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Keys to Success

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Tech expertise leads to rapid growth for Matthews firm

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- COURTESY OF RAPIER SOLUTIONS
Staff at Matthews-based Rapier Solutions: William “Bill” Bailey, president; Courtney Austin, accounts payable manager; Jacques Jackie Graves, business developer, Brian R. Perry, human resources assistant, Raven Pritchett (in back), office assistant, Hazel Bailey, vice president.

It took 13 years as a computer engineer in the military and a dozen years in the U.S. Army Reserves for Bill Bailey to do what he’d long been itching to do: start his own consulting company.

That was in 2002. And now his Matthews-based business is No. 115 on this year’s Inc. 500 list – and the region’s top-ranked firm.

Bailey’s Rapier Solutions – a nod to the straight two-edged sword used for defense – offers information technology services, program management and financial counseling for the federal government, private companies and academic institutions across the country.

Projects could range from developing security software for a company to creating a system to manage telecommuting employees who aren’t logging in to do their work.

It was the second year the consulting company made the magazine’s list, which ranks private businesses based on the percentage of growth of their revenue over the past three years. Rapier grew its revenue more than 3,000 percent, reaching $6.2 million last year.

ShopTalk spoke with Bailey last week, soon after the Inc. 500 listings were announced, to hear what has helped him grow from a home office to a 3,000-square-foot headquarters he built and paid for in cash. The short answer: find and retain top talent. Here’s how he does it.

The right staff: Only 11 of Rapier’s 62 full-time employees work from the company’s Matthews headquarters, at 3095 Senna Drive.

The rest of the employees are scattered in 17 other states, from Hawaii to Massachusetts, Florida to Washington D.C. The main reason: Bailey believes he should have feet on the ground and in the communities where his clients are located.

But rather than fly (and house) employees for jobs, he finds employees in the area where clients are. For example, when Rapier was hired to set up a new security system at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., Bailey and his team searched www.clearancejobs.com for potential employees who already had top-secret government clearance. Then he flies the top candidates to Matthews for a face-to-face interview.

The right questions: Bailey, 54, had a number of direct reports while he was in the military, and the accepted mode of operation was honesty and blunt replies. As a CEO, Bailey says he’s learned to be a little more soft, to analyze the way people work and how to approach them. “Civilian work … has more to do with figuring people out,” Bailey says.

So when he interviews job candidates, he likes to decipher how they think. His go-to questions are always problem-solving scenarios, because in his line of work, there’s rarely an answer key.

“We give them a hypothetical situation and see if they can think their way out of the box,” Bailey said. “We’re looking for people who don’t come up with canned answers."

Cash for training: An educated workforce is crucial to sustained success, Bailey says, which is why he gives each employee $1,500 a year to advance his or her education. A financial counselor might go to financial school to get re-certified. An office manager might take a course on Microsoft Excel to learn a new way to format company spreadsheets.

Or, Bailey says, “they may go to school for something else that may bring them up to another job (internally).” And that, he says, retains talent and keeps ambitious employees on the fast track.

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