St. Charles Herald-Guide

DHS grad founds multi-million dollar defense firm

By Kyle Barnett - November 21, 2012

Growing up as a young African-American in St. Roseís Preston Hollow neighborhood, Tim Adams never believed that he would one day head a nearly $50 million defense firm.

But in 1988, Adams used the schooling he received from Destrehan High School to start Systems Technologies & Application Inc. (SA-TECH). Now, Adamsí company has been recognized as one of the top 500 diversity-owned businesses in the U.S.

SA-TECH is a defense contractor that provides testing and training, range operations and maintenance support for U.S Navy and Army customers as well as other duties.

Adamsí journey began in New Orleans where he attended elementary school in the 9th Ward before moving to the Preston Hollow neighborhood of St. Rose right when schools were being integrated in St. Charles Parish.

"It was a rough place," Adams said of Preston Hollow.

Adams said in the early days of integration the school system was in turmoil.

"There was a lot of tension. By the time I was in high school we had some major conflicts," Adams said. "Tim Weber was killed and the whole Gary Tyler thing happened in my junior year of high school, so it was quite turbulent."

The 55-year-old Adams said despite the sometimes troubling atmosphere he found himself in, he received a good education as a child, something that would be reflected in later years.

"Even in all the strife that was going on, there were different teachers all the way back that helped out," Adams said. "I got a good education from Destrehan and in middle school. Also my foundation began in New Orleans, which gave me a good basic education."

Adams also overcame boundaries by joining student groups that did not ordinarily have African-American members.

"My challenge was at first to incorporate into some of these organizations," he said. "I think I may have been the first or the second African-American to be part of the Beta Club and the Key Club and some of these different organizations."

For those who are coming out of his old neighborhood in St. Rose, Adams expressed his belief that any one of them can accomplish what he has.

"I came right off of Mockingbird Lane. If I can do it any kid coming from the neighborhood can," he said. "We just need to let them know there is hope there. There is opportunity."

Adams said children and teens who want to become successful need to think about how their actions now may affect their lives later on.

"What I have been able to do has been due to the fact that I was able to get a security clearance. The vast majority of all the work I do is sensitive in nature and if I hadnít kept my nose clean and had the opportunity to do that it might have prevented me from having any of these options," Adams said. "Watch what you are doing and make good choices."

In addition, Adams said it is important to be ambitious as well as realistic.

"You are not going to be the best at everything. Just work hard at it. Sometimes I think some of our kids get discouraged because they are not scoring the highest grades on the tests, but thatís not what it is really all about," Adams said. "Itís about the work ethic and again the integrity. Iím a good example of that"

After graduating from DHS, Adams set off on a journey that ultimately ended with him becoming the CEO of a defense contracting firm, but his unpredictable path was never easy.

He first attended Xavier University in New Orleans where he received a bachelorís degree in science.

"I paid my dues so to speak," Adams said. "I made money to go to Xavier by working some of the summers out at Good Hope Refinery (now Valero) in the warehouse. That was not an easy thing."

By the time he was ending his time at Xavier, Adams knew that he needed further education.

"I had learned that I didnít want to spend my life in the lab. I didnít want to be a chemist and that is what made me go get my MBA," he said.

While enrolled in the Masterís of Business Administration Program at the University of New Orleans, Adams had to support himself through menial jobs.

"I paid my way through graduate school. I washed dishes at the Sheraton Hotel at night for banquets and I was a night auditor at one of the hotels in the quarter," Adams said. "To get through school you do what you have to do."

When Adams graduated from UNO with his MBA, he could not find a job locally.

"The job market was tight in New Orleans so I headed west," Adams said. "My first stop was in Las Vegas and then I ended up doing finance work in Los Angeles. That is where I got recruited into the aerospace industry."

Adams said he met an employer who was looking for his exact education credentials, someone with a bachelorís degree in science and an MBA.

After being introduced to the aerospace industry, Adams decided to open his own company. He jokes about the decision to begin what would ultimately become SA-TECH.

"At the time I didnít know I wasnít supposed to be able to start my own company," Adams said with a chuckle. "I decided I wanted an opportunity to do it and I kind of made the decision to myself and went ahead with it."

In the early days of SA-TECH, Adams only took on small projects and kept his full-time position with another employer.

"I was still working for them and getting into some opportunities for SA-TECH and then I simply went full-time with SA-TECH," Adams said. "We had a couple of part-time employees and we were able to grow it from the trunk of my car to where we are today."

Twenty-three years later, SA-TECH is based out of Largo, Md., only less than twenty miles away from Washinton, D.C. The company has satellite offices in New Mexico, Washington, Alabama and California. SA-TECH also has grown to employ around 400 people across the globe.

SA-TECH has won numerous honors, including being recognized as one of the top 100 privately held companies in the country as ranked by the Washington Business Journal. The firm has also been named one of Black Enterpriseís top 100 industrial/services black businesses in the nation and one of Marylandís top 50 diversity owned businesses.

Adams said he was lucky that his story began with a few key factors.

"Candidly, I have a strong belief in God and that is the backdrop. No. 2, I think I was very fortunate to have strong mentors and leaders in my life – people who cared. My mother and my father more than anything else," Adams said. "My father helped instill a strong sense of work ethic and I think my mother helped me build, more than anything, an understanding of love and kindness for your fellow man."

Adams said although his parents, Larry Bernard Adams Sr. and Margaret Adams, have passed away his brother, Keith Adams, still lives in Preston Hollow.

Although he has lived out of the parish for more than 30 years now, Adams said he still has strong ties to his roots.

"I feel very fortunate that I have friends from elementary school that are still very important in my life," Adams said. "I try to get down there as much as I can. It is home. I still love the people and what is going on."

DHS grad founds multi-million dollar defense firm