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Annapolis' billion-dollar man: Former ARINC chief out to build cyber security firm ; Former ARINC chief out to build Annapolis-based cyber security...

February 21, 2014

JIMMY DeBUTTS jdebutts@capgaznewscom; By JIMMY DeBUTTS jdebutts@capgaznews.com

Annapolis' billion-dollar man: Former ARINC chief out to build cyber security firm ; Former ARINC chief out to build Annapolis-based cyber security firm

John Belcher has made a career of turning stagnant big companies into $1 billion successes. The Annapolis resident has big plans for his next venture. Here's a look at a some of Belcher's major business achievements.

Hughes Aircraft - Belcher led the Canadian firm's effort to modernize Canada's air traffic control system. Hughes won a $325 million contract in November 1989 to upgrade the system.

ARINC - Founded by several commercial airlines in 1920 to operate the nation's air traffic control system, Annapolis-based ARINC had about $250 million in annual revenue when Belcher arrived in 1997. He guided the firm's expansion, helping it generate more than $1 billion in annual revenue by 2011. ARINC sold to Rockwell Collins for $1.39 billion last year.

NEXT? - Belcher plans to start a cyber security firm in Annapolis by spending $300 million to buy several small cyber companies that will ultimately provide a variety of services and products to large commercial clients across the globe.

John Belcher isn't done.

The man responsible for turning Annapolis aerospace firm ARINC Inc. into a $1 billion company is eying his next move.

Belcher has his sights on building a cyber security firm based in Annapolis, starting with a minimum investment of $300 million.

The former ARINC CEO said he has had numerous discussions with companies in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore corridor. Belcher believes Maryland is a cyber hub mainly focused on the government market, but can also make a run at the commercial market.

"There are lots of great (local) companies with great individual products," he said. "(I want) to create a business that will have all the services and products in the portfolio to go after large industries and go global."

Maryland is ripe with cyber security talent thanks to the government and private contractors in and around Fort George G. Meade, and the timing is right for the type of venture Belcher proposes, said Jeffrey Wells, executive director of Cyber Development at the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development.

The region is home to more than 75,000 cyber security-related jobs, with an additional 20,000 unfilled positions, according to a July 2013 study by the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.

Wells said Belcher's plan could spark greater investments in cyber workforce development and draw money from West Coast investors.

"It's a very bold move and one that is needed," Wells said. "It would provide some great opportunities for capital for small companies for them to grow and meet needs of their customers."

Seasoned hand

Belcher's $300 million startup target is on a par with what he inherited as an executive at ARINC.

When he arrived in Annapolis in 1997, ARINC's revenue was around $250 million. Through global expansion, ARINC generated $1 billion in revenue by 2009. The company sold last year for $1.39 billion.

ARINC grew from a firm whose business was more than 90 percent in the United State to an international player through expansion and product development -- including automated airport check-in and private jet air traffic control technology.

Belcher aims to do the same in the cyber arena.

"Being in aerospace technology my entire life, I'm aware of the threats," he said.

Prior to ARINC, Belcher enhanced Hughes Aircraft of Canada's reputation by finding ways to upgrade Canada's antiquated and complex air traffic control system, according to longtime associate Rob Newman.

Newman -- an outside attorney who worked alongside Belcher on the Hughes deal two decades ago -- was impressed with his demeanor and effectiveness as cost overruns and other factors complicated the project.

"A lesser person could have found all these conflicting interests overwhelming or debilitating," Newman said.

Under Belcher, Hughes Aircraft of Canada also used global expansion to become a billion-dollar company.

The National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, both at Fort Meade, have attracted large and small government contractors and made Central Maryland vital to the burgeoning cyber industry. Now the potential for more investment -- particularly on the commercial side -- is significant, Well said.

"We'll attract West Coast-based investors," he said. "They are interested in gobbling up companies in earlier stages. It's a great time for him (Belcher) to do this. There will be government opportunities and even greater commercial opportunities."

Belcher expects it to take three to four months to complete a business plan once funding is in place.


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Source: Capital (Annapolis, MD)


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