Sid Jaffe was a highly successful 40-year-old national accounts manager at AT&T the evening his ten-year-old son, J.D., engaged him in a conversation about baseball and values. “Dad, you and I like baseball,” the boy said. “Ernie Banks said, ‘It’s a great day for baseball—let’s play two.’ But we never even play one!”
It was true. Sid’s 17-year career with AT&T had led from one thing to the next in rapid succession, to the point that he was traveling three weeks a month. Something in his son’s voice struck a chord deep within him, and the very next day, he submitted his resignation. “There’s a tremendous amount of personal freedom in being able to enact balance in your life,” he says today. “That decision put me on the path to starting my own business, which meant I could invest the time I wanted into my family and community service. I live to work in the community. It’s something deeply rooted in our family, strengthening our bonds with each other while we strengthen the families, organizations, and positive efforts around us. As I learned in the Jaycee Creed years earlier, it’s the Best Work of Life.”
Today, Sid is the founder and CEO of Sid Jaffe & Associates, LLC (SJ&A), a consulting firm that specializes in breakthrough solutions for government contractors to help a business grow its revenue, margin, and valuation. This is accomplished through educational efforts like training and support on matters like proposals, back office software, coaching, or clinics. “We work shoulder to shoulder with people, helping them through business problems and providing special expertise to younger companies that can benefit from the perspective of someone who’s been through it all,” Sid remarks. “Each of our consultants has thirty years of experience, at least.”
Launched in 2011 as an outgrowth of Sid’s previous company, Advantage Consulting, Inc. SJ&A works with a host of clients, ranging from embryonic startups up to a top multinational government contracting company that was starting a multibillion-dollar commercial practice. “We’re great at turning a boulder on its axle very quickly,” says Sid. “We’ve helped firms of one or two people grow to over 700 employees. We’ve helped large firms launch ventures that go from zero to millions of dollars in revenues within a couple years. Our sweet spot isn’t the size of the company or the effort; it’s the need to grow revenue, expand margin, increase valuation, or overcome obstacles.”
With its core team of seven primary engagement associates, supplemented by the expertise of 120 available subject matter experts in proposal writing, consulting, pricing, and other areas of interest, SJ&A is about making sure its clients are ready for the future—a mission that was cemented in Sid’s own life in the wake of the most traumatizing moment of his life. He can still remember with crystalline detail what it felt like to fall through a window he was working on at his parents’ house when he was fifteen. The glass cut a large gash around his arm, and as he saw the amount of blood leaving his body and noted that he was the only one home, he thought, I’m going to die.
Somewhere in his subconscious, he remembered the question his father had asked when he was ten years old. “Sid, are you ready?” The boy had replied, “For what?” His father had answered, “In that case, you’re not ready.” Five years later, with life quickly leaving his body, he realized what his father had meant. “I finally understood that I had to start being ready,” he recalls. “You’re never really ready for everything, but you have to put yourself in a position to be ready.”
Sid certainly wasn’t ready to die, and that could only mean one thing: he was ready to live. With that, he tore off the sleeve of his shirt and made a tourniquet to stem the blood loss, and then called an ambulance. He lost consciousness on the way to the hospital, waking up behind the surgery curtain just long enough to hear the doctors tell his parents that he would survive, but they didn’t know if his arm was salvageable, or if the blood loss would cause permanent brain damage.
When he finally woke up in a hospital room, he was acutely aware of the life in him, and of the life he had left. “By all rights, I probably should have died,” he remembers. “I had a very clear sense that there had to be a reason God let me live, and it was not to be the person I had been to that moment. I had been coasting through life, drifting from one event to the next without any purpose or drive. I wasn’t a kid who was going to be something.”
Born in Washington, D.C., he and his two younger sisters were raised in a rough neighborhood, and Sid never had grand ideas for his future. His father had been in pharmacy school when World War II broke out, so he dropped out of school to enlist in the military at age 30, serving as a radio operator on a B-17 plane. After the war, he repaired radios until he had saved enough money to open a small delicatessen with his wife. There, the Jaffes modeled incredible work ethic, sense of humor, and the highest possible integrity for their children. Sid can still remember the book his father kept by the cash register, where they kept track of the names of customers who owed money and the corresponding amount. “People would come into the store that needed something to eat but didn’t have any money,” Sid explains. “Dad’s policy was that nobody left his store hungry. Most of the people in the book were never able to pay back my father, and debts totaled thousands of dollars. But it was okay; that was his way of doing community service.”
Sid worked at the small shop from the time he was tall enough to see over the counter. It was his way of helping out the family, and the notion of getting paid for the work was absurd. For many years, the Jaffes lived in an apartment above the store. “Our neighborhood wasn’t exactly a bastion of security,” Sid remembers. “A lot of my neighborhood friends didn’t have a home that felt secure, like I was blessed to have. I got involved with Habitat for Humanity in my adult life because I came to recognize that my strong family and home let me become the person I am, instead of the person I could have become growing up in that environment.”
As a student at Calvin Coolidge High School, Sid never thought of college as a given. But after the accident, he decided he was going to do something with his life, even though he didn’t know what it would be yet. “I had nothing to work hard for—until then,” he says. “I had come pretty close to not having any more moments, and each one has been a gift since then. I’m paying them back. There’s a sportscaster, Tim Brandt, who said, ‘I’ve lived life on a scholarship.’ I feel the same way. I’ve had a few injuries along the way and I’ve taken some penalties, but I’ve been lucky, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
When he came out of surgery, Sid’s arm resembled a claw, with severe nerve damage and a grim prognosis. The family found a doctor in Texas, however, who worked with veterans and performed a surgery that returned some flexibility and motion to his arm, but none to his hand. The doctor said he wouldn’t improve further, but Sid heard the words as a challenge rather than a sentence. Another doctor said shock therapy might restore some additional movement, but not to count on it. But with each doctor who told him things were as good as they were going to get, Sid got better. Drive had found its way into his life with a vengeance. As more and more movement restored, he found a way to carry his hand so people didn’t stare. He couldn’t play clarinet anymore as he had done in years past, so he picked up trumpet, and then had a custom clarinet built. “I knew there was a reason I was moving past all those obstacles,” he remembers. “If you have any sense of spirit within you, you know it’s not just you, because there are a lot of people who aren’t given that chance. I was determined to find my reason—which I learned is the best work of life.”
Amidst his long recovery, Sid attended American University, but his real education didn’t commence until he landed his first truly professional job at AT&T. He had applied for a position as a central office employee, but a battery of tests landed him a position as a communications representative in the marketing department, where he ultimately met his wife. He was upset by the placement only until he realized that, as a top craft job with lofty prospects; it was a better position than he had originally hoped for.
Thus, a career in sales and marketing was launched that would hold incredible learning opportunities. “I worked in a company of a million people,” he reflects. “A lot of senior managers just came in to sit around all day and then leave. They didn’t want to take risks or be bothered. I learned quickly that it was far easier to apologize for a screw-up than ask for permission, so I became accustomed to doing what I believed was right.”
At the time, telephone companies were controlled by the Public Service Commission, so the practice of actively pursuing new sales was virtually unheard of. That didn’t stop Sid and several colleagues from launching a small operation in DC called Company Initiated Sales, through which they went out and talked to people about getting a new phone system. As his sales skills developed, he learned the then science of data sales, which was volume, usage, data, frequency, language, accuracy, and cost. As he mastered the sale of data, computerized phone systems came out. Once he mastered the sale of those, UNIX and computers hit the market. By the end of his tenure at AT&T, he was selling the most advanced communications computers in the world to firms in the U.S. “Through all of that, I kept pushing myself to keep taking the next step forward,” he says. “It was about always being ready for the next thing. Thanks to that practice, I left with the confidence that would one day allow me to start my own firm.”
Upon resigning, Sid agreed to stay on three more months, but he was offered his next job within hours. He had mentioned to a client, Computer Data Systems, that he was moving on and the company promptly extended an offer. Captivated by its culture and potential for growth, Sid accepted, spending the next several years experiencing the workings of a mid-sized commercial company and the dynamics of the government marketplace. Then, in 1992, he and a partner, Doug Allston, launched Advantage Consulting, Inc.
The company started as a consulting firm offering business development services to accountants, but quickly realized that their skills were better suited to the government contracting community, which was underserved at that time. The firm did quite well until Doug decided it was time to retire. Around that time, a top client sought to enlist Sid’s services full-time to help them win a major contract, so they bought Advantage Consulting. Sid stayed on a couple years longer and then moved out with his team to launch SJ&A. “Starting SJ&A has truly allowed me to do the things I’m good at, and to do the best work of life,” Sid affirms. “When I can help individuals and businesses succeed, which in turn helps families and communities succeed, I know I’m doing the best work of life.”
Inextricably intertwined with this concept is the theme of community service that so deeply pervades his family, from generation to generation. In 1974 Sid was “learning and earning”—trying to establish a life for him and not giving much back to the community. When he and his wife, Missy, had their first child, they grew close with another family who had adopted a daughter around the same time. Together, the Jaffes and the Joneses got involved with their local Jaycee Chapter as they raised their daughters. “I remember our infant daughters wearing tiny Jaycee vests our wives had made,” he recalls. “At that moment, family and community service fused for me, and I adopted the Jaycee motto, Service to Humanity is the Best Work of Life.”
Before long, Sid was encouraged to run for president of the Virginia Jaycees, which was comprised of 120 chapters. Women couldn’t be a part of the Jaycees at that time, and his stance against this discrimination further solidified the connection between family and service for him. Throughout his active leadership in the Jaycees, their house was a haven to community members of all denominations, with Missy very active in the Catholic Church. She would always set an extra place or two at dinner for whoever they happened to invite over that night. Both Sid and Missy remained highly active in Scouts for their son and daughter, Jenn, who went on to launch one of the first special needs Girl Scout troops in Northern Virginia. “What’s important is that this sense of commitment to community service transcends to the next generation,” Sid says. “My daughter, son-in-law, son and grandchildren are all very involved in their communities and schools. We didn’t have to ask them to do it; it’s just innate for them. It’s the number one thing our family does together. Some families go to the beach or to movies together; we like to do community service together.”
Living this way, Sid and Missy have set a tradition for future generations of the Jaffe family—one in which children are raised with their eyes ready to see and their ears ready to hear. His own son, keenly attuned to hear the call of the best work of life, entered the priesthood, and when he was studying for ordination in Rome, he arranged for Saint Pope John Paul II to bless the chalice, which he would use for a lifetime, when he was given the pontiff’s white zucchetto. After his ordination, J.D. gave the zucchetto to Sid, and gave Missy a stole blessed in holy oil—the traditional gift for mother’s who give their sons to the church.
Tremendous meaning for the Jaffe family comes not only in symbols of service and spirituality, but also in humor. Sid can still remember teaching J.D. how to play baseball, when the five-year-old would pick up the ball and examine it instead of throw it. When Sid explained that the object of the game was to pick up the ball and throw it back right away, J.D. asked why. To help get his point across, Sid took the ball and wrote “bomb” on it. “Think of the characters in your cartoon shows, which have to get rid of the bomb immediately,” he told his son. J.D. thought that was funny, and one morning, he put the ball in Sid’s shoe. It became a running joke between the two, with the ball finding its way into briefcases and under pillows. When J.D. studied in Rome, somehow the ball magically appeared. In Nat’s Stadium, Screech handed it to J.D… Later, when Sid received an Association of Corporate Growth (ACG) meritorious service lifetime award in California, he was handed the bomb ball in front of M&A leaders from around the world. “It’s of no value to the outside world, but it’s of infinite value to us,” Sid avows.
In advising young people entering the working world today, Sid emphasizes the priceless nature of the balance he’s achieved today. “For me, being involved with the community, and having my family involved with me, is a richness that can’t be duplicated any other way,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s the only thing, or the best thing, but there’s nothing else like it.” Indeed, in Sid’s eyes, the highest value of SJ&A has been its facilitation of his work in the community. When it comes to starting a business, he notes four key things that must be accomplished. “First, you have to bill something to somebody so you’re making some money,” he explains. “Next, you have to sell something to somebody so you’re making money in the future. Beyond that, you have to network with people to secure customers and see what’s out there. And finally, you have to do the administration. People often fall in the trap of focusing on one of these things at the expense of the others. But it’s absolutely imperative that you find a way to make it work and keep all four plates spinning at once.”
It may seem like a tall task, but Sid has managed to keep all four criteria met, while defining his legacy through a remarkable list of service commitments. He’s been a member of the George Mason University Century Club, a board member of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, a committee chair of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and President of the National Capitol Chapter of ACG and on their International Board in Chicago. Within the nonprofit community, he’s also been State Vice President of the Virginia Jaycees, a board member for Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, and President of the Annandale Lions Club. Worldwide, he has been recognized as a Jaycee International Senator, a lifetime achievement award bestowed on only 60,000 people total across the globe since the organization’s launch. He and his family also support numerous smaller projects in the community. “I’m willing to listen to almost any opportunity, and to help if I can,” Sid says. “For all that I’ve done up to now, I’m still on the journey toward fulfilling my purpose in life. It’s about family, service, and helping people do the best work of their lives by focusing on doing the best work I can in my life.”