by Heather B. Hayes
For Virginia Business
Mark Danisewicz started at American Systems by setting up the company’s in-house accounting operation. The company’s founders cautioned him at the time, however, that they would never make any decision or undertake any task for the “convenience of the accounting department.”
“I realized pretty quickly that I had to somehow make sure that I and my staff balanced the need to fully support our internal customers while always staying true to our policies and our internal control procedures,” says Danisewicz, 53. “The challenge is ongoing, because how do you teach someone about balance? And it really is about leading by example and talking about it constantly.”
Danisewicz took to his role quickly and never left American Systems. Named CFO in 1997, Danisewicz led the implementation of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), restructured the resulting $25 million debt and oversaw seven acquisitions. Meanwhile, American Systems, a provider of systems engineering and technical services, grew from a $60 million to a $230 million company. In 2005, when CEO Elliot Needleman died suddenly, the board of directors asked Danisewicz to temporarily lead the company.
His toughest challenge at American Systems was enabling the employees to buy the company from its original founders. “It took a lot more than just being a good financial person,” he explains. “I had to convince the owners that we could pull off the financing, and I had to convince management that we could take what was then a $60 million company, add all this debt and still be successful. It was extremely challenging dealing with the different personalities and different priorities, but we pulled it off.”
Danisewicz says that the most enjoyable aspect of being CFO is the constant challenge. “You face something new every day, and I think the higher you are in an organization the more opportunity there is to learn something new.”
His long tenure has given American Systems a continuity that is beneficial to the company, but Danisewicz says it also is a disadvantage since he has no other experience to draw on. Recognizing this, he has always worked hard to hire team members who bring a different context and perspective.
“You only know what you know, so we’ve always sought out people with complementary skills and experience to help support me, and I’m always open to fresh ideas and new blood,” he says.
American Systems gets 90 percent of its revenues from government contracts, so it faces new challenges in the year ahead from the tightening of federal budgets and the faltering economy, but Danisewicz is confident that the company will continue its upward course.
“Problems never go away, of course,” says Danisewicz. “What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that while it’s easy to get excited about opportunities to win new business or to acquire a company, you have to be just as passionate about the negative things. You can’t put your head in the sand and procrastinate; you just have to go after issues and problems like you would an opportunity.”
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