Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
How Skeptics of the EDA Became Big Boosters
Dynamic Security Concepts Inc. (DSCI) is a company whose
business is hush-hush as well as high-tech. Based in Mays Landing,
the fast-growing information systems company has contracts with the
FAA and other government agencies. Its work includes helping to ensure
the safety of air traffic control systems and consulting on systems
to foil would-be terrorists and hackers.
Founder and president,
employee, and vice president of finance,
reluctant to divulge too many details about DSCI’s work. But when
neighbors decided that the company’s first real office was most probably
a hair salon, they decided a low profile could be too low.
"The shutters were pink," says Sandman, explaining, at least
in part, the confusion. On trips to the bank, tellers were baffled
by the size of the checks she was depositing. (Among the company’s
contracts is a $20 million multi-year contract from the FAA.) She
and Hopkins chuckled about the tellers’ reaction, but when government
decision makers were to make a security clearance call, the pair decided
the shutters needed a makeover.
"Mrs. Hopkins hired me because she knew I could paint shutters,"
laughs Sandman, an attorney by training. "I painted the shutters
Eventually, with the help of a loan guarantee from the New Jersey
Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), the firm purchased an office
that reflected the nature of its work. Happily serving as NJEDA boosters,
Hopkins and Sandman are among the featured speakers at the New Jersey
Technology Council’s "Women in Technology" program on Tuesday,
August 20, at 8:30 a.m. at the office of the NJEDA on West State Street
in Trenton. Also speaking are
of the NJEDA; and
First Union. Cost: $40. Call 856-787-9700.
The house with the pink shutters was DSCI’s second home. A firm believer
in the importance of frugality to the success of a start-up business,
Hopkins began the company, now grown to some 38 employees, in her
house seven years ago. The reason she moved to an outside office?
"You move the first time your five-year-old answers the phone,
and Lockheed Martin’s on the line, and he says `Mommy’s in the bathroom,’"
Hopkins says. So it was on to the 900 square-foot house with the pink
shutters. As her payroll began to grow, conditions became intolerable.
"My office was in the kitchen," says Sandman. "The safe
was in my face." Anyone needing access to the safe would have
to insert their derrieres between her and the safe.
By then in charge of contracts, benefits, and more, Sandman went out
looking for a larger space. "I looked at offices for a year and
a half," she says. The space would have to have features dictated
by the terms of the company’s government contracts. Security was important,
as were walls between different sections. Rent on any suitable space
was above what their government contracts could support. Finally,
Sandman found a building that would work, and it was for sale.
The young company needed help to swing the purchase. An potential
answer was that loan guarantee from the NJEDA, but Sandman was reluctant
to go there. "I’m like a total Republican," she offers as
an explanation. "I believed there is nothing government can help
you with. I thought it would be a lot of paperwork for very little
money, a bureaucratic nightmare."
Instead, she found working the NJEDA "the most pleasant experience."
The paperwork was easy, and with the NJEDA and their local bank, Minatola
Bank, behind DCSI, the company was able to purchase a building for
a yearly payment that is half what it would have paid to lease a similar
space. The 5,000 square-foot space also contains rental apartments,
as well as offices DSCI leases to government agencies.
DSCI is just the kind of company the NJEDA want to nurture, says Sandman.
It is in a high-tech field, is growing rapidly, and provides good
jobs. Salaries, she says, range from $38,000 to $150,000. And how
large will the company be in a year or two?
"One hundred employees," says Hopkins with nary a second’s
"No, no. Wait," interjects Sandman. "When you get past
50 employees you have to deal with many more regulations." She
also reminds Hopkins of the time the fledgling company hired seven
employees and thought it would be a good idea to have all of them
start on the same day.
"Never again," the two chorus.
Yes, Hopkins agrees, recalling that chaotic day, slow growth probably
Hopkins, who holds a bachelor’s degree in information systems from
the University of Maryland (Class of 1989) and a master’s degree in
systems engineering, left home at age 16. Her first job was in the
collections department of Mobil Oil at the time that company was transitioning
from a manual to a computer system. It was the beginning of her love
affair with all things electronic. "I’m one of the few women with
a GPS (global positioning system) in my car," she boasts.
As she worked her way through school, Hopkins worked for a number
of aviation companies. Working on testing and programming surveillance
systems for air traffic control and consulting on combining legacy
systems with newer technology, she was told she was technically talented,
but, she says, when it was time for promotion, she heard: "`You’ve
only been here four or five years, and there are guys who need to
put food on the table."
Pay disparity — women doing the same job as men, but getting less
pay — is "alive and well," says Hopkins, the single mother
of two children. "You can complain about it, or you can do something
She says she looked around, and decided she could do as a good a job
— a better job in many respects — than her employers, and
set out on her own.
Conducting a phone interview in which she and Sandman — two smart,
funny women — interweave comments, some serious, many light, it
is hard not to muse on the ways that women-owned businesses tend to
be different. Hopkins’ comments on her management style flesh out
was in no way looking to be employed, after observing her in community
activities. Sandman, the mother of four children, holds both a bachelor’s
degree and a J.D. from Villanova and had commuted from Mays Landing
to Trenton, where she worked in Governor Kean’s administration, before
she decided family responsibilities and the drive were just too much
"I saw in her brilliance and compassion," says Hopkins.
"I was in no way looking for a job," says Sandman, whose volunteer
activities included writing wills for seniors.
Hopkins cajoled her to join the new company, and Sandman says she
initially spent 10 to 15 hours a week cutting flowers, painting shutters,
processing new employees, and doing whatever else needed to be done.
Now she says she is up to "too many hours," and Hopkins says
her work on everything from HR policies to legal advice to leasing
So it is with many DSCI employees, who are hired based on their intrinsic
abilities rather than on their resumes.
to work, says Hopkins half-an-hour into an interview that didn’t begin
until late afternoon. "She was at her daughter’s swim meet,"
Hopkins says. "That is where she should have been."
All employees, Hopkins says, are granted this flexibility to combine
job and home in ways that work for them. Her sister, Lori Barnard,
vice president of contracts, and the employee Hopkins credits with
"taking us to a different level," commutes from Maryland.
Sometimes she works from Sunday to Thursday, and sometimes she doesn’t
come in until Tuesday. She could telecommute if she wanted to, says
Hopkins, but prefers to be where the action is.
Another employee does telecommute, building databases "in her
bunny slippers after getting her kids off to school," says Hopkins.
"Women do it differently," she says. "They may have to
do their thing at 2 a.m. You have to take brilliant superstars and
work around them." She says she gets the best people by hiring
those others overlook.
employees are pursuing advanced education in technical fields. "We’re
not talking basket weaving," says Hopkins. She hires specifically
with the intent that her employees "will go far" and will
not simply be content to "park themselves" in a job.
the year approaches, Hopkins sits down with her employees and talks
about how the company’s profits will be used. More vacation or contributions
to 401 (k) plans? It’s their decision.
Hopkins. No big deal. Just learn from them and keep right on moving.
"Don’t beat up on your people," she says.
upgraded — and turnover is just two percent. Meanwhile, Hopkins,
now responsible not only for her two children, with whom she spends
her downtime water skiing on nearby Lake Lenape, but also for a growing
roster of employees, remains a frugal manager.
Recalling visits to competitors with opulent offices overlooking impressive
bodies of water, Hopkins says many have gone out of business. Driving
a 1991 pick-up truck, and working at a desk she bought years ago for
$100, Hopkins says "Don’t get fat, dumb, and happy."
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.