People in Belen, N.M., population 6,000, routinely asked Leroy and Sylvia Baca how their two children were doing, a polite and legitimate inquiry for small-town America discourse. What made the question odd, however, was that the Bacas had three children.
"They'd ask my parents about my younger brother, Paul, and my older sister, Rhona," Andrew Baca recalls, "and that was all. They didn't notice me – or, I suspect, know if I existed."
Mr. Baca, 44, was not flamboyant as a youth and maintains that non-presence today, he insists. But some three decades after his inconspicuous childhood, Mr. Baca and his company, Abba Technologies Inc., are a powerful and anything-but-invisible symbol of New Mexico's home-grown information technology industry.
Abba, based in Albuquerque with offices throughout the intermountain West, now employs more than 50 and bills just under $50 million a year. The company was just named the 2006 National Minority Supplier/Distributor Firm of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce. At the same time, Mr. Baca received the 2006 Male Minority Entrepreneur of the Year award. The awards recognize personal and professional initiative, innovation, enterprise, and creation of wealth.
The company (www.abbatech.com) does business with the gamut of the New Mexico economy, from start-ups in need of modest data back-up systems to a the super-computing needs of Los Alamos National Laboratories. In consecutive sentences, Mr. Baca will preach how Abba audited phone-use patterns to save a small firm money on its phone lines and how "interconnectivity" technology enabled Abba to win a prestigious federal contract.
It is precisely that versatility that has propelled Abba to the front ranks. "If I go to IBM, or Dell, and say I have $50,000 for a parallel computer that fits into my department, they can't or won't be able to pay attention," says Steven Castillo, dean of engineering at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces. "Abba seems to be able to put together lots of pieces and parts to meet every budget. They are a boutique service – yet they find a way to deal with clients' cost models."
As companies grow, they invariably lose nimbleness, Mr. Castillo says. But Abba, even as it hires, "seems to retain most of it."
John Fitter, deputy chief information officer for New Mexico's General Services Department, says Abba fills a crucial role in the public and private sectors.
"Buying a complex machine is one thing and having the resources available to install the machine, configure it, and make it run within your company environment is quite another," he says. "These guys know how to do things right today – and over the long term."
Adds Mr. Fitter: "When you are on the hook to make sure that payroll for 20,000 (employees) gets out on time, you have no idea of the potential grief. These guys are 'integrators.' They take new equipment, place it in different company environments, and make everything work."
It is crucial to the General Services Department that its IT support be available around the clock and – if necessary – on-site visits be performed within hours. "What is great about Abba," says Mr. Fitter, sounding almost like a stalker, "is they're local. They're right here. We know their numbers. In fact, we know where they live."
Abba's history predates Mr. Baca. Former employees of Digital and IBM established the company in 1993. Its president, Ching-Ching Ganley, had a staff of seven and, by 1999, had reached a point where, Mr. Baca recalled, she "did not want to grow the company" and was looking to retire outside of New Mexico.
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