters works well. Mr. Lukonis spends three days a week at client sites to check with them and embedded employees. The two other days, he stays in Warrenton.
“We wanted to stay in Old Town,” he explained. “It’s great to be able to take a walk around town to clear your head or to grab a cup of coffee at Great Harvest or Deja Brew.”
He signed a three-year lease in May with landlord Phil Harway and hopes to remain here.
Mr. Lukonis developed his business philosophy after leaving the Army as a staff sergeant with a decade of service in 2001 and going to work for large contractors, assignments that took him around the country. Through mergers and other changes, he saw things that bothered him — reductions in employee benefits and less generous 401(k) plans among them.
“I learned a lot about taking care of employees,” he said. “The only way to change things would be to start a company. Around 2011, I started writing a business plan.”
When members of his wife’s prayer group learned Mr. Lukonis planned to started his own government contracting firm, they started praying for him with some concern about his chances of success.
But, six years ago, he took the plunge and with one other employee landed a $240,000 contract with the Army.
Sustaining and growing the business requires understanding clients’ needs and maintaining credibility by delivering excellent service, he said. When bids get opened and agency decision-makers see his company logo, trust means everything, according to Mr. Lukonis.
To deliver and meet client expectations, he believes his company must take care of employees.
Thus, SACI pays 100 percent of health, dental and vision insurance premiums for employees and their family members — virtually unheard of these days.
“Ken has been exceptional,” said Warrenton resident Tom Boggess, a systems engineer who joined SACI in 2015 after working previously with Mr. Lukonis at a large contractor. “He tries to do as much as possible for people in the company . . . .
“The benefits are exceptional, 100 percent of health care for me and my family. That’s something a lot of people don’t think about.”
At other companies, he had paid $1,200 to $1,300 a month to have the comparable coverage, Mr. Boggess said.
Similarly, he noted that Mr. Lukonis created a 401(k) plan that provides a 100-percent match of the employee’s first 5-percent contribution and agreed to renegotiate administrative fees when SACI staffers suggested the company could do better.
“Ken’s looking out for employees as if they were his own family,” Mr. Boggess added. “I really think he abides by that.”
Additionally, his boss holds no grudges and in fact helps employees who move on to other opportunities, Mr. Boggess noted.
For his part, the company owner expects each employee to participate in business development through performance and collaboration. Although he has ultimate responsibility, many members of his staff participate in crafting each proposal for a contract award.
A Connecticut native, Mr. Lukonis said he grew up modestly and joined the Army at age 20, planning to complete a four-year commitment and go to college on the GI Bill. But, things changed along with the way with marriage 25 years ago and advancement from a satellite communications officer to an intelligence specialist in the Army.
His bachelor’s and master’s degrees would wait. Along the way, Mr. Lukonis said he learned leadership skills when thrust into situations that demanded them and through observation.
He started the company “with the goal of paying for our (three) kids’ college and taking care of employees,” Mr. Lukonis said.
He continues to drive the Ford F-150 pickup truck, with 190,000 miles on it, that he bought the year the company started.
What can Fauquier do to encourage more entrepreneurs to build companies here?
“I think it’s marketing and looking for ways to connect companies” in the tech sector, Mr. Lukonis said. “I can’t complain about Fauquier County and what it’s done for us.”
Read the original article here.