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Huntsville Business Journal Sitdown with Success: Bill Roark

Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal spotlighting local entrepreneurs and their path to success and advice for future entrepreneurs.

It’s easy to see why employees on Torch’s campus, that is home to Torch Technologies and Freedom Real Estate and Capital, LLC, are so happy.

We sat down and spoke with Bill Roark, Torch’s co-founder and Freedom Real Estate’s CEO, and it was clear to see that employees are a top priority of the 100 percent employee-owned companies.

Bill Roark on his key to success: Good people. I’ve been able to surround myself with really good people. (Photo/Steve Babin)

And it is because of the employees and management’s vision and direction that Torch Technologies was one of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in America, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, and on multiple selections on the Inc. 5000 list recognizing the Fastest Growing Private Companies in the U.S.

How did you get started in the business?

Torch Technologies was founded in 2002 and I stepped down as CEO from Torch at the end of 2018. Torch and Freedom are sister companies and under the umbrella of Starfish Holdings for which I am chairman of the board. Freedom Real Estate was started, mostly in the beginning to be an alternative investment for the profits Torch Technologies was making. It was a way to diversify a little bit and it’s been very successful.

What obstacles did you face/how did you overcome them?

Early challenges were cash flow.  The company grew very quickly and started to hire people.  We had to have cash to pay them.  We initially used my home equity line of credit, but as the company continued to grow, we took on some angel investors.  We were fortunate to get good investors who were supportive of the company and were not invasive into the operations.

How are you able to keep your business relevant?

We are constantly updating and changing things to respond to a changing market.  Every year assess exactly where the company is.  We also look at where we want to be two years from now.  We then develop a detailed plan to make the changes to make that happen.

To what do you attribute your success?

Good people. I’ve been able to surround myself with really good people.

Early on, I reached out to a lot of folks I had worked with in the past that I knew who were good and those people knew others who were good. We generally get people who fit our culture that want to be here; that want to be doing what we are doing. The people and the culture are really what have driven us.

One of the key things is that everyone has a stake in the outcome.

Everybody is an owner. If the company does well, then they do well. There’s motivation for them to have the company do well.

When the employees are the owners, they benefit from the success of the company.

What is important to your company culture?

Being good stewards of the community.

That has been with us since the early days. We try to always give something back to the community and grow that as we grow. Some of the big projects that the company will take on are decided on the executive level, but we have created a community within the company that decides how to spend the company money.

Any employee can volunteer and help with Torch Helps, the employees decide which community charities are selected.

Several years ago, we considered leaving south Huntsville, but the mayor encouraged us to stay and asked us to help revitalize South Huntsville, so we did. We started buying buildings such as the Freedom Center and Office Park south.

We have spent close to $20 million revitalizing old buildings in southeast Huntsville and bringing them back to a premium where people would want to be in them again.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs?

Learn as much as you can about the business area you want to go into.

If you want to start a business in engineering, you will need to get a college degree, a few years of experience and get some customer relationships such that you have the influence to be able to bring the contracts to the company that you start and the experience to justify bringing in those contracts.

It’s important to build relationships with companies that can help you and with government personnel that would be willing to provide the funding.

Also, for decades, we had that belief that everyone needs to go to college to be able to do business. I don’t think that’s as true anymore. There are lots of good trades out there and there’s a shortage of people to work those skilled trade jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

Torch Technologies No. 8 on Entrepreneur 360 List

Torch Technologies has been recognized for the third consecutive year as one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” by Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur360 List.

Based on the study, Torch is recognized as a well-rounded company that has mastered a balance of impact, innovation, growth, leadership, and value.  The Huntsville-based company ranked eighth out of 360 organizations this year, up from 11 in 2018 and 16 in 2017. 

“We are proud to have again been recognized by Entrepreneur magazine for our distinctive approach to innovation, growth, leadership, and culture,” said Torch President and CEO John Watson. “Our continued success as a 100% employee-owned company is thanks our invaluable employee-owners.

“We are privileged to be part of a growing group of extraordinary people who are innovative and bright, and who make Torch a great place to work.”

 “Every entrepreneur knows that a healthy business isn’t just about growth. It’s about being well-rounded—growing your culture and your systems as strongly as you grow your revenue,” said Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. “That’s why we’re excited to celebrate these companies with our fifth annual Entrepreneur360 ranking.

“The companies that make the list have pushed boundaries with their innovative ideas, fostered strong company cultures, impacted their communities for the better, strengthened their brand, and grown impressively as a result.”

Honorees were identified based on the results from a comprehensive study of independently- owned companies, using a proprietary algorithm and other advanced analytics. The algorithm was built on a balanced scorecard designed to measure five metrics reflecting major pillars of entrepreneurship—innovation, growth, leadership, impact, and business valuation.

Torch Technologies Makes “Top 100 Government Contractors” List

Torch Technologies continues to climb in the rankings of the nation’s top government contractors.

In the annual Washington Technology “Top 100,” Torch Technologies was ranked 59th, up two spots from 2018. The list ranks the largest government contractors by their prime contract dollars in IT, professional services, telecommunications, and other high-tech service areas.

For Huntsville-based Torch, a 100 percent employee-owned small business, this is the fifth straight year on the list, ranking 86 in 2015; 75 in 2016; 68 in 2017; and 61 in 2018.

Torch, which had more than $403 million in total revenue last year, was the highest ranked Huntsville-headquartered company named to this year’s list.

“On behalf of our employee-owners, we are honored that the confidence placed in us by our DoD customers has resulted in Torch being recognized for the fifth year as one of the largest professional services prime contractors to the federal government,” said Torch President John Watson.

Davidson Technologies, Torch Technologies Donate to School of Cyber Technology

Davidson Technologies and Torch Technologies presented major gifts to the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering Foundation during last month’s National Cyber Summit.

Davidson Technologies donated $250,000 and Torch Technologies made a $100,000 contribution. The donations are intended to promote and advance the School, which opens in Huntsville in August 2020.  

State Sen. Arthur Orr and LSINC CEO Alicia Ryan accepted the checks on behalf of the foundation from Dr. Joe Green, president of Davidson Technologies; and Jim Diehl, Torch Technologies chief of staff.

Orr also serves as president of the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering Board of Trustees and Ryan is president of the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering Foundation.

Turner Construction Completes Work on Torch Technologies Integration and Prototyping Center

Turner Construction has completed work on Torch Technologies’ Technology Integration and Prototyping Center.

The $10 million facility at 4050 Chris Drive in Huntsville is part of Torch Technologies’ growing campus in South Huntsville and consists of a 35,000-square-foot, two-story office space with an attached 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility. It incorporates offices, labs and open vertical spaces where large pieces of equipment can be installed and tested.

Torch Technologies continues to invest in its South Huntsville campus, supporting the City of Huntsville’s efforts to redevelop South Huntsville, a once vibrant area of town that is seeing an increase in development.

The new Technology Integration and Prototyping Center is located across the street from the Freedom Center, a project Turner completed in 2017 that included the renovation of a 40,000-square-foot, four-story building at 4090 South Memorial Parkway to create Torch Technologies’ current headquarters.

“Our previous experience building defense and aerospace facilities in Huntsville and elsewhere made us ideally suited for this project,” said project executive Lee Holland of Turner’s Huntsville office. “We’re very pleased to continue our partnership with Freedom Real Estate & Capital and Torch Technologies and to help in the continued revival of South Huntsville.”

Collaborating with Turner on the project were Matheny Goldmon Architects AIA; 4Site (civil engineering and landscape architecture); SSOE (mechanical and electrical engineers); and PEC Structural Engineering.

“Having worked with Turner in the past on the construction of the Freedom Center, we knew the outstanding quality of work that the company is capable of delivering,” said Bill Roark of Torch Technologies and Freedom Real Estate. “Our Technology Integration and Prototyping Center will enable Torch to take on more complex projects than before, including developing instruments to advance warhead testing.”

Watson named Torch president/CEO; Roark is CEO of Starfish Holdings

John Watson has been named president and CEO of Torch Technologies, succeeding Bill Roark who is now CEO of Starfish Holdings, the parent company of Torch Technologies and other Starfish holdings.

Watson has served as president of Torch since 2013. This transition has occurred over the past two years, with Roark moving away from his full-time involvement with Torch and toward leadership of the Starfish Holdings enterprise.

“We have selected a strong, proven leader for Torch at a time when Torch is in a very strong position as a rapidly growing employee-owned small business,” said Roark, a co-founder of Torch. “Since John became president…, he has continually grown the company in multiple locations, broadening our capabilities and solutions. We have full confidence that John will continue to move the company forward, capitalizing on the opportunities in front of us, and will lead the company in the best interest of our employee-owners.”

Watson joined Torch in 2009 as vice president of corporate development.

“I joined Torch in 2009 because I wanted to be a part of a company that not only had an established reputation within the community and with customers for its ethics and values, but also had vast possibilities for growth and innovation,” said Watson. “Today it is even more clear to me that Torch is that company. I am honored that Bill and the Torch Board have placed their faith in me to continue to lead Torch in this capacity.”

25 Area Businesses Ranked Among Inc. 5000

 

Fresh on the heels of the Huntsville Madison County Chamber’s annual Small Business Awards celebration, several local companies received news Wednesday they have joined an elite group.

The annual Inc. 5000 list was unveiled and it included 25 Madison County small businesses.

“If your company is on the Inc. 5000, it’s unparalleled recognition of your years of hard work and sacrifice,” said James Ledbetter, the magazine’s editor in chief. “The lines of business may come and go, or come and stay.

“What doesn’t change is the way entrepreneurs create and accelerate the forces that shape our lives.”

Reflective of Huntsville’s “Federal City” moniker, 21 of the 25 businesses are in government services.

Cintel was the highest-ranked local business, coming in at 252. It was followed by Yorktown Services, 749; Hill Technical Solutions, 797; R2C Support Services, 1263; Pinnacle Solutions, 1558; Mission Driven Research, 1638; Shearer, 1690; IronMountain Solutions, 1741; Matt Curtis Real Estate, 1791; MSB Analytics, 1827; Spur, 2047; Kord Technologies, 2298; nLogic, 2350; MartinFederal, 2575; Sentar, 2853; Venturi, 2860; TriVector Services, 3040; Thompson Gray, 3235; Monte Sano Research, 3338; nouSystems, 3396; Torch Technologies, 3397; Keel Point Partners, 3752; LSINC, 3904; Trideum, 4870; and enVention, 4903.

The complete list can be found at http://www.inc.com/inc5000/list/2018 and in the September issue of Inc. magazine, which is on newsstands now.