R.M Rickenbach

Rick Rickenbach strides over to a painted backdrop showing the Capitol at night, plants his feet in the painted shoe [...]

March 1 1995 by Lorri Grube


Rick Rickenbach strides over to a painted backdrop showing the Capitol at night, plants his feet in the painted shoe marks on the floor, straightens Hs shoulders, and takes on a serious countenance. “How’s this?” he asks. “Do I look like I belong in Washington?”

“Senator material,” the photographer shoots back as he snaps away.

“Maybe I should cross my arms like this,” Rickenbach suggests. “Like the officials do in all those photo ops.”

Rickenbach knows something about the denizens of Washington; he is the chairman and chief executive of $524 million Government Technology Services Inc., the leading reseller of microcomputer hardware, software, and networking products to Uncle Sam. The federal government spends $26 billion a year on information technology from supercomputers to spreadsheets. GTSI’s market-desktop computers, workstations, software, and professional services comprises roughly $5 billion of that figure. In competition with companies including EDS and Dell, Chantilly, VA-based GTSI acts as a middleman between government and manufacturers, providing a convenient, value-added package of hardware, software, installation, and technical support.

“Convenience is key,” says Rickenbach, 54, who came on board at GTSI in 1990 after a 28-year career at Control Data Corp. “To that end, we eventually hope to publish a product catalog on the Internet. This way, customers can choose equipment electronically and pay electronically.”

All of GTSI’s contracts are with the government, about half with the Department of Defense and the rest with civilian agencies such as the IRS and public education programs. The company bids on thousands of contracts each year and ships about 130,000 individual orders. GTSI provides more than 40,000 products from over 400 manufacturers including Apple, Unix, and Intel. Its big contracts include those with the U.S. Air Force to provide desktop equipment and with NASA to provide software and peripheral technologies for Unix workstations. The September 1994 acquisition of rival Falcon Microsystems gave GTSI a strengthened Apple platform and a new workstation vendor in Silicon Graphics. All told, net income for the nine months ended October 31 increased 22 percent from the year earlier period to $6.7 million, Rickenbach, a self-professed hands-on manager who hosts roundtables for employees and believes firmly in constant E-mail communication, aims to double GTSI’s sales within the next three years. But he faces some formidable challenges. “Our business is very cyclical,” the CEO says. “September is the best month because of the government planning/budget cycle, It’s akin to how retail manages the Christmas buying season. But basically if you understand government’s rules and requirements, you’ll do OK in terms of procurement.”

In addition, like so many other companies in the post-Cold War era, GTSI is affected by DOD cutbacks. “As time goes on, the growth opportunities will be in civilian agencies such as the Post Office that are becoming increasingly automated,” says Rickenbach, who uses an Intel-based platform. “We’ve already installed for the IRS a local area network in seven cities that will assist with the electronic filing of individual income tax returns.”

That doesn’t mean the CEO can rest on his laurels; Rickenbach always keeps a sharp eye on competitors eager to wrest market share away from GTSI, “I don’t think the fabric of the competition is going to change,” says Rickenbach, “But I am worried about the commercial market going soft and all those players taking a shot at the opportunities in the government market. They would cause some abnormalities in the pricing.”