Cathy S. Young didn't like the way the company she worked for was run, so as soon as she got the chance -- she bought it.
Three years later, as majority owner and chairman of Communications Resource Group Inc., a Columbia-based telecommunications equipment and services company, Ms. Young is running it her way, and it's paying off. She's steered CRG into two federal contracts valued at an estimated $9 million -- double the firm's current revenues.
In August, CRG landed two General Services Administration contracts to supply telephone hardware and services to federal offices in New York and New Jersey for the next three years, with two one-year renewable options.
The GSA manages government buildings and coordinates the purchases of all their supplies and services. For telecommunications equipment, the agency has set up a network of telecommunications contracts across the country under the Purchase of Telephones and Services program, or "POTS." Through POTS, the government can buy its telephones in bulk, saving taxpayers about $288 million, says Rondal R. Leonard, director of the Technical Contract Management Division of the GSA.
For federal offices in New York and New Jersey -- called Region Two -- CRG is the official POTS supplier. The firm won the bidding for the small business set-aside contracts, beating out five competitors to become the only female-owned business to win participation in POTS, according to GSA officials.
In effect, Ms. Young, 34, has been preparing for this contract for more than a decade. The Baltimore native has that many years of telecommunications experience, in virtually every segment of the business.
She worked for Ma Bell before the breakup of the giant phone company, and with AT&T afterward. Ms. Young's last corporate post: a general manager's position with New York-based Jackson Voice Data. In that role, Ms. Young opened that company's Columbia location in 1985.
Although she held the top spot in the office, Ms. Young felt she was often bound by inflexible corporate rules, quotas and procedures that prevented her from serving customers the way she thought best.
"It was very structured," she said. "I was not able to reach out to the customer and do a lot of the services we now do for free,"
So when Jackson was acquired by the Hawley Group in 1987 and began to concentrate on selling alarm systems rather than phone systems, Ms. Young purchased the Columbia operation -- for a sum she won't disclose -- and renamed the firm Communications Resource Group.
Now that she's at the helm, "We don't even look at ourselves as a telephone company," says Ms. Young.
"We look at ourselves as a service company."
That means CRG will not only sell or lease phones to customers, but also install them and train workers how to use them, according to Ms. Young.
With a staff of 30 in offices in Columbia, Buffalo and Albany, N.Y., and Manasquan, N.J., CRG markets computer networking systems and cellular phones as well.
"The thrust of our business is increasing productivity," Ms. Young says. "Because we're in this for the long term, we want to grow with the customer."
Flexibility and creativity are key, she says, so CRG will install and repair equipment, free of additional charge, on evenings and weekends to accommodate a customer's needs.
"In every situation their response time has been excellent for us," said Patricia Kail, public relations manager of Jason Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Owings Mills.
Recently, CRG completely reconfigured that client's phone lines in about a day, say Ms. Kail. "They treat us as if we are one of their larger customers," she said.
POTS is the largest. It is expected that Region Two will buy an estimated $9.4 million of telephones and services from CRG, says Mr. Leonard.
If the contracts run their full life and CRG sells equipment and services up to the maximum dollar value allowed, however, the contracts "could be worth about $19 million," Mr. Leonard says.
At a minimum, GSA guarantees CRG will earn at least $1 million for the three-year deal, says Mr. Leonard.
CRG will bid for POTS contracts in other regions, said Ms. Young. Meanwhile, as CRG continues to grow, she's determined to keep it from becoming one of those "invisible phone companies" she is critical of.