Bottom of the order, top of the line

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HOW A BHAM EXEC PLANS TO BREAK INTO ALABAMA’S STACKED LINEUP OF DEFENSE

Alabama has long been known for its hefty contributions to the nation’s defense industry, but historically, most of the state’s major operations called places like Huntsville, Anniston or Montgomery home.

As contracts continue to pour out of the Pentagon and elsewhere, Alabama remains a key player on the American defense procurement stage, housing major elements like Raytheon’s Standard Missile-3 and Missile-6 programs in Huntsville, Austal’s Littoral Combat Ship operation in Mobile and General Dynamics Land Systems partnership at the Anniston Army Depot, among others.

At the other end of Alabama’s multibillion- dollar defense cluster sits the Birmingham- based Xtreme Concepts – a company founded in 2008 by Birmingham native Landon Ash.

But the company, which specializes in venture capital for the defense industry and educational training initiatives for security contractors, is starting to make noise in Alabama’s crowded defense circles.

Xtreme Concepts affiliate iK9 recently secured a $12 million contract as one of the premier providers of fully trained passenger screening dogs for the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. As a result, the company is beginning to land more government and law enforcement contracts.

“We really like the special operations realm because we know the funding channels, so we hired a couple of consultants who were ex-special forces,” Ash said. “Next thing you know, we had a private security education and training component to our company, so from there we went into dogs and bought iK9.”

LANDON ASH

Company: Xtreme Concepts
Title: Founder
Education: University of Mississippi, 2008
Hobbies: Spear fishing, hunting, flying, volunteering at 1stFoundation and A HERO Foundation
Other work: Board chairman for HeroPAC, board member for A HERO Foundation, vice president of the Greater Birmingham Junior Golf Association, member of Gov. Robert Bentley’s Homeland Security Task Force.

The BBJ caught up with Ash to hear more about iK9, where he sees the defense industry trending, and more.

Where do you see your company’s positioning on the roster of defense contractors in Alabama? I would see us at the bottom. We’re working our way up.  e missile and defense industry here is one of the biggest.  There’s a lot of contracts coming out and if Huntsville gets the rights, and I’m pretty sure they will after my most recent trip to D.C., they’re going to have the Space Shuttle landings in Huntsville. When that happens, it’s just going to blow up.

We’re talking about billions of dollars compared to millions. $12 million is nothing to laugh at, but it’s not $400 million or $2 billion.  There’s a lot of money out there, but we stay primarily in security, education and training.  That’s a smaller realm.

What was so attractive about iK9 and what made Xtreme Concepts pursue the acquisition? I really liked how it worked with Auburn University where they were scanning the brains of dogs so they could artificially recreate its sensory organs with a robot. You had to train the dogs to lay still in an MRI machine.

The other thing they had was service dogs. We’re one of three premier companies in the United States developing service dogs for the VA. I love that program. I’ve personally seen dogs help people.

Why are dogs so important in the defense and law enforcement realm? I really didn’t understand our veterans’ issues until I became involved with the A HERO project. I got on their board five years ago and Maj. Lee Stuckey talked to me about the issues he was having as an active Marine. He brought me in, told me what was going on with veterans and from there on, I watched the suicide rate and how nobody’s really doing anything about it.  The VA isn’t really processing it quick enough.

Their biggest problem is when they’re discharged, they go back to their small town in a trailer, apartment, parents’ house or wherever. If they’re fortunate enough to get out and be by themselves, they’re isolated. Most of the people in their hometown have already moved on, their network of guys they served with are all continuing over or entering the civilian workforce elsewhere in the country.  They get depressed. What we saw is if they have a dog, even just a companion dog, it’s something that depends on them that’s never angry with them and always there to love them.  at’s a huge factor that really gets them over that hump so they can make friends and a place in the community they left.

What’s the top breed iK9 works with? Labs, but we’re bringing doodles in now because they shed less, they’re hypoallergenic and they’re cuter. Everybody traditionally likes labs but because the defense industry and private hunting sector has been pushing the breed up, they’re getting more expensive. We can get doodles for less and they’re just as smart and look like big teddy bears.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? I take those every day. Personal relationships with people and creating new relationships is the greatest risk. In business, you have to rely on other people and they can either let you down and stab you in the back, or they can help you. Finding good people to talk business with is always a key. When you have good people, you have a great business.

Who’s the biggest mentor in your career? Wilson Dinsmore. He worked his way up, he picked cotton to put himself through college and he’s one of the smartest men I know. He practices law, but he also has many companies as an entrepreneur. He and his sons manage those companies, doing everything from auto parts to gun parts.

What do you think Birmingham is doing right? Birmingham is doing a lot of things right, but I’d say the biggest thing is welcoming innovation and technology.

Digital Producer Tim Steere conducted this interview. You can reach him at tsteere@bizjournals.com.

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