Talking with Steve Monroe: Little's big plans
Human resources executive promotes small businesses and his community
Greg Dohler/The Gazette
You might say M.A. "Mike" Little has achieved a specialty in convergence, the kind that enables him to mix entrepreneurism, business success, community advocacy and philanthropy on a day-to-day basis.
Little, CEO of human resource management consultants B&W Solutions of Oxon Hill, a board member of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce — among other affiliations — was late returning a phone call Tuesday because he had donned yet another hat that day.
He was returning from a meeting in Washington, D.C., on the much-debated fate of the U.S. Health and Human Services office in Rockville. With its lease expiring next year, the agency has solicited bids for a new leasing arrangement.
Asked if he was at the meeting representing his company, or one of his other organizations, he said, "No, I was there for me, Mike Little, privately. I'm a partner in a development team, and we don't know if we are a finalist or not. We are just anxiously awaiting word. This involves 1 million square feet and 4,000 jobs … it's a major issue, not just for me or my team, but for the county.
"For years, many of us have been promoting the need for more federal government work centers in Prince George's County. There was a study and we found that only about 5 percent of the leased space [by the General Service Administration] was in Prince George's County, and much of that is warehouse. In Montgomery County, it was about 19 percent, in D.C. about 50 percent and it was in the high 30s in Northern Virginia. The playing field needs to be leveled."
Little, 51, of Fort Washington said the decision on the bid — anxiously awaited also by officials in Montgomery County and elsewhere — could come by midyear. In the meantime, other items on Little's plate include finding sponsors in this down economy for his sixth annual Prince George's Classic this fall, the weeklong event of entertainment and cultural events capped by a college football game.
And then there is managing his company, B&W Solutions, which has had annual revenues as high as $10 million in its 12-year history; mentoring other small-business owners; and serving on the board of the Bowie State University Foundation, to help raise money for educational initiatives, one of the causes he cares about the most.
The Business Gazette recently talked to Little, a North Carolina native and Air Force veteran, about his many roles.
As a small-business advocate, is the federal stimulus program going to be a big help?
I think there are going to be opportunities that will result in the marketplace for many small businesses, but since it is coming down through state, local governments, in many cases they are not coming to find you, you will have to go after it.
For example, I have a contract with [the Department of Energy] and because they were a huge winner, they will be hiring a lot and so, since that's what I do, I will get more work, I have seen a direct impact from that already, and I am going to have to hire more people to handle that.
What do you think of the SBA's recent stimulus initiative, of loans up to $35,000 for businesses?
I think what that does is kind of buys some time, and in this economy, surviving the leanest times are critical for small businesses, cash flow is a critical piece, for them to stay afloat until the economy at-large comes back.
Overall, many small-business advocates would love to see the SBA strengthened, since it was to a large degree decimated under the last administration ... in terms of loans and access to capital for the businesses that really need it.
Getting back to economic development in Prince George's, do you agree with those who say even with National Harbor, the Boulevard, Bowie Town Center, the county still needs more upscale retail?
I think there needs to be more retail, but over the years there are things I've learned. When you look at the county and say why aren't those developers coming, well, those things aren't coming just because there are houses here … they come into environments that are conducive to them for being successful with their products and services.
A big part is we don't have the density here in the daytime that other communities have. And the thing that generates that is job centers. There are Metro stations here, but no big commercial development around them.
That's why Al Wynn and others of us started pushing and pulling to get the GSA to recognize there needs to be more leased space for government work centers here; that's why this HHS thing is so big.
How has your company done in this economy?
We are steady and we've probably been steady for the last three years, where growth has been very small. In some ways I consider that to be a victory as the downturn of the economy has affected many businesses in negative ways with reductions in staff and revenue and opportunity. As a federal contractor, the federal government probably is one of the few organizations that have continued to expand over the last few years. So for my primary client base, that part of the business has remained steady.
We provide federal human resource management support, for the personnel operations that do the hiring, that support the employees by managing benefits, workers compensation, awards, discipline … We write the job descriptions, run training programs, everything that occurs in a federal personnel office; those services are the core business that we provide.
Have you done any business with the state or Prince George's County?
No, but I have done work with Montgomery County. I consciously made a choice years ago because I have been so involved in advocacy and the politics in the county, that I chose not to do anything that might compromise those activities with the [Prince George's County government].
For example, when the Peterson company bought that land several years ago for the National Harbor project, I was one of the early ones speaking out for that project from a community standpoint. I've lived in Prince George's County 28 years and I knew our tax base was in desperate need of some commercial streams, revenue streams.
With the state, more recently, I have begun bidding for work, as part of teams. Unfortunately we've lost twice, on price. Right now we're putting in another bid as part of a team, for state work … something that could be pretty significant for us. The total effort could run in the tens of millions of dollars over the life of contract.
How did you start the business?
In my last job in the Air Force, I worked in a human resource information shop, where I provided support to both the civilian population and military operation … and I had to do some software development and maintenance there.
In 1983, the Navy had decided it was going to adopt and implement the same HR management system for its civilian workforce that the Air Force was using. Well, there were limited people who had that knowledge base and skill set and I happened to be one. After I got out of the service, I applied for a job with a contracting firm and went to work on that project, with an IT firm in Arlington, Va. I worked there for a year and then started my first business, doing subcontracting and then direct contracting.
You sold that first business. Why?
I was going through some things in my personal life and being young in life and in business, and I decided to take some time off and deal with them. In doing that I actually ended up starting another business. I created a homeowner association management business, and created a software package to service that industry. I did that business for about five years, and then sold it to friend of mine who was a real estate broker.
So then came B&W?
Yes, because I had an idea and a concept that the [federal] HR market was going to open up and be contracted out … certainly it was vulnerable, and it was available, because the government had a big challenge with the baby boomers retiring and the government started outsourcing that work. So while they were giving $25,000 bonuses to [experienced HR personnel] to retire early, I started hiring them, one at a time. And there were years we grew very fast.
When I started in this business, nobody else was doing federal human resource management support. What changed for us was the size of companies getting into that, when the big guys came in. And for a while I was trying to compete with them, for a minute.
Well, you can be out of business quick if you think you can compete with the big guys and think that's the only way. Up until that time we had been a subcontractor only once. … Since then we've been subcontractor to Booz Allen, Bearing Point, Accenture. … When I came in this business, in 1983, big companies focused on big contracts. Since that time, their model has changed to where they chase everything that moves.
Now as a subcontractor, the big companies get to count you as a minority business and it helps their goals?
Yes, they get to count us as a minority, but my experience has been that's not why we're on the team. It's because we have quality people and our reputation of doing a good job, because we know that business as well as anybody … we probably know it better than some large companies. What we don't do, is we don't have the infrastructure and marketing capacity to outmarket and outsell those guys.
M.A. "Mike" Little
Positions: President and CEO, B&W Solutions Inc. of Oxon Hill, a 45-employee company that provides human resources management support and consultant services for federal agencies, including technical and program management training for human resources management practitioners; president and CEO, Prince George's Classic Inc., an annual event designed to promote business and community involvement in cultural and economic growth.
Education: Honorary degree of doctor of public service, Bowie State University, 2003.
Residence: Fort Washington.
Organizations: Board chairman, National Black Chamber of Commerce; board of directors, Maryland Chamber of Commerce; Prince George's Black Chamber of Commerce; Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce; Prince George's County NAACP; South County Economic Development Association; board of directors and treasurer, Bowie State University Foundation; former director, The Columbia Bank.
Hobbies: Golf; mentoring; and counseling startup entrepreneurs and other small-business owners on growing their business.
Awards: Maryland Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise, 2006; Maryland Chamber of Commerce Business Philanthropy Award, 2001; Entrepreneur of the Year, National Black Chamber of Commerce, 2002; Small Business of the Year, Prince George's County NAACP, 2002; Good Scout Award, National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, 2002.