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May 14, 2008


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By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business


Once upon a time, a male CEO could say, “We’re not hiring women right now,” or “When are you planning on having children?” to a female applicant and no one would bat an eyelash. JBS International co-founders Gail Bassin (Chair of the Board), and Jerri Shaw (President) remember it well. The colleagues began in government contracting in the early 70s, when a mere 2% of consultants in the private and public sectors were women.


Gail and Jerri take a break from moving into their new North Bethesda headquarters. With offices in Washington state and San Francisco, the 300-employee company started with four people in 1985.


The pair founded JBS after over a decade at Macro International, and Jerri describes the initial years as “lean and mean.” Focused on consulting in the health and social services arenas, the women started with state contracts and broke out nationally in their third year, gaining clients like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “So much of what we are about is working with medical practitioners, helping people with difficult illnesses,” says Jerri. “Now we’re doing more policy analysis and applied research, looking at treatment services that work and don’t work and trying to expand our IT services and health IT business.”


Three years ago JBS acquired a San Francisco-based consulting firm, Aguirre. “Aguirre has an international component. Before we bought them we were not doing international work. Their clients included USAID and the State Department,” says Gail.


The smooth acquisition of Aguirre, a company one-quarter the size of JBS, inspired the women to step back and formulate a strategic plan. “We said ‘how can we be better?’ We looked for the synergy between us and the market and saw growth in the federal sector,” says Jerri.


It’s not raining men at JBS where 70% of the employees are women. But the ladies at the helm say that numbers like that are still rare. “You still see mostly male CEOs,” says Gail. “Maybe because a lot of big companies in our business work with defense.”


Realizing that JBS had reached a vulnerable size—it no longer qualified for small businesses contracts and had to compete with billion dollar companies—the women decided it was time for a growth spurt. “Our revenue is currently at 50 million and we want it to grow to about 100 million in the next five years. We’re looking to do that both organically and through acquisitions,” says Gail. “We had to make a decision. Are you going to grow this company or sell it out? We said grow and now we need to invest and make that work. At 100 million economies change, we will have a bigger footprint.” Any hesitation, we ask? Colleagues for over 30 years, both women agree: “We’re going for it, end of story.”



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