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Close-up: James B. Lasswell

Indus Technology president salutes value of happy employees

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In today's business climate, most corporate leaders will tell you their primary asset is their employees -- but not all corporate cultures make it a priority to truly cultivate that asset. Indus Technology Inc.'s does.

"We are primarily a government contractor whose primary product is services. We don't build anything and don't have any particular product," said James B. Lasswell, president and senior engineer of Indus Technology. "We exist because of excellent people we have in the company that we provide to our customers in the form of services. We try to even carry it a little further."

Founded in 1991 in San Diego by Lasswell and his late wife, Kathleen P. Sridhar, Ph.D, Indus Technology provides services such as systems engineering, technical and program management, such as C4I communication systems, logistics, IT services and financial management. For instance, one of the core competencies the company has developed centers on an understanding of how to effectively manage appropriated monies. Its key clients are in the government sector, such as the Department of the Navy divisions like SPAWAR and SSC, and other Department of Defense divisions.

James Lasswell

Lasswell himself grew up in a military family in San Diego; his father was in the Marine Corps. Following in those footsteps, Lasswell went into the Navy and feels lucky to have had the Navy send him to grad school, where he says he was able to learn the technical skills that led him to begin Indus Technology upon his retirement.

The company has experienced steady growth since it was founded, growing from a couple of employees to 215 currently. When asked how he's achieved that growth, Lasswell again points directly to his staff.

"It's real simple," he said. "We have a corporate culture and belief that in the services industry, the only assets the company has are its superior people. So every one of us here in management, our primary purpose is to take care of our excellent employees."

Because of his management's focus on ensuring that employees both enjoy what they do and have the tools to do their jobs effectively, Lasswell continued, he can in turn ask that his staff make sure customers are happy. And, he said, "If we make the customer happy, our business will grow."

He attributed this culture in part to Sridhar, whom he called a "tremendous leader of people," as well as to his own military background.

The long-time San Diego resident also believes that giving back to the community is essential for his company's success. Lasswell is highly involved with the NDIA (National Defense Industrial Association), which allows him to mentor other small businesses in the area. Some of his best small business advice?

"I always tell small companies that first off, you've got to be prepared to answer the question of why somebody would go to your company as opposed to hundreds of thousands of others," he said. "You've got to answer that question pretty much every day."

Another key factor Lasswell points to is networking and being able to deal with potential clients in a way that makes your company a preferred vendor. He repeats the sales axiom: People buy things from people they like.

With its focus on government contracts, it might seem that the company's growth stems in part from the current war efforts. But because Indus Technology acts more like a consultancy instead of providing products, it can actually see fewer dollars during times of conflict.

"I think it's safe to say that war in Iraq has taken a lot of discretionary money," Lasswell said. "And it's utilized that money in direct support of the fighting troops in helping build infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. That reduces the amount of discretionary money that can be spent on infrastructure and R&D organizations like SPAWAR."

For Lasswell, it seems, the military is not just his business -- but in his blood. And Lasswell said he likes functioning and living within a strong defense-oriented community like San Diego.

"I really enjoy supporting the Navy and Defense Department. It's something that is part of my heritage. I spent 20 years in the Navy, but I continue to go to military events and am happy to be supporting the military as a contractor," he said. "You didn't listen to light jazz when you called the company (during the call transfer). You listened to marching music. I'm not light jazz -- I'm a defense company."

Yet while Lasswell's manner of speaking is matter-of-fact and his industry a serious one, he takes time to appreciate how much his business -- and San Diego -- mean to him.

"It's a fun business to be in; I just really enjoy it. It's rewarding, and I feel good doing what we do. You've got to go home and look at yourself in the mirror and say: What have I done today, have I done anything good? And the answer is that we've provided a great place to work, where people enjoy what they're doing that is a significant benefit to the national defense. It's something to be proud of."

Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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