When Cumberland native Josh Broder signed on with the Army ROTC to pay for his education at Middlebury College, he envisioned a career working with military intelligence in Japan following his graduation. But his papers requesting that post were incinerated in the Pentagon — a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead, the history major and 2nd lieutenant found himself in Germany, supervising a cadre of highly skilled technicians building communication networks and IT systems all over the world.
"I was in 22 countries in four and a half years, building and managing systems in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, all over," he says. "It really accelerated my interest in leadership and management."
That experience has served him well as he steers Tilson Technology Management, a consulting firm that focuses on telecommunications and IT, from $4 million in revenues in 2010 to $7 million this year and a projected $14 million in 2012. The Portland-based company today finds itself bidding against giants like General Dynamics and Deloitte & Touche — and winning. The growth is attributable to Broder's commitment to both innovation and profits.
Broder, 33, arrived at Tilson in 2006, working with mentor and former CEO Mike Dow. The company at the time derived much of its revenue from managing construction projects and subsidiary work. When Dow left in 2009 to pursue international interests, Broder took over as CEO and began reinventing the company. "When I took over, it was the bottom of the recession," he says. "We decided to focus on things that were moving in the economy, and that was government, even before the stimulus. But then came the ARRA and it really fueled our growth."
That government work, performed primarily in the IT and telecommunications fields, sparked a return of private clients who had been postponing action on IT issues. Broder assessed the company's six lines of work in light of the pent-up demand and determined four were moving while two were slow. "We said, 'Let's stop doing the things that are not profitable,'" he says. "So we cut the unprofitable lines of business and decided to go after the clients with money."
The newly focused Tilson has two major divisions: general IT consulting, where services are geared toward information security, software development and project management; and telecommunications, under which wireless and fiber practices offer services such as evaluating transmission and distribution operations and helping a wireless carrier upgrade from 3G to 4G service.
Under that telecommunications umbrella, Broder is overseeing the construction and management of Maine's 1,100-mile Three Ring Binder broadband project, a $32 million expansion of the state's broadband network sparked with stimulus funds and intended to connect underserved parts of the state. The company is doing similar work in Massachusetts with an $80 million, 1,100-mile MassBroadband 123 project in the central and western part of the state.
Those projects, plus others nationally and around the world, keep Tilson's 55 employees busy and provide enough work for an additional 30-50 independent contractors every month. "I like to say we produce locally, but compete globally," says Broder.
Government continues to play a recurring role in Broder's life. He realized early on with the Three Ring Binder project that there was no consensus on use rights around utility poles. Since the new fiber lines for the project had to be strung on existing poles, Broder began lobbying stakeholders in Augusta to agree on new legislation to provide a definition of those rights. And from that, a new division of Tilson was launched, one dedicated to government services.
"We try to take a holistic approach and balance all those interests … They can be particularly complicated when you're dealing with political and policy aspects," he says. "Government projects often have built-in controversy and challenges."
Broder expects government work will slow as budget constraints squeeze spending, but private work will pick up, especially in those industries with strong ties to the creative economy. "American centers of innovation are our capital — the companies coming from technology, software and social media," he says. "All of those new things require significant infrastructure, and we're the infrastructure provider."