Louisa Long Jaffe
2014 Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year
Technical and Project Engineering, LLC (TAPE)
U.S. Army Reserves
Vetrepreneurs frequently place a high value on fostering business relationships that continue throughout their careers. Louisa Long Jaffe, the president and CEO of Technical and Project Engineering, LLC (TAPE), is committed to building strong networks and developing positive connections with her employees, customers and vendors. She believes that the key to thriving in the business world is creating valuable support systems that help nurture careers and achieve professional goals.
“My Army career has helped me from the very start and showed me the necessity of professional relationships,” she explains. “I treated every assignment like a public relations job, even if it wasn’t in a public affairs arena. I made sure that I became familiar with the players involved, and developed great friendships with people who helped me get the job done. So, when I went into my own business, I took those skills and realized that messaging is king – or rather, queen – in my company. And I think that it was very much influenced by my Army experience – and seeing the power of communication and the power of relationships between all parties.”
With a successful military and civilian career, Jaffe has artfully displayed a skillful balance of ambition and solid business sense. This year, NaVOBA introduced its First Annual Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year presented by JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Jaffe was chosen as the recipient.
“I am very honored and thrilled to be recognized as a woman vet in business. I’m especially happy to have an opportunity to encourage other female vets to go into business for themselves,” she says.
An Army Reservist for 28 years, Jaffe has enjoyed a robust and multi-faceted career in the Pentagon as a media relations and public affairs officer. For over 12 years, she worked for the Secretary of the Army Public Affairs Office, providing support for the Army Materiel Command; the US Readiness Command; TRADOC; the Army CIO; and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. In addition, she also held the position of media spokesperson for the Army Senior Leadership.
As a Reservist, Jaffe simultaneously pursued both military and civilian careers, eventually gaining over 30 years of experience in business ownership and management, public relations, marketing and information technology. Her business roles were varied as well, such as a marketing position in the cable industry, an appraiser in real estate; and a facilities manager for Xerox Business Services. In addition, prior to launching TAPE, a dynamic systems engineering company, she purchased and owned a chain of grocery stores with her father in the 1970s, and participated in the ownership and executive management of Gamble Creek Groves, a retail wholesale shipping citrus operation in Florida.
Growing up, Jaffe had military and business exposure, even as young child. “Both my father and uncle were very much a part of World War II, although they had both separated from the military before I came along,” she says. “Even so, their military service has always been an inspiration to me. They were also entrepreneurs, as my father would buy, run and sell businesses and
I was involved with that, even as a child. I learned to really love the process of business.”
Her Own Journey
Early on, Jaffe embarked on her own journey when she joined the Women’s Army Corps and started training in January 1974. “Forty years ago, this was not a common career for girls out of college at that time,” she admits. “Fortunately, I worked with some amazing, smart women who were problem-solvers, positive thinkers and forward-looking individuals. We were truly trailblazers. The Pentagon itself at the time was mostly filled with white male officers, and I was hired when the Army was making a push to advance women. Today, I am delighted to see every type of diversity that exists, including Latin Americans; African Americans; Asian Americans; Mexican Americans. It’s so great to have diversity, both from a gender and culture basis.”
She officially retired from the military in 2002, after having been recalled to active duty in response to the events of September 11, 2001.
On to the Next Thing
Not surprisingly, with a brand new career reinvention on the horizon, Jaffe continued to build upon her strong business background. As she was retiring from her post as a lieutenant colonel, she met her future husband, William Jaffe. Sharing the same goals and enthusiasm for growing a viable company together, they combined their personal and professional lives by getting married in 2003 and incorporating TAPE, which they both had envisioned to become a thriving entity.
The couple was not wrong. Today, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., TAPE is a $25 million company with 200 employees. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2013, the company employs 55 veterans, which is about 30 percent of their entire employee population.
Transitioning fully into the business world was a major milestone in Jaffe’s life, as she enjoyed her time in the military and was devoted to finding a career where she could somehow remain a part of it. Jaffe explained that her future husband had been the catalyst for launching her new career. “He said something to me that transformed the way that I think about things,” she says. “He pointed out that starting a business and government contracting was a whole new way that I could serve my country. The more I learned about government contracting, it became for me, the perfect blend of my military and business background.”
As other entrepreneurs, she and her husband sacrificed at the beginning. “When we decided to start the business, we sold our home in McLean, Va., so that we could raise capital without having to go into debt,” she says. “We didn’t want to be beholden to venture capitalists – we wanted to do this on our own. We moved into a condo and for the first three years, worked out of our house with eight employees.”
As the CEO and president of TAPE, Jaffe currently spearheads the company’s overall strategic objectives, day-to-day operations, employee relations, along with public relations and marketing efforts. TAPE is classified as a women-owned/service-disabled veteran-owned company that provides technological, management and training solutions to government agencies. From program staffing to information systems and cyber security solutions (along with other related services), TAPE offers an innovative approach that solves existing problems while anticipating and mitigating new ones.
“We maintain the competitive advantage by providing state-of-the-art support services and leveraging our innovative methodologies and processes that can be easily integrated and implemented,” she says.
She attributes much of her company’s ongoing success to her military career in the Army. “The most important thing about being a vet that qualified me and helped me in business was the leadership training that I got in the Army,” she says. “In order to be successful in business, you need to be a leader and take care of your employees, just as you would take care of your troops on active duty. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of you, it’s that simple. And if you treat them with respect, they will work their hearts out for you. So understanding this dynamic and keeping it alive, I learned that in the military – more than anywhere else in life.
“I’m an adventurous person – and you need to be adventurous to go into business. The Army is terrific for empowering you to figure out things for yourself, as well as placing a huge a responsibility on young people and letting them work it out for themselves. That’s what business is all about, too.”
Lines of Communication
In addition, drawing upon her strong background in public relations and marketing, Jaffe has also ensured that her company is completely committed to communications, and believes this aspect is an integral part of the business. In fact, she believes so strongly in the power of PR that she promises to always have an active marketing and PR department in house.
“One thing that I did – that most small companies of my size don’t do – is to create a marketing and communications department,” she says. “We place great importance on our public outreach and our messaging. It’s our philosophy, and my husband and I agreed that this was critical from day one. We have lived without other things in order to keep our messaging alive. In my company, there is nothing more important than our messaging and our relationships with employees, customers and sub-contractors. So far, so good.”
“We found solutions to communication challenges,” she continues. “We now have employees in 15 states, as well as Washington, D.C., so it’s truly necessary to keep in touch with employees and essential to make them feel involved with the company. We have an internal blog, an external blog and a newsletter, and I personally visit employees at least four times a year.”
Jaffe believes in the importance of staying involved in a number of professional organizations, and is a member of Women in Defense, Women in Technology, Retired Military Officers Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Army Women’s Foundation, Renaissance Executive Forum, and several other women’s and executive groups.
“The best part about having my own company is satisfying our customers. When we provide solutions that are high quality, very special and bring big smiles to their faces, well, that is the most satisfying feeling,” she points out. “The other part is being able to provide interesting and challenging jobs for vets. We have a lot of vets working here, and it is extremely exciting to be doing our part of making the economy grow.”
Jaffe adds that identifying goals is also an essential element of creating a start-up, and immediately sets the business on the right track.
“When we started out, we wanted to grow our company to the $25 million range, and we have succeeded in that. The bigger we’ve become, the more we have looked ahead,” she says. “Also, we are having so much fun, that we don’t want to stop! We expect to grow even more and I have great confidence that we will grow. We planned to get where we are – and we have strategic plans to grow even larger.”
Jaffe’s advice to other entrepreneurs is simple: “If you have a passion for business, then just do it. Conversely, it’s important to understand that being in business requires true dedication in order to be successful, so if you are not passionate about it, then don’t do it and instead find something else you love to do.”