Art of the Turnaround

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel propels small petroleum company into a million-dollar logistics business

After assuming total command, Walls positioned AVPOL as a small, disadvantaged business obtaining government certifications as a minority business enterprise (MBE) and woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) to access more lucrative federal contracts. She registered as a service-disabled veteran-owned business and was accepted into the SBA 8 (a) business development program. (Walls is certified disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.) “Having all the certifications made us more marketable to large businesses that have to meet certain social economic goals,” she says. Walls also formed strategic alliances with large corporations such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and AMEC (formerly MACTEC).

Under Walls’s leadership, the company saw its revenues more than triple to $8 million in 2008. “We had been averaging $2 million in growth a year.” In 2009, AVPOL was named contractor of the year by the Tennessee District Office of the Small Business Administration.

Walls purchased a foreclosed historical building in midtown Memphis for $95,000 in cash that she was able to use as collateral to secure a line of credit with a bank. Initially, the bank turned her down; later she was offered a $35,000 line of credit. Walls ran a multimillion-dollar business and owned a property appraised at nearly $500,000, so she called the bank’s vice president. “I told him I can’t run a $9 million business and offer up my building in exchange for a $35,000 line of credit.” AVPOL now has three lines of credit that total close to $1.2 million.

Before buying the building Walls worked out of her home and later entered the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurial Development, an incubator affiliated with the Mid-South Minority Business Council. That connection helped her to set up a presence within the city and to receive local contracts, including one with the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority.

AVPOL generated $12.2 million in revenues in 2011 and Walls projects about the same for 2012 because many of the company’s larger contracts expire this year. But she is optimistic about 2013, when she projects earning $20 million in revenues.

“We have all the processes in place to grow the company exponentially,” she says. Plans include hiring new people so AVPOL will be positioned to deliver duty-oriented, well-trained personnel whenever and wherever needed. AVPOL has branch locations in Warner Robins, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Dallas; and Mound House, Nevada.

AVPOL’s future rests on its ability to continue forging relationships with businesses and capitalizing on its core strengths—engineering, logistics, financial management, contracts, and technical support services. To that end, Walls has created an advisory board to help guide her in meeting the company’s goals. “I am bringing people on board with experience in critical functions. We’re looking to gauge more federal agencies,” she says. Since 2008, AVPOL has captured prime contracts and is now actively eying more subcontracting work; it’s increasing efforts on the commercial side as well. New hires will help with that mission. “We have already identified potential commercial contracts,” says Walls. “We don’t shoot from the hip—we do a lot of due diligence.”

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