Courtney Banks uses her Defense Dept. experience, and a staff of retired government security experts, to help clients attract federal stimulus cash
Federal stimulus money may be burning holes in bureaucrats' pockets, but businesses hoping to nab some of it may need to know their way around the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, say, or the Public Buildings Service. That's where Courtney Banks and her Alexandria (Va.) consulting firm, Nat'l Security Associates WorldWide, come in. In exchange for a yearlong retainer, Banks promises to brainstorm business development strategies, find new markets for her clients, and make introductions to decision-makers who award contracts. Some clients are selling the "three Gs"—guns, gates, and guards. Others retrofit transit hubs or nuclear facilities, or provide surveillance, cybersecurity, or satellite mapping. When the deal is sealed, NSAWW steps aside. Says Banks: "I kill it, but I don't eat it."
To get clients to the right people, Banks, 35, employs about 20 former defense and security honchos from federal agencies, as well as veterans of consulting firms and defense companies. Her team includes former FBI investigators, CIA operatives and analysts, Air Force and naval intelligence officers, and diplomats. Many still have their security clearances.
Homeland security spending is growing 10% a year and will hit $178 billion by 2015, according to Homeland Security Research, a Washington research firm. "Because threats manifest in different ways, there's always going to be growth," Banks says. "If it's not hijackers, it's swine flu."
Thanks to stimulus spending at home and demand for American security knowhow overseas, NSAWW is on track to bring in $1 million in revenues in its second year. "It is scary how young [Banks] is and what she has accomplished," says Evan Scott, president of ESGI, an Alexandria recruiter that uses NSAWW as a go-between with governments. "She can white-board a strategy faster than anyone I know, and she is usually right."
Banks was inspired to go into the defense industry at the age of nine, after seeing the TV miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, based on the novels by Herman Wouk. "It seemed great," Banks says. "Instead of sitting behind a desk, I could see the world and serve my nation." Banks went on to get a master's in national security studies from Georgetown, then worked at the Pentagon before moving to the private sector, where she became Raytheon's vice-president of homeland security worldwide. When it was time to leave Raytheon, she had more than a dozen job offers. "I said to a few of them, 'Instead of a job, offer me a consulting contract,' and they did," she says.
Banks—and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano—epitomize a group of women who have gained influence in the military and security fields after women were allowed into combat. Banks says men, even some who were important to her early career, have told her many times that women have no place in the security industry. Now her COO, general counsel, and head of staffing are all women. And in an industry in which stares and sexism are common, the fast-talking Banks maintains a consciously feminine image, wearing her red hair long and favoring five-inch heels. "I'm girly, I wear high heels, I like jewelry. This is who I am," she says. "I don't suffer from a lack of confidence." That's been good for both Banks and her clients.
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