Valkyrie Enterprises provides corporate benefits with a personal touchJanuary 27, 2011 6:00 AM
by Heather B. Hayes
Photo by Mark Rhodes
Gary Lisota says a commitment to good employee benefits has enabled his company to grow rapidly.
When Gary Lisota started Valkyrie Enterprises in 2007, he knew that if the fledgling engineering and technical services firm was going to thrive in the highly competitive defense industry, it would need to attract the best staff possible.
So Lisota decided early on that Valkyrie Enterprises, based in Virginia Beach, would differentiate itself by providing financial and insurance benefits usually found in large companies, while maintaining the personal contact typical of a small business.
“It was a definite challenge,” says Lisota, who founded AMSEC LLC, a multibillion-dollar engineering services firm. Under his direction, that company grew to 5,000 employees and 74 locations worldwide.
“I mean, on Day 1, when you’ve got three employees, you can’t be group-rated for any type of insurance policies,” Lisota says. “So it was a question of: How are we going to offer great benefits without having the cost so high for the employees that it’s completely unattractive to them or so high for the company that it makes it hard to compete?”
Lisota persuaded Joanne Brooks, his former human-resources executive at AMSEC, to leave retirement and join his new venture. They found a benefits broker that could help them join up with a larger group and achieve their employee compensation goals.
Among the current benefits package: Valkyrie offers all employees, on their very first day of work, full family health, dental, prescription, vision and life insurance benefits and pays 75 percent of the premium and a 3 percent company contribution to a 401(k) retirement plan. It also offers both short-term and long-term disability coverage. In addition, employees are eligible for an accrued bonus program that rewards exceptional performance and leadership.
Lisota says that this upfront commitment “enabled us to have early success in attracting really great employees and then we became really known for our people,” he explains. “That fact then feeds on itself and becomes a snowball rolling downhill in terms of our ability to attract best-of-breed talent.”
That reputation also enabled Valkyrie to grow rapidly. Shortly after its founding, the company captured the Seaport-e Small Business Prime Contract, the Navy’s electronic platform for acquiring support services in 22 functional areas, including engineering, system safety and logistics. The company now has sub-contractual relationships with 60 other defense contractors.
Valkyrie took in more than $15 million in revenues in 2010. It currently has 128 employees and plans to hire at least another 40 in 2011.
As part of the company’s culture, Lisota and Brooks also put in place a number of perks designed to make employees feel appreciated.
Valkyrie, for example, hosts social get-togethers, including a monthly birthday potluck or picnic for employees. It provides special-recognition awards and unexpected, on-the-spot financial rewards, such as a prepaid credit card. In addition, Valkyrie communicates with employees through a monthly newsletter, which, besides company news, profiles individuals and organizations.
Lisota says that although he expects that Valkyrie will continue its rapid growth, with a goal to reach $100 million and 1,000 employees by 2015, he doesn’t want the company to lose its small-business feel.
“It will be a challenge to maintain that approach, but it can be done if you stay focused on it and make it a priority,” Lisota states. “The key… as we become more decentralized is to make sure I hire executives and managers who understand what our culture is and what our secret sauce is: For us, that’s to hire the best to be the best, to care about the employee as much as we do the customer and to stay close to both.”