Everyone in Federal IT knows Tom Hewitt, and not because he appears to have been separated at birth from former North Carolinian Andy Griffith. Tom is the leading pioneer of market research for government contractors by virtue of creating Fed Sources in 1984 and making it the industry leader; he sold in 1996. But, funny thing, he got nostalgic and five years later joined the board of rival directory provider Input, which has since become the new king of the block; its database business is three times bigger than Fed Sources’. We caught up with the three-time Fed 100 winner at the meeting of one of his boards at the Hay Adams.
Tom spends half the year in Jupiter, Florida—piloting himself back and forth in his Columbia 350 single engine four-seater. His Jupiter neighbors include Virginia IT ex-pats Dan Young (former CEO of Federal Data Corp), Milt Cooper (former president of CSC’s systems integration division), Harry Marion (former president of Fed Data), and Sudhakar Shenoy (still a working stiff as CEO of IMC). They golf together at Admiral’s Cove and other clubs, but are careful not to put their scores in any database.
Tom came to DC in '66, originally working for US Timesharing, then Boeing, then running the government Infonet division of Computer Sciences selling remote computing to the government, then doing a startup briefly in Dallas that was acquired by PRC, and eventually coming back to DC to start Fed Sources. Although a company called IDC technically started the Fed IT research niche, Tom “changed the game” with his listing of procurement opportunities that he put on some revolutionary technology called a “floppy disk.” It took him a year and a half to build his database, but Fed Sources became the go‑to guide. Tom grew his company within 12 years to an industry-beating $12 million in revenue, half in database sales and half in consulting.
Looking every bit the sage corporate type in the Hay Adams lobby, especially with those business books under his palm. In addition to Input, Tom serves on the boards of GTSI, Halifax, and Sigaba. He's also on the Advisory Boards of Fortress and DSA. The biggest change in the directory business, Tom says, is the inclusion of state and local contracting opportunities.
In 1998, the outrageous valuations of similar companies (with price-to-earnings ratios in the 50s) told Tom the time was right to sell, whereupon he unloaded Fed Sources on New York-based Primedia and agreed to keep running it for a year. Premedia needed experience with a computer-based publication as it took its portfolio of 100 publications—including Seventeen Magazine—into the Internet age. Teeny-bopper glossies and Fed Sources didn’t make a great fit with each other, as far as Tom was concerned. After running the company for Primedia for a year (and slow‑rolling its request for 40 job cuts) Tom cut bait. He retired to the fine life of a professional board member.
A glass of wine will do in D.C., but when in Florida Tom prefers the margaritas at one of his favorite local haunts, the Square Grouper.
When his non-compete clause expired in 2003, Tom was quickly offered a seat on the Input board. Tom says Input was surging while Fed Sources was stumbling. Its new owners tried to give it a fancy facelift, but Tom says the effort failed and they eventually sold it off. Fed Sources is now run by Washington Management Group. We asked Tom if he ever feels wistful about his baby getting bested by Input. “No, it’s not an emotional thing. It’s just a game, like tennis.” Now that’s a retiree talking.