Renard U. Johnson is the owner of Management and Engineering Technologies Inc., a company that goes simply by METI.
It has got to be one of the oddest and most successful companies that most El Pasoans have never heard of.
Operating in the complex world of small business government contracting, METI recently signed a $100-million contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to work with 50 nations in jungles, forests and outlands around the world.
METI, which is headquartered in El Paso but does none of its business here, also has high-tech contracts with the military doing, for instance, cyber security for the Army and weapons survivability for the Navy.
“It’s hard to put your arms around it, it really is,” Johnson laughingly says about his company, which does so many unrelated things that another chief executive trying to keep track of it all might suffer from chronic whiplash.
Johnson was born in Chicago but talks like an El Paso native, proud of his high school, Andress, his college, UTEP, and his hometown.
His talents have not gone unnoticed by those looking for community-minded volunteers. He’s a director of the El Paso branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, a former chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Texas Lyceum board, UTEP’s Centennial Commission, the United Way’s board and others.
That would make him one of the most successful and involved El Pasoans that most El Pasoans wouldn’t recognize. But competitively minded, Renard Johnson obviously gets around in a lot of circles.
One might think that METI, a company that prides itself on doing a lot of different things well, is not his daddy’s kind of company. But it is, almost exactly.
Johnson’s parents, Louise and Alvin Johnson, started a company called Management Assistance Corporation of America, or Maca, in 1979, where brothers Renard and Tim Johnson worked until the parents sold the company in 1998.
Maca, which had about 250 employees, operated much like METI, which Renard Johnson incorporated in 1994 – the year before he graduated with a management degree from UTEP – but didn’t start up until Maca sold.
“I had the option of moving to Washington, D.C. with the acquiring company,” Johnson said. “I decided to stay in El Paso and run my own company. I started with seven employees, no contracts and no revenues, just a good solid business plan and a vision.”
Johnson travels a lot, but El Paso Inc. was able to catch up with him for a telephone interview recently. He was in Washington with a delegation from the El Paso Hispanic Chamber talking business with members of Congress.
Q: Looking at the kinds of contracts you have, it’s clear that METI is a very diverse company. In 2011, you were listed as one of the nation’s top contractors by Federal Times. The company was described as providing professional services, such as engineering and information technology to the federal sector. What was the award actually for?
It had to do with growth. We’ve gotten a lot of recognition over the years. The one that stands out the most was in 2004 when Inc. 500 Magazine ranked us as the No. 6-fastest growing company in the nation, regardless of size. We beat out companies like GoDaddy.com. They’re the ones where you register Internet domain names.
Q: How many employees does METI have and where are your offices?
Currently, we have about 300-plus employees. In El Paso, I have about 25. The remainder are at other offices and international. We have seven offices in the U.S. – one in California that supports the Navy. One in Sierra Vista, Ariz., that supports the Army at Fort Huachuca. I have one at Fort Collins, Colo., another in Dayton, Ohio, another in Lexington Park, Md., and one in Washington, D.C.
Overseas we have offices in Lima, Peru, and one in Freetown, Sierra Leon.
Q: What does METI do in El Paso?
El Paso is my headquarters and all of my work is outside of El Paso. I’m so passionate about El Paso that I keep my corporate headquarters there – our executives and accounting.
Q: Now you’ve landed a $100-million contract with the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Office of International Programs to help with initiatives between the Forest Service and other government agencies involving conservation and natural resources, management watershed, management of invasive species, management and disaster mitigation and response.
It’s $100 million over five years. We have to go back just a little bit. My core customers are the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We do something a little bit different for each one of them.
The Forest Service has a group in Washington known as the Office of International Programs. What we’re doing for them is forest management and research and development, and we assist other companies with natural resource management. Some of that includes training. We help other companies reduce illegal logging.
We provide them with fire management training. The main objective of what we do is to enhance the cooperation between the Forest Service and other countries on practices and policy-related conservation. That’s what this contract’s going to do.
This will give us a presence in over 50 countries. The main ones are in Africa, Asia, Russia, Latin and Central America, as well as the Middle East. This group is highly skilled professionals. Most of my employees working out of our D.C. office speak a number of other languages. We have a highly skilled workforce, Ph.D. levels that specialize in these areas.
Q: OK, that sounds like a whole different company from the one that won the award in 2011. Most small companies focus on doing a few things very well. METI is all over the map, literally and figuratively. How can one company be so diverse, and why are you headquartered in El Paso?
The first answer is that we’re good at what we do. This just goes to show that an El Paso-headquartered company can compete not only nationally but also internationally. We have been with this customer, the Office of International Programs, for over 10 years. Then, you have a company in El Paso that has the ability to ramp up and move quickly to support this customer.
We truly have a partnership with them, and I spend a significant amount of my time on travel here in Washington, D.C., as well as my other offices, looking for opportunities. When an opportunity like this presents itself and it fits within our core capabilities, we’ll go after it.
Q: It would probably surprise most people to learn the U.S. Forest Service has international contracts and doesn’t just work in this country’s national forests. But that would give them a lot of expertise that others could use.
That’s correct, and we take that expertise and export it to other countries to help them with their natural resources.
Q: How would you describe your core capabilities? It seems you have a lot of them.
We do, but we focus on systems engineering, information technology, research and development. That’s our core. This particular contract is a little bit different, but there’s a component of R&D in this one.
This type of expertise is great for our company, and I’m honored and humbled that a customer like this would place this type of work with us. And most importantly, it’s being done by a company based and headquartered in El Paso. It’s good for our community.
Q: You have the major military services as customers. What do you do for them?
For the Army, we do some cyber security work. For the Navy, we do what we call weapons survivability. We test a lot of aircraft. We do some financial management and budgeting for the Navy as well. For the Air Force, we have some informational technology services. That includes database management, custom configurations of databases. We maintain a large database in Ohio for the Air Force of reservists and enlisted personnel. We maintain if for them.
The FAA is another major customer. We do engineering support services for them.
Q: All that technical stuff, but for the Forest Service, you’re out working in the woods?
(Laughs) It’s hard to put your arms around it all, it really is. But it’s a great portfolio. One of the things every contractor is facing is sequestration. By me being diversified, this is what happened. The Forest Service is a non-DOD customer. By being so diverse, it helped us. If I had had all my eggs in the DOD pot, that area is not trending upwards right now. That’s why we’re so blessed the Office of International Programs picked us to do this important work.
Q: Where are you from?
I was born in Chicago and raised in El Paso. I went to school at Andress High School and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a bachelor’s degree in management in 1995. My family got to El Paso in 1967. My dad was a government employee.
Q: You started METI in 1994, before you even graduated from college?
Yes. What happened is I was working for my parents when I founded this company and incorporated it. But METI was dormant until 1998.
Q: What did you start off doing?
That’s a great question. The reason I started my company is my parents had a very similar company to mine and they sold it. I was working for them and when they sold it, I had the option of moving to Washington, D.C. with the acquiring company. I decided to stay in El Paso and run my own company. I started with seven employees, no contracts and no revenues, just a good solid business plan and a vision.
Q: What was your parents’ company and when did they sell it?
It was named Management Assistance Corp. of America, and they sold it in ‘98.
Q: Was it as odd and diverse as yours? I don’t mean that in a bad way.
Yes. They had a lot of the same types of customers.
Q: Did your parents decide not to offer the company to you because they had such a good purchase offer that they would be able to retire?
Yeah, they reached a point when it was time to sell.
Q: Was it a large company?
We were doing about $29 million a year. We had about 250 employees.
Q: Who acquired it?
A company by the name of Matcom. Later they were acquired by another company, and they eventually went public.
Q: Did they keep the name or just step in and assume the business and the contracts that your parents had?
They acquired the assets, the customers and the contracts. I’m not sure if they’re around anymore. They rolled it up into so many different companies and it changed names.
Q: But if they were competing with you today, you’d know about it, right?
Yes and no. Remember, I’m classified as a small business. When you roll up a number of companies and you reach $150 million to $300 million, you’re not classified in my world anymore.
Q: When it comes to a small business and the next level, where’s the line in employee numbers or revenues?
It all depends on the NAICS code, the North American Industry Classification System. In my world, your revenues cannot exceed $27 million on average for three years. Then there are some NAICS codes that are by employees. You cannot have more than 500 employees.
Q: So will your new $100-million contract with the Forest Service put you over?
It will put me out of certain NAICS codes, yes, which will cause me to have to compete in a much larger pool with bigger companies. While I may not fit the NAICS code, I will always be a small disadvantaged business, always, because of my minority status.
Now, what I have to do is find NAICS codes that still fit, and some will be in the small business category. That’s my number. It’s 541330 – engineering services. That NAICS code is $27 million. It’s a complicated world in government contracting.
We try to position our company to compete, whether it’s a small business opportunity or a full and open opportunity, which means competing against Raytheon, Lockheed, General Dynamics, all of the big players, Fortune 500 companies.
Q: Do you aspire to move up with those companies or to remain in the small business world?
I’m kind of content where we’re at. My personal goals for the company are to get to 1,000 employees or $100 million in revenue. I’ve been real close to getting there. In 2007, we had almost 600 employees and did almost $70 million in revenue.
Q: So you do have ups and downs, don’t you?
Yes, that’s exactly right. You win some and you lose some. I want to keep reaching for my goal, and hopefully one day I’ll get there.
Q: Do you do any purely private business, providing services to private companies?
We are getting ready to launch a new division in the private sector, but we haven’t done that fully yet. It would be primarily in the area of technology and hosted video services. This group is going to provide video teleconferencing to businesses that can’t afford the larger infrastructure but still want the capability of having video conferencing.
Q: That would be multiple locations in different cities and possibly overseas as well?
Exactly. Currently, we use that technology on our government side to meet with our customers in Washington. We use it to meet with our employees in Sierra Leon, Lima, Peru, Guinea and other international locations.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.