David Salley has never been in the integration business for fame and fortune. He shies away from the spotlight whenever possible, but his story is too good not to share.
It’s the tale of the company he built specifically for the customers he was serving, while working for a global telecom giant, that were about to be abandoned.
Salley, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, started DasNet in the fall of 1997 “after it became evident that AT&T was going to abandon its position as the premier U.S. provider of telecommunication services to the U.S. and Saudi Arabian governments, as well as the commercial sector within the Middle East,” he says.
He began DasNet while still working as the lead of AT&T’s engineering department. He was worried about “the loyalty that had developed with our customers and the pride we had bestowed upon our workforce due to the diverse satellite, microwave, and fiber network systems we had designed, engineered, installed and was maintaining on behalf of the U.S., Saudi, Kuwaiti, Egyptian, Omani and Yemeni governments.”
AT&T laid off about 30,000 employees, Salley recalls and he knew “it was only a matter of time before I became one of those numbers.”
“AT&T made a decision to get out of the Middle East, so it was a very tumultuous time,” he says.
“Everyone thought it was the best thing [for me to start DasNet and for AT&T to allow him to connect with their customers]. I made a lot of enemies with my competitors who thought I was poaching their employees in Pakistan and the Philippines and paying them U.S. salaries.
“I had the experience and expertise to implement complex networks, integrate new or modified systems or equipment into existing infrastructures and establish complete turnkey solutions from concept to turn over,” says Salley.
“I cherished the opportunity presented to me and DasNet was able to excel against the high odds of failure — a small firm operating in a rigid restricted country.”
AT&T’s former customers were used to an extremely high level of service, Salley says, which DasNet’s team managed to not only continue providing but exceeded what had been done as AT&T employees.
“The demand for our services was staggering, leaving me unable to maintain a current business plan or accurate budget outlook more than three months ahead,” he says.
Looking Out for Military Interests
Salley launched DasNet with five employees, slowly building it by adding people with audio and codec experience.
The majority of DasNet’s early employees were former AT&T project managers and engineers, all of whom had been in the communications industry for quite some time.
Leveraging Salley’s experience designing satellite systems for the U.S. Air Force in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War, DasNet partnered with L3 National Security Solutions on a GSA project that created a military communications system with integrated AV in Korea.
“My reason for starting DasNet was to make sure our primary customers [U.S. military] weren’t going to be left hanging,” says Salley. “It’s never been financial. It’s about building a solid company.”
The parting with AT&T was certainly more than amicable; Salley says the telecom giant sold him millions of dollars’ worth of test equipment and furniture in Saudi Arabia “for almost nothing. I had a great relationship with everyone on the Saudi side. I saw the long-term picture and I felt it was right to tell AT&T what I was doing. I was somewhat reluctant and I certainly took a risk, but I had reassurances from everyone.”
PRIMARY LOCATION: Long Island, N.Y.
Additional Locations: Warner Robins, Ga.; Arlington, Va.; Lackland, Texas; Concord, Calif.; San Francisco; Bremerton, Wash.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Pyeongtaek, South Korea; Okinawa, Japan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kabul, Afghanistan; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Principals: Chairman, President & CEO Dave Salley; General Counsel Lita Kaufman; VP, Strategic Planning Ervin Robinson; Controller Matthew Schwartz; and Chief Technology Officer Ronnel Lorenzo
Years in Business: 20 years
Employees: About 100
Number of Commercial Installs Projected for 2016: About 100
Top 3 Markets: Government – NASA, Military, Federal Agencies; Engineering – Telecommunications Architectures, Command Centers; Seat Management – SETA (Systems Engineering & Technical Advisors)
Top 5 Brands: General DataComm Corporation (GDC), Brocade, Gusuku Denken & Tama Kensetsu, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), AT&T
“My company provides the most cost-effective ROI for long-term engineering and seat management projects where assurance by the vendor is paramount regardless of scope or cost better than any other company.”
DasNet quickly made a name for itself by performing well under several engineering contracts for the U.S. government’s FMS program through subcontracts with defense contractors based in the Middle East.
This success led to other contracts for other entities, including circling back to AT&T, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, KSA, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, and the Royal Saudi Air Force.
The firm added AV solutions in 2003 after starting with a focus on building military communication systems while Salley was still working for AT&T.
“I liked the technical challenges AV presented,” he says. “It’s a growing, burgeoning industry. It’s something we knew we could put our mark on. It’s a never-ending process of learning.”
DasNet has focused heavily on building command and control centers and helped the military discover new ways to create data walls. “The U.S. military allowed us to do a lot of proof of concept at their expense and we were able to make it work,” says Salley.
Building Relationships Remains Big Deal
Almost 20 years later, DasNet continues to grow its footprint, with the latest target market being the state government of New York, one of its few forays on domestic soil.
Although the company maintains its size of less than 100 full-time employees, DasNet calls the many subcontractors who do work on the company’s behalf “team members.”
“Not having that heavy employee load is very beneficial for us and it certainly helps with cash flow,” says Salley.
As the company has grown, Salley has noticed his relationship evolve within DasNet’s walls, going from a situation where he was helping co-workers pay their own personal bills as “more of a big brother” to a more traditional setup where the group is a team.
Erv Robinson, DasNet’s VP of strategic planning, joined the company in 2000, impressed by its international presence.
Companies such as General Dynamics, L3 National Security Solutions and, yes, even AT&T have served as partners with DasNet and “they come back to us because they know we’ll do the job right.”
DasNet has supported AT&T in about a dozen bids over the years, Robinson says. DasNet has achieved some pretty impressive accomplishments, including building the communication network in Afghanistan.
Feats like that are only possible by understanding topology and “knowing how data flows and how it all works,” says Salley.
Salley remembers one case where solar flares were causing a communications network to fail and he and his DasNet team had to develop a white paper to prove it wasn’t their portion of the work that was triggering the malfunction.
He still looks back on that effort with pride. “I’m a nerd, but I think I’m a cool nerd,” Salley says with a laugh.
Salley has had to learn to avoid getting involved in what he calls “nation building,” choosing instead to focus on balancing the needs of DasNet’s clients with continuing to build and maintain relationships with the countries in which DasNet is working.
This is especially important in the Middle East, he says, noting that area “is built on relationships.”
That’s sometimes meant doing some non-traditional, and some would probably say controversial, things, such as when he relied on friend Alan Scarborough when making pitches in DasNet’s early days because he believed customers — mostly generals and colonels — would not be as accepting of a company run by a black man and he was intent on getting the jobs.
These days, though, Salley doesn’t have those same concerns, knowing DasNet has proven itself to be a company worthy of its customers’ trust. DasNet joined USAV Group in February 2015 as the buying and integration group’s regional representative.
USAV Group CEO K.C. Schwarz is excited to have Salley and DasNet as part of the organization.
“One key role of USAV is to promote growth and leadership among our members, both as companies and executive leaders,” he says. “Several of our USAV integrators recommended DasNet because David Salley’s leadership has led to rapid growth and strong market success.”
Continue reading to learn more about DasNet’s success.