Trio finds success in being great, not big

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Randy Culver, Mark McMillen and Sean Conway are co-owners of Amergint Technologies, a communications company they started after being fired from a business they also started.

A preference for small: Randy Culver, Mark McMillen and Sean Conway are co-owners of Amergint Technologies, a communications company they started after being fired from a business they also started.

Two days after Randy Culver, Mark McMillen and Sean Conway were fired from Real Time Logic — a company two of them founded — they started Amergint Technologies, a firm that specializes in space system equipment.

They didn’t have a single customer, but eight people from their former company quit and joined their new company, where computers were set up on boxes because there was no furniture.

That was two years ago. Since then, the partners have built up a client list that includes Honeywell and the Department of Defense. Revenue ranges around $2 million a year.

The firm now has a team of 18 engineers, is projecting 50 percent revenue growth next year, and at times, competes directly against its former company for space and aerospace communications work.

Culver and McMillen started their predecessor company, RT Logic, with three other engineers in 1997 and sold the company for a reported $36 million to Maryland-based Integral Systems Inc. in 2002. Culver and McMillen stayed with Integral, as did Conway, until 2008.

On their way out the door, someone handed them a book: “Small Giants: companies that choose to be great instead of big,” by Bo Burlingham.

It rocked their world, Conway said. The idea of choosing to be great instead of big resonated with the three who had helped grow RT Logic to more than 150 employees.

Now, they are interested in keeping their company small — somewhere between 30 and 50 employees.

“That was the best size,” Culver said. “You knew what was going on across the board.”

The trio could have retired after RT Logic let them go. But, Conway said, they had too many ideas, too much energy.

“We thought, why not take the challenge and continue working?” he said.

The partners set up shop in an 8,500-square-foot office at 1040 Elkton Drive, in a business park off Garden of the Gods Road. It’s the same business park where they started RT Logic, before it moved to its current location.

This time, the partners are focused on company culture and creativity, they said. Employees share in profit and “people are treated and valued for all their contributions to the company,” Conway said.

They wear blue jeans to work, have barbeques in the back lot, encourage long bicycle rides for the lunch hour and maintain a low-key approach.

“Our employee handbook has one page and says, ‘You have a brain, use it,’” Culver said.

Inside the office, there are no cubicles, only large offices that include two labs where engineers develop their systems on commercial servers, build input/output boards and test satellite equipment for customers across the country.

In various rooms there are giant white boards where groups of engineers map out designs for military and commercial customers. Amergint engineers challenge themselves to create new products and new ways of delivering services that are more cost-effective, Culver said. The goal for product design is to leave behind the restraints that often come with technology design, he said.

“It’s freeing,” Culver said. “We can do it anyway we want.”

Conway said the partners hope to build a company with a legacy, one where their children’s children can work. And they won’t sell.

“We are here to make a difference for a small number of customers and a small number of employees,” Conway said. “We want to be a small giant.”