How CSS-Dynamac zigged and zagged its way to market prominence

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By Arlene Karidis
Photography by Rachel Smith

Jolanda Janczewski has moved all around, from her childhood growing up in a military family, to the early days of her career that took her from the Smithsonian Institution and its National Zoo to the National Institutes of Health. Along the way, she started a tiny company while doing some freelance consulting work — which she grew to more than $40 million in revenue — and when it was time, she transferred ownership of that once-small business to the 300 employees that helped it grow. And then, as is her nature, she shifted sail again, to expand her territory.

The company — Fairfax, VA-based CSS-Dynamac — became Janczewski’s do-or-die labor of love, which she built and ran on the foundation of all-in commitment and trust. Even when facing down rejection from banks in the early years, the strong suggestion of filing for bankruptcy when a contract fell through, and when cancer made a play for her life, Jancewski persevered because she and her colleagues were doing work that was revolutionizing biosafety policy and procedure for some of the most influential agencies and institutions in the world.

“My first love was establishing infection control disease protocols in the work environment. I ended up [as a safety officer] at the Smithsonian Institution [and its National Zoo] developing practices to protect the animal handlers. Then in the early 1980s, I moved to Frederick Cancer Research Center at Fort Detrick to develop infectious disease protection programs for lab workers handling an unknown agent. It was something they had not seen before, which turned out to be AIDS,” says Janczewski, co-founder and chairman of the board for CSS-Dynamac.

CHARTING A COURSE

When Janczewski set sight on this specialized health policy niche, it was in its infancy with no government standards, she says, as she looks back on her schooling and early career. She was one of three students accepted into a brand new master’s degree program at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The curriculum was public health in biohazard sciences, focused on infection control in the workplace.

“Now, everyone knows what biohazard reduction risk is, but when I was at UNC, dentists and doctors weren’t even routinely washing their hands between patients,” Janczewski says.

By her Detrick days, Janczewski was working on a doctorate in environmental biology and public policy. Her plan was to someday build on legislation to protect scientists in their jobs.

Between academics and her full-time staff position, she did consulting on the side, developing biosafety programs. It was through her independent contract work that she met Dennis Lauchner, who would soon become her business partner and begin a long ride with her; a journey that’s still on, though it’s taken some turns in the 26 years since it began.

“When I met Jolanda, I was president of an environmental and biological safety services company. In this role, I was trying to break into an industry called indoor air quality,” says Lauchner, who serves as the company’s CEO. “Jolanda and I teamed up to work on this initiative, and one thing led to another.”

Lauchner thought he had a deal to purchase the company he was running, but it fell through. So he and Janczewski decided to go out on their own, as partners.

SUCCESS EARNED IN IRONSThere’s a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that rings true for entrepreneurs: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty …” When Jolanda Janczewski, chairman of the board for CSS-Dynamac, and co-founder and CEO Dennis Lauchner launched Consolidated Safety Services (CSS), they were doing work that was revolutionizing biosafety standards and policy for some of the most influential organizations in the world. Even after they landed a contract with the Department of Defense, which they invested nearly everything into winning, the fledgling company doing extraordinary work struggled to gain traction. But when it came to a breaking point — continue on and lose everything, or file for bankruptcy — Janczewski  and Lauchner held post because they weren’t about to let the vendors they owed get cents on the dollar. They would pay it all.In the mid 1990s, when the federal government temporarily shut down, so did CSS’ revenue. Janczewski and Lauchner kept working on their contracts at risk, banking on the belief that they would eventually get paid. Meanwhile, they got creative to meet their cash demands.“For months before the first reimbursements rolled in, we alternated paychecks. Dennis would draw a check one pay cycle; then it was me,” Janczewski says.“We paid our staff always and first by borrowing from a private lender for exorbitant interest rates. [My] mom gave us everything she had to keep us afloat,” she says. “We cut some staff and actually moved the team of 18 we held onto into my brother’s basement. We set up the server in the fireplace and ran computer and phone wires from desk to desk. We prayed a lot and cried a lot.”

Still, the partners reached a near-breaking point. They were seriously considering their attorney’s advice to file for bankruptcy — until Janczewski heard something she didn’t like.

“I asked our lawyer, what would happen to all our vendors who told us not to worry — that they would take our payments later?” she recalls. “He says they will get cents on the dollar. We looked at him and said, ‘Stop everything. We are crawling out of this hole on our own.’”

It was one day at a time, but CSS paid everyone off and came out of the calamity smarter.

“It was a lesson learned on smart business management; on how resourceful you can be when you need to; and on how unbelievably giving people are — mainly our trusting, generous vendors,” Janczewski says.

“We complemented each other with my business background and her science background,” he says. “We both worked well and hard together. We laid out a map of how we would grow, and we have followed that business plan to this day.”
They had nothing but an idea when they launched Consolidated Safety Services (CSS). The idea was to develop workplace health and safety strategies for private industry.

“I needed a credit line just to lease a copy machine, buy a printer and computer, and put a down payment on leased space,” Janczewski says.

She went from one bank to another filling out applications. She spent hours on the phone haggling with small-business lending groups, and came in for interviews. But, as a woman, she got nowhere.

“Eventually, we [used] a different tactic; Dennis went to the bank,” Janczewski says.

Though they were equal partners, the lenders took Lauchner more seriously. He got an unsecured $10,000 line of credit, and the investment company even cosigned a contract for him to lease a copy machine.

“Once the bank got to know me as Dennis’ partner and we went to expand the loan, they’d talk to me. But I had to attach every stock certificate I had as collateral, then put a lien on it, during our first year,” Janczewski says.

SETTING SAIL

Once they were up and running, Janczewski and Lauchner’s new company was making headway in the private sector. Then came the mother of opportunities: The Department of Defense (DOD) was looking for a technical team to develop and manage a transportation safety inspection program.

“Even just to bid, you need a government cost accounting system to provide data to show you have the wherewithal to manage the contract. I borrowed money from my mom to purchase the software. We gave everything we had to win this job,” Janczewski says.

She and Lauchner worked 20-hour days to pull together and fine-tune their proposal.

“We complemented each other with my business background and her science background.
We laid out a map of how we would grow, and we have followed that business plan to this day.”

Dennis Lauchner, CEO, CSS-Dynamac

“We were competing against a large company who had the contract prior, so we knew it was a long shot. But we came up with a technical approach that won DOD over. We made it to the status of ‘Best and Final Offer,’” Lauchner recalls.

Then Operation Desert Storm happened, and the funds earmarked for the contract that was almost theirs were diverted to that military mission.

“Jolanda and I went from elated to a very low place. We were stretched financially due to our investments to win the contract. We were devastated,” Lauchner says.

But there was another turn of events: DOD called back a week later, putting the offer back on the table, having decided the project was essential.

Twenty-three years later, Janczewski and Lauchner still have that fateful contract as a reminder of where it all began. And over the course of that time, they would ride out more trials and tribulations, even with several big government jobs on their plate, including contracts with Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration.

COMING ABOUT

As the company grew, diversity became a key game-playing piece, utilized in such moves as CSS’ 2010 acquisition of Dynamac Corp., which happened to be the first company Janczewski worked for out of college.

Through this venture, the company, which would now be known as CSS-Dynamac, combined staff resources and expanded into other areas of applied sciences. The expansion began with new work with NASA, who CSS was already supporting in the areas of environmental and workplace safety.

“We began processing scientific payloads on shuttle missions for NASA, meaning if you wanted to take a plant or mouse up in space, we would establish protocol to protect the study’s integrity. We kept experiments alive, transported them onto and off the shuttle, and back to the labs,” Janczewski says.

Their expanded role with NASA led to a new client relationship with Space Florida — a public corporation that had just taken on commercial space exploration programs to grow Florida’s aerospace and space industry.

“We have known Jolanda for some time through her work at CSS and, later, through her leadership with CSS-Dynamac. These two companies, joined through her strategic insight, have done well for us,” says Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida.

“They were doing similar things but in different markets. CSS was working on safety and rule making in areas like the health of building interiors and aircraft cabins. Dynamac was doing more life sciences work,” says DiBello, who focuses on both areas.

“We operate an animal-care facility, so building standards and codes are important. We also conduct experiments requiring an understanding of plant and animal behavior in space.

“Jolanda picks her people well,” DiBello says, recalling a flood that destroyed two-thirds of the $26 million lab he runs.

“Her leadership team was quick to help us restore the building and add on innovative ideas that lowered our operation costs and enabled us to bring in new capabilities tied to the research conducted here.”

IN FULL SAIL

Over time, CSS-Dynamac has supplied scientists to the government to map coral reefs with geographic information systems (GIS). The company has pulled together research teams to support the human genome project, and to clean up anthrax.

Whether it’s handling biological hazards, protecting underwater divers — or focusing on transportation — safety is safety. At least that’s how Janczewski saw it from the time she got wind of that early DOD opportunity — that first big government contract she and Lauchner won 23 years ago.

“All those years back, DOD had simply put out a request for proposal for management of a motor coach inspection program. But there was emphasis on database management, and other contractors bid on the job as if the focus was information processing. We went after it as a safety project, as safety was our specialty. We were unknowns. But that’s how we won it,” Janczewski says.

While she continued focusing on safety in scientific fields, she paid just as close attention to the transportation safety niche she carved for herself.

So several years ago, when the Department of Transportation (DOT) was looking for assistance in its safety audit program of motor carriers, the agency came to CSS-Dynamac.

“We were a natural fit because of the work we were doing for the military. The DOT job was a game changer for us. It put us on the map as the only nationwide transportation safety auditing company,” Janczewski says.

Recently, Janczewski leveraged her reputation in this arena to move into unchartered territory. In 2010, she launched Transportation Safety Exchange (TSX), focusing on transportation safety in the private sector.

The company conducts onsite safety audits of truck and bus companies, does safety ratings, and makes those ratings available to the public.

“We always said we are not going to sell the company to someone else; we are going to give it to the people who grew it.”
Dr. Jolanda Janczewski, chairman of the board, CSS-Dynamac

“TSX is a spinoff of CSS-Dynamac. But what we are doing is different than what we did for DOT. While DOT has looked for bad guys and gotten them off the road, we are looking at the good guys to get people and products to their destinations safely,” Janczewski says.

As when she expanded CSS to include its subsidiary, Dynamac, she has seen that one business complements the other. The pool of contractors from CSS-Dynamac support TSX, and vice versa.

Still in the growing stages, TSX is picking up momentum, with a few hundred subscribers who are as small as church groups and as large as the National Collegiate Athletic Association. This venture has given Janczewski a new focus, one that she welcomes now that another project she and Lauchner began in 2005 was recently completed.

That project was the creation of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, selling all of CSS-Dynamac’s stock to the employee plan by 2012.

“We always said we are not going to sell the company to someone else; we are going to give it to the people who grew it,” Janczewski says.

She stepped down as CEO, handing that baton to Lauchner. Now she serves as CSS-Dynamac’s chair of the board, while running TSX.

NEW HORIZONS

The 58-year-old entrepreneur has given back in ways beyond leaving her first company, now worth $40 million, to its staff.

Janczewski helped launch the Wounded Warrior Softball Team, enabling amputees who are veterans or soldiers to play softball around the country. And she has served on the organization’s board.

An ovarian cancer survivor, she fundraises for several ovarian cancer groups. Nine years ago, she ran her company from her bedside as she fought and beat the illness.

Especially close to her heart is her involvement with the American Red Cross. She does fundraising and is a member of Tiffany Circle, a society of women leaders and philanthropists who serve as ambassadors for the nonprofit and its mission. Her passion stems from a deeply personal connection to the organization.

“My dad was a POW in Poland and received care packages from the International Red Cross,” Janczewski says. “He’d received a package from a Polish woman in Detroit. When he was liberated, he got in touch with her; she was an immigration attorney and sponsored his immigration to the U.S. The Red Cross is how my father met my mother, because his sponsor knew my grandmother. So I feel I am here largely because of the Red Cross.”

“Jolanda’s family story is powerful, and she told it in front of 250 people at our event, In The Bag, an annual luncheon where we auction slightly used and new purses,” says Linda Mathes, CEO of the American Red Cross National Capital Region. “Not everyone can tell such intimate details the way she did. She moved some of them to tears, and moved them to action.”

She is also involved in the annual golf tournament, raising funds for the community.

“Jolanda is a lover of golf and brings her enthusiasm onto the course,” Mathes says. “She sees that the people we reach out to have fun, but that they also learn about the American Red Cross and become engaged.”

So between business, philanthropy and leisure, Janczewski keeps leaning into the life she’s created for herself.

“Life is kind of like a sailboat. You don’t get to where you are going by moving in a straight line, focused on one destination, dead ahead.
You go from left to right. If you zig zag, you get to the opportunity. You get to grow in business. You get to act and sing off Broadway.
You become things you never thought you could be.”

Dr. Jolanda Janczewski, chairman of the board, CSS-Dynamac

A typical morning might begin with a call from a TV reporter requesting an interview on transportation safety following a bus crash. She may be simultaneously cranking out emails asking for silent auction items for a fundraiser while researching insurance for underwater divers.

By afternoon she could be planning a trip to Capitol Hill to discuss transportation legislation with congressional staffers. And maybe she will come up for air to fit in nine holes of golf, or a private voice lesson.

“Life is kind of like a sailboat. You don’t get to where you are going by moving in a straight line, focused on one destination, dead ahead,” Janczewski says. “You go from left to right. If you zig zag, you get to the opportunity. You get to grow in business. You get to act and sing off Broadway. You become things you never thought you could be.”

Interestingly, the five-foot-one go-getter’s original plan was to retire after turning her first company over to her employees.

“As it turns out, I have more zig zagging to do,” she says. “Who knows where I will show up next. It’s been a great journey, and it is continuing.” CEO

Arlene Karidis is a freelance writer based in Mt. Airy, MD. Contact us at editorial@smartceo.com.

 

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