Sidney E. Fuchs

A License to Learn

Sid Fuchs was so close to finishing his master’s thesis at Louisiana State University College of Engineering that he could taste it.  All he had to do was solve one last problem.

As he worked at it, however, he began to feel that the problem was impossible to complete.  He turned to his professor, Dr. Robert Courter, for even the smallest of hints, but he was repeatedly turned away.  “You have to find the answer yourself,” the professor would say, patiently but firmly.  “Come back when you’ve made progress.”  Sid slaved over the problem, but to no avail, and the only guidance his professor would give was a review of the process he had outlined countless times throughout Sid’s academic career.  “Observe what you know,” Dr. Courter would say.  “What are your boundary conditions?  What can and can’t you control?  Break it into pieces and solve them one by one.”

Sid did, eventually, solve the problem, but what he got from the experience was more than just the answer he needed to complete his thesis and earn his master’s degree in engineering.  Even more, he earned what he refers to as his license to learn.  Since then, attaining more knowledge and expanding his arsenal of skills has been the ultimate motivator in his professional life, with salaries and titles a distant afterthought.  He applies this method of breaking down big problems into small, more manageable ones in his everyday life, which has ultimately allowed him to become a nationally-renowned businessman as well as a deeply-committed family man.

Today, Sid is the President and CEO of MacAulay-Brown, Inc. (MacB), a premier National Security company that provides advanced engineering and technical solutions to Defense, Intelligence, and Homeland Security agencies.  MacB was originally founded in Dayton, Ohio, in 1979 by Mr. J. MacAulay and Dr. C. Brown, who focused on supplying high-end engineering technology like electronic warfare and radar systems to the Defense Department.  The company currently earns $350 million in annual revenue, with 2,000 employees worldwide.  With its corporate headquarters in Dayton and its National Capital headquarters in Vienna, Virginia, the company serves as a defense contractor that provides a balanced offering of engineering and information technology solutions.  Its current owners, Syd and Sharon Martin, took over the company in 2005 and have since grown it from $50 million to $350 million in revenue—a remarkable success given that the company was sold multiple times before it spun off on its own.  The Martins had a vision of transforming MacB into a billion dollar enterprise.   However, in order to do this, they needed to find someone with enough experience and wisdom to sit at its helm.  To their good fortune, they found Sid.

Sid was born in New Orleans in 1961, the youngest of four children.  His father, an auto mechanic, and his mother, a housewife, were hard workers by nature, and they wasted no time in passing this ethic along to their children.  While he grew up blue collar and enjoyed the simpler luxuries of childhood like his bicycle, Sid learned the fundamental lesson of capitalism at an early age.  “I discovered that, if you get out and hustle, you can make money,” he describes with a laugh.  “I delivered newspapers and cut grass.  There was one lady who told me she already had a boy cutting her grass for $5, so I offered to do the job for $4.  By the age of eight, I was learning how to negotiate to close a deal.”  Sid was also conscientious of being wise with money, and by saving almost everything he earned, he was later able to put himself through college at Louisiana State University.  “Even today, as CEO, I keep a careful record of my household cash flow,” he confides.  “Not so much because I need to, but because I like to know where my money is, which can definitely be attributed to my upbringing.”

Among the first and most important mentors in Sid’s life was his father.  Having grown up in the Depression Era, never graduating from high school and starting a family at a young age, Sid’s father always took his responsibilities as a worker and family man seriously.  He was incredibly intelligent, and while he lacked a formal education, he knew that being smarter, faster, and more hard working than anyone else would always guarantee that his family would have food on the table.  “My dad gave me my strong work ethic by demonstrating a model where one strives to be the expert at whatever one does,” Sid reflects.  “He showed me that you need to know how to do it better than anybody, and you need to work harder than anybody.”

While instilling this work ethic, Sid’s parents were incredibly supportive of him in every walk of life.  Throughout his childhood, his dreams shifted from becoming a professional football player, to a professional musician, and he landed a full-ride music scholarship to Loyola University for guitar.  However, while this offer was tempting, Sid understood that the life of a musician would be unstable, so he switched his efforts to journalism so that he might pursue his interest in writing.

With that goal in mind, Sid began at Louisiana State University, but during his freshman year, his father was diagnosed with cancer, putting him out of work and leaving the family with no income.  Everyone pulled together to pay the bills, with Sid pumping gas and doing construction in between classes while his mother returned to work for the first time in her children’s lifetimes.  The family survived and was able to continue seeing that ends were met, but the tragedy opened Sid’s eyes to the fact that what he really wanted was a job with some level of job security.  His father had taught him almost everything he knew about auto mechanics, electrical systems, plumbing, and construction, and since he was good with his hands, Sid decided to study mechanical engineering.  “When I told my college counselor my new plan, he told me the only problem was that I was horrible at math,” Sid recalls with a laugh.  “I had to take the lowest of the low math classes at LSU and work my way up, but I eventually earned my undergrad degree and then my masters in mechanical engineering, with a concentration in numerical methods of high speed aerodynamics.”

While completing the final year of his master’s program, Sid began interviewing for jobs but found most of his options to be repetitive and boring.  Amidst the monotony, however, he was approached by the CIA, who had a tremendous need at the time for intelligence officers with technical and engineering expertise.  The thought of being part of a broader team that would have an impact on world events got him interested in the CIA’s mission.  “I generally make decisions based off my gut and intuition,” he recalls of his decision to pursue the job.  “I chose the agency because I couldn’t see what the end would look like, and for me, that was very exciting.”  Thus, in 1987, he graduated and moved to Washington, D.C. to spend the next year in training, including the CIA’s Special Operations and Training School.  An added bonus to the move was that his college sweetheart, Susan, had family in Virginia.  Susan later became his wife, and being near family was wonderful for the young couple.

It took almost no time for Sid to realize he had made an excellent decision by joining the CIA.  Most of his fellow engineering graduates reported feeling bored and stuck in their jobs, even though they were making respectable incomes.  “Money was less important to me than learning new skill sets,” Sid explains.  “I always strive to make choices that give you more choices.  Going into the CIA definitely opened doors, exposing me to government processes and policies, for example, and giving me overseas experience.”  He began at the CIA as an operations officer and eventually became an engineering director, leading teams that were responsible for the design, development, and deployment of large-scale overhead and ground based collection systems.  By the age of 32, he was promoted to a GS-14—an incredible achievement, but also dissatisfying in that he had reached the top of the ladder early in life and craved more field work.  He was ready to evolve, and while many people were begging him to come work for them, he began considering getting his law degree or MBA.

Eventually, Sid received an offer from Digital Equipment Corporation to cover intelligence issues for them as their Vice President, and he knew it was his chance to learn how to work in the business world and fine-tune his skills as a salesman.  “You have to have sold something in your life,” he claims.  “You have to know how to work with people and close the deal.”  What closed the deal for him at Digital Equipment was that he would be quadrupling his salary, and while money has never been a motivating factor for Sid, he knew it would be a game changer for his family.  “I saw it as a transitional step to advance future generations of my family beyond blue collar work, and I was proud to be able to give my kids what I didn’t have,” Sid explains.  “I’m not disrespecting the past; I’m just hoping to escalate the future.”

Sid took the job and worked for Digital Equipment Corporation for two and a half years before moving to Oracle Corporation, where he served as Director of Advanced Programs.  Soon after, he transitioned again to Rational Software, where he worked as Director of Global Strategic Services.  “At Rational, I learned most how to articulate value,” he recalls.  “I also learned to never confuse activity with results.  During my seven years in the sales field, I learned how to communicate with my customer and position myself to be more desirable over my competitor.”

When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 hit, the status quo in Sid’s life shattered just as it did for nearly every other American.  Because of the nationwide fear, every business was increasing their security, so anyone with an intelligence background was suddenly in high demand.  With eight years of experience in the CIA, Sid was not surprised when he received a call from Northrop Grumman Corporation, a Fortune 100 Aerospace and Defense company, inviting him to run their intelligence business.  He took the job and became Corporate Vice President and officer, later becoming President and CEO of TASC, Inc, a Northrop subsidiary providing systems development, engineering, and operations expertise to Intelligence, Aerospace, and Defense communities.  During his time as President, Sid grew TASC from $450 million to over $1.2 billion in revenue in four years, which caught the eye of many other businesses in the field.

The work he did within Northrop was unparalleled, but just as the job had become routine and comfortable, Sid soon found himself ready for a new challenge.  After five years at Northrop, he was recruited by John F. Lehman & Company (JFL), a private equity firm focused on the defense and maritime industries, to be a President and CEO of a JFL portfolio company, OAO Technology Solutions in 2007.  “At Northrop, I wasn’t learning the corporate finance side of the company,” Sid explains of his third major transition.  “I knew that was a weakness in my arsenal, but working for a private equity firm, you learn it quickly.  I always want to learn what I can to round out my experiences.  I always want to acquire whatever skills so that I can be an effective, thoughtful, and impactful CEO.  I have worked toward this by going from engineering, to project management, to sales, to consulting, to finance, to operations.  I had several years in every field.  I wasn’t an expert, but I had enough experience to be dangerous.  I didn’t go looking for these opportunities, but when they popped up, I recognized them.”

After leading OAO to a successful sale in 2010, Sid eventually moved on to become CEO at ATS Corporation, a publically traded government IT services leader, so he could continue this trend of rounding out his skill set and experience running a public company.  After a year, however, the company underwent a sale, which he took as his cue to leave.  “I was forty-eight and decided that I needed time off, so for the next year, I rode my motorcycle, spent time with my family, played a lot of guitar, and smoked a few good cigars,” he recalls with a smile.  “I took my family out to breakfast three times a week.  It wasn’t so much a break from work as it was extending my life.”

Towards the end of his year off, he was approached by MacB, which was looking for a new President and CEO to lead it towards its goal of making the company worth a billion dollars in revenue.  “I met with the board, and I think it was love at first sight on both ends,” Sid laughs.  “What attracted me was that it was privately held, with no outside shareholders, public money, or private equity money.  Furthermore, the owners and I clicked right away.  I really like them on a personal level.  When you have a private company, it’s really important that you click with the ownership, because after all, the company is their baby.”

MacB also recognized that he was the man who could lead them to the billion dollar level since he had done it before during his leadership at TASC.  He had a great track record of growing companies, and the leaders of MacB felt comfortable completely turning the reigns over to him.  “I believe my style of leadership is focused on connecting on a personal level with the people who work for me,” he explains.  “It’s hard to do that with two thousand employees, but people have to trust you before you can lead them.  Simply being in a certain position doesn’t mean you’re a leader.  I’ve learned from both successes and failures to reach out and build relationships so that people can trust me enough to have honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not.  Ultimately, trust is the currency of all relationships.”

To illustrate this point, Sid recently published a book commenting on the power of relationships and networking called Get Off the Bench: Unleashing the Power of Strategic Networking Through Relationships.  He hopes the book will help people in all walks of life learn to help themselves through relationship building, which he readily admits was a strong player in his own successes.

To young people entering the business world, Sid emphasizes the importance of listening, learning, observing everything, and never treating one’s elders as one’s peers. “I’ve seen so many kids today come out of school thinking they know everything and can be a CEO,” he explains.  “Yes, you are smart.  You did go to a good school, but a degree doesn’t match a lifetime of contributions and experience.  Your goal should be to get a mentor who is willing to show you what you can’t learn from a book.”  Even after being in the workforce for decades, Sid was never afraid to ask for guidance when he needed it.  In fact, he hired an executive coach twice during his professional career.  The experiences helped him smooth a few edges, build a results-oriented leadership style, and become more conscious of the demeanor he gave off to people around him.  “I used to forget that the words of a CEO can be very powerful when you’re having an honest conversation, so I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes,” he explains.

In many ways, Sid attributes his current success to the accumulation of knowledge throughout his many career changes.  Just as he had done in solving the last problem of his thesis, he can break his lifelong knowledge into a complex culmination of experiences that blend together to make him the savvy, thoughtful businessman he is today.  He was appointed by the White House to the Board of Visitors of the National Defense University in 2002, and in 2012, he was inducted into the Louisiana State University College of Engineering Hall of Distinction—an honor that included an induction speech by Dr. Courter, the very professor who had given him his license to learn years ago.  It’s a license that, with a strong sense of integrity and an endless pursuit of excellence, Sid strives to pass along to his own children, and to all young entrepreneurs looking for the answer to that one last problem that stands between them and success.

Sidney E. Fuchs

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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