From Idea to Reality
Express Technologies, Inc. provides full range of fiber optic services
A rising from the dot.com bubble burst of the late 1990s/early 2000s, Express Technologies, Inc. (Express-tek) of Fredericksburg, Virginia, has become a one-stop shop for the design, engineering, permitting and construction of fiber optic networks and telecommunications infrastructure.
“We can take it all the way,” says Fred Brown, Founder and President of Express-tek, as the company is known. “A lot of companies engineer or construct, or do inside cabling and service and things like that. We do it all. You get all of it when you come to us. You can knock on our door and say, ‘This is what I’d like to have,’ and we can plan it, design it out, permit it, build it, turn it on and hand it back to you. We do it all, and that really does set us apart from out competition.” The company specializes in connecting offices, health care facilities and government and educational operations. Express-tek’s tagline is “Connecting the world.”
A veteran of the telecommunications industry since the early 1970s, Fred and two partners had a telecommunications services company in 1999 in Northern Virginia. When the dot.com bubble collapsed, that company closed.
“I just happened to have an LLC named Express-tek. We bought everything that the old company owned and started over again. We went from 60 employees down to five of us. Since then we have built ourselves back up to 100,” Fred says.
Fred and his partner Phillip Staples launched the revitalized company somewhat inauspiciously on April Fool’s Day of 2002. The company’s gross revenue that founding year was “probably $200,000,” Fred says. In 2019, gross revenue was over $10 million and is “projected to be over $12 million in 2020,” he says. In 2015, Fred bought out Staples, making the company family-owned. Express-tek started out as a telecommunications design, engineering and permitting team, but in 2005 the company added a construction department to handle cabling and wiring. That department now also includes full-service audiovisual and electronic security systems. “And we also added outside plant construction, although we basically process manage that. We don’t do it, but it allows us to do a turnkey project from beginning to end,” Fred says.
“One of the things that I am really proud of is that, for a lot of the construction companies around here that do fiber-optic builds, we are their go-to company. There are many companies that they could go to in this area, but they all come to us because they know the quality of the work they are going to get from us,” Fred says.
While the company’s headquarters is in Fredericksburg, Express-tek has offices in nearby Sterling, Virginia, and it opened an office in Norcross, Georgia, outside Atlanta, in 2015. Express-tek currently serves clients in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Fred is looking to expand geographically into even more of the United States in the near future.
Fred’s son Stephen Brown, 43, is Executive Vice President for Express-tek, and Fred, 66, is glad he has a family member to pass the company to when he retires. But he notes that getting Stephen on board wasn’t easy. “When Steve got into the business, he worked for a competitor,” Fred says. “I kept asking him when he was going to come to work for me, and he kept telling me never.” But then, Fred and two partners bought that company, so Stephen learned to never say never. “He and I have been together ever since, but I had to buy him to get him,” Fred points out.
Fred says the father-son relationship works great in running the company. “We both have our ideas. We bounce things off each other, and I know that at my age, I’ve got somebody sitting behind me that can take this company and run with it. I don’t have to worry about that,” Fred says.
“We are pretty similar and that’s why we get along so well,” Stephen says.
Other family members working with Express-tek include Fred’s son David Brown, who is Senior Project Manager of Engineering; son-in-law Matt Norris, Business Manager; and Fred’s nephew Jackson Ritenour, who handles sales, estimating and programming.
A faith-based company, Express-tek supports and provides company resources, both money and employee time, to a large number of local charities every year. Among those are the Boys Home of Virginia, Camp Red Arrow, a county youth program and the Friends of the Rappahannock. “We have people go to clean the Rappahannock River,” Fred says. And at least once a year, the company provides dinner for the homeless in the community. “We go buy dinner and we go to a local church here and we actually serve the dinner to the people here in Fredericksburg who are less fortunate,” Fred says.
“But nearest and dearest to our heart is a legacy fund named after my two grandboys,” Fred says. The Ian and Jalen Brown Legacy Scholarship Fund is run through the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region. The two brothers, students at Spotsylvania High School, died in a traffic accident while on their way to school in November 2015. Each year, scholarships of $1,000 are awarded to two Spotsylvania High seniors: one for a college-bound student and one for a technical or vocational school student. The scholarships are renewed annually throughout the first four years of college.
Express-tek also has an automatic day off for anybody that wants to participate in any civic duty or service activity. “We like to have our employees just thinking about what they can do to help out,” Fred says. “They don’t take advantage of it as much as I’d like to see them,” he adds.
Employees Give a Helping Hand
Fred and Stephen show their appreciation to employees by creating innovative ways to care for them. “We have a leave bank where people can donate their leave every year,” Fred says. The company offers a paid time off (PTO) system and employees can donate a day or two of their PTO to the bank. “Then if someone here gets sick they can draw off that bank without it affecting their finances,” Fred says.
Bob Drake, Vice President of Business Operations, appreciates the leave bank. “I think I might have been the first recipient. I had a kidney removed for cancer and I was given 35 days of leave that the employees donated,” Bob says. He has since paid back all that leave. The company often goes above and beyond for employees. Last year another employee had cancer and was out for an extended period of time. “While he was out, the company still paid for his insurance and things like that,” Fred says. “Anything that we can do to help out.” During his battle with cancer that employee had wanted to go to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, but couldn’t afford to stay over there. “We paid for his hotel room so that he could stay over there for a week,” Fred says. “We don’t do these things to brag; we just do these things because that is what you are supposed to do.”
Fred says that the firm’s employees are its most valuable resources. “When we hire, we look for the technical skills that we want, but we also look for the type of people that we want,” he says. It’s not just technical skills that get you employed by Express-tek. “We want people who will come in here and work as a team, someone that understand our desire to do the best job out there and who will be responsible. We all want to be responsible and we want to be held accountable. We are not scared of that word, ‘accountable.’ If we say we are going to get something done, we are going to get it done, and we hold ourselves to it,” he says.
At Express-tek, “We want to do the best job out there. No excuses,” Fred adds. “One of my favorite excuse lines is from Zig Ziglar (the author and motivational speaker), who says, An excuse is a lie. It took me a little bit of time to wrap my head around it, but I wrapped my head around it and I believe him. So that is how we operate our company, and we look for people that step up to it, too.”