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Native-owned consulting firm on fast track

BETHESDA, Md. – Master Key Consulting recently won two contracts worth a total of $20.6 million to provide information technology management services for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs and training and user support services to the Office of Audit, Assessment and Management.

In eight short years, Master Key’s founder, CEO, Jonathan Wilber, has brought the company from a small 8(a) business to the top American Indian-owned business in the state of Maryland – and the 21st largest in the U.S., according to diversitybusiness.com.

Both five-year contracts are with the DoJ; one is a $3.7 million contract to provide training and user support services within a new office at OJP – the Office of Audit, Assessment and Management – and the other is a $16.9 million contract to provide information technology management services for the OJP. “What is most exciting for us is that we were competing in both instances against companies that are much larger than us. We competed against Northrop Grumman, Unisys and IBM for those projects and beat them because of our past performance and recommendations from our federal customers,” Wilber said.

“As the economy declines and as government spending has moved over the last six years into defense and out of the discretionary programs, we are finding that larger businesses are starting to play in our space and, for the most part, there is now no such thing as a medium-sized business. They have been gobbled up by the big guys who, instead of competing for federal marketplace share, are buying their way into it.

“So, small companies like Master Key, with 140 people, are competing against large companies – like Booz Allen Hamilton, at 50-plus thousand people, and Lockheed Martin – for work that would traditionally be ours.”

Wilber said he has made it a priority to have a diverse stream of projects, clients, partners and revenues so the company can continue to flourish – even if any one of those things doesn’t go their way. Master Key is located in Bethesda, with regional offices in St. Louis and in Beaverton, Ore. With employees in 11 states and the District of Columbia, the company continues to grow and has won federal contracts totaling more than $100 million in the past eight years.

“One of the most exciting things for us is working at 191 BIA offices across the country. We have Master Key people supporting those federal offices and helping them with their information technology support, keeping their networks running, their monitors on and their printers un-jammed. We also have a booming commercial business with companies like Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and the Ritz-Carlton.

“Coming from my reservation, where I am a member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, we are pretty proud of where we are today. We have been blessed with good luck and the ability to use the fear of failure as a motivator and not as something that keeps us penned up in our offices unwilling to try things. When I look around and see a university president, an appointee from the Clinton administration, medical doctors and lawyers who are all on our staff working hard to build a different kind of company – that is exciting for me.

“I will be 40 in March – for a young man from the poorest county in Wisconsin to have an opportunity to be a part of this is cool. Sometimes I forget that I am the owner. We have a great company and great folks,” Wilber said.

Master Key offers grants management consulting, IT services, communications and marketing, and grant monitoring and evaluation. A natural niche for Wilber and his staff – the company works with agencies and organizations serving American Indian people.

Wilber attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., and received a Bachelor of Science degree in management from Cardinal Stritch University, also in Milwaukee.

“We have never relied on our 8(a) status to make us successful,” he said. “Each year, since we started in 2000, less than 20 percent of our work has come to us because we are a minority-owned business. We have competed and won by having a good track record and delivering on time and within budget. We have a great team – everyone from school bus drivers to university presidents make up our company. I am a firm believer in hiring people who are smarter than me and getting out of their way to let them do the job – we have been very successful at that.”

He formerly served as the director of human resources for the Menominee Tribe, finance manager and an IT instructor at the College of Menominee Nation, the chairman of the Menominee Tribal Gaming Commission, and as an administrator at the Menominee Tribe’s substance abuse treatment center.

“It all came from seeing a need, doing some research on how to become a federal contractor and figuring out the things that needed to be put in place – and how we could make it all happen,” he said.

For more information, or to contact Master Key, visit www.masterkeyconsulting.com.