“People-centric” is how many describe Eric W. Franklin, owing to his work in workforce and business development, his employee-oriented operations and even his building of a home in which employees could share an office wing.
Franklin, 51, is CEO of Erimax, an information technology and acquisition management company in Largo that handles large-scale contracts for the federal government. The 11-year-old business just graduated from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program in 2011; that program was created to help small and disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace, offering services such as mentoring, procurement and financial assistance, and training.
Since then, Erimax — which now has 74 employees, up from 35 in 2009 — has focused on expanding into new areas through partnering and subcontracting. In previous years, its focus was procuring prime contracts.
Last month, Erimax received the first task order under a domain that ties into an $11 billion Technical, Acquisition and Business Support Services contract. The Contract Management Support Services Domain itself is worth an estimated $50 million, Franklin said. Erimax's first order is worth $5 million and supports the Coast Guard’s Government Purchase Card Program.
“This contract is going to be good for us and good for the government since it allows greater oversight of acquisition activities,” Franklin said, adding that the Senate recently passed a bill that would increase tracking of improper federal payments — such as payments to the wrong person, the wrong amount or for the wrong reason — which cost the government $115 billion in fiscal 2011.
Having performed this type of oversight for many years through contracts with the U.S. Census Bureau, Franklin said, Erimax expects to see more opportunities once the bill becomes law.
Erimax also won four more subcontracts totaling about $75 million for projects at Aberdeen Proving Ground, he said.
With less than 10 percent of Erimax’s business in commercial contracts, Franklin said he is particularly concerned with the ongoing arguments about federal sequestration. This would result in reduced projected spending increases over the next decade, although spending would still rise $1.6 trillion, even with sequestration.
Franklin railed Wednesday at Congress’ decision to defer that discussion until March, saying short-term solutions do not help businesses with planning.
“Businesses plan for the fiscal years,” he said, emphasizing his other concerns regarding raising the debt ceiling and the expiration of appropriations legislation used to fund agencies if a formal appropriations bill isn’t signed by the end of the fiscal year.
“All these things are coming together and you’re wondering what’s going to happen. At the end of the day, nothing is being done again until the 11th hour,” Franklin said.
Still, Erimax anticipates 12 percent revenue growth in 2013, Franklin said.
He attributed that growth to Erimax’s role in the acquisition management contract market, an area that handles procurements and that drew less interest from minority firms in 2001 — when Erimax launched — than today, he said.
Acquisition management contracts often create conflicts of interest with other work, which companies must know how to avoid, Franklin said.
“There’s more businesses doing it now, but we’re well placed,” he said.
From rockfish to military contracting
Much of Franklin’s background is in acquisition management, as he worked as a systems analyst for telecommunications company Arinc in Annapolis for several years. Franklin landed that job in part through his previous technical management work for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division. There, Franklin analyzed the health of rockfish during the fishing moratorium in the mid-1980s.
Franklin later worked for several military contractors, including the former Nortel Government Solutions.
While doing government contract work, Franklin also edited a music magazine — “I’ve always had different things going on at the same time” — where he met his wife, Rané. She was a record company executive trying to get coverage for her artists.
“She was in [Washington,] D.C. taping a TV show. I met her on the set and told her that first day that I was going to marry her. I told all the artists she was with, too,” Franklin said.
Nine months later, Franklin lived up to his word, and the two have been married 16 years.
Soon after, Franklin said, he decided he wanted more control over his future and started Erimax in his Upper Marlboro study. Erimax was Franklin’s second entrepreneurial attempt; right after college he launched a waste management company that failed.
The experience taught Franklin, who grew up in Richmond, Va., that he wanted to run a business that could operate even if there was a major management shift, he said.
Though Franklin intended Erimax to be a virtual business, he soon decided to build a house with a wing where employees could work in Calvert County, near Dunkirk; he never had designed a house before.
Erimax received its first major contract in 2003 and later moved to Largo, although it still has offices in Calvert County. Most of its employees work on-site at federal agencies.
‘I love Eric Franklin’
Dick Richards, senior vice president of Erimax, praised Franklin’s ability to juggle his time.
“He strives to recruit high-quality people and give them the responsibility and tools to do their job well,” Richards said. “He’s very employee-minded and focuses on trying to create a good environment.”
He particularly praised Erimax’s employee benefits program.
“I love Eric Franklin,” said Kathleen T. Snyder, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, of which Franklin is a director. “He’s extremely willing to sit down with people, hear their concerns and offer sound advice. He’s the kind of business executive that doesn’t seem to have an overpowering ego.”
Franklin was recognized in 2009 by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Maryland’s Minority Small Business Champion of the Year for his work in the Southern Maryland Workforce Investment Board, the Tri-County Minority Opportunities Task Force, Calvert County Economic Development Commission and Calvert County Minority Business Alliance.
Snyder also lauded Franklin for his workforce efforts: “That’s what strikes me about him. He’s people-centric.”
She described Franklin as observant and determined to make decisions based on the best information available. Snyder also emphasized that Franklin is happy to share that management expertise with others to help them grow.
“He’s so easy to work with and so interested in whoever he’s talking with,” she said.
Daryl Boffman, president of Acela Technologies in Frederick, said Franklin opens his home every summer for business and personal networking. Boffman has known Franklin since college and often seeks him out for business recommendations.
“He really cares about his people and understands that you’re only as successful as the people you surround yourself with,” Boffman said. “He’s an inspiration to young minorities. They look at him and think, ‘I can do that, too.’”
Franklin also enjoys public speaking and is working on two books, one about how businesses can take their operations to the next level and one on parenting. He’s also made wine and beer from his home and plays piano with his wife.