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PROFILE — Pinning Down a Successful Career

Stellcom’s Mark Fackler

No Longer Wrestles With

Putting Forth His Best Effort

Mark Fackler learned an important life lesson after barely losing a high school wrestling match in the final seconds, but it took a little while to sink in.

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Competing in his senior year, Fackler advanced to the semifinal round of the Arizona state championships when he lost in the last five seconds of the competition.

Afterwards he felt awful, not because he lost, but because he knew he didn’t do his best.

“My whole last year, I just didn’t try my hardest,” said Fackler, the founder and chairman of Stellcom, Inc., a San Diego high-tech engineering solutions company. “The reason being if you don’t try your hardest and you lose, you can always lie to yourself and say, ‘If I tried harder, I could have won.'”

Yet Fackler, now 42, didn’t learn this lesson of underachieving until he graduated from college and realized he was cheating himself.

Recalling the wrestling match, Fackler knew he could have done better and vowed never to approach anything else in his life half-heartedly.

“I said I would never, ever not try my hardest. There’s much more satisfaction in failing after trying your hardest. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail if you’re trying your hardest. That’s where everything comes from.”

Fackler’s satori led to his immersion in the one thing he really enjoyed while skating through his college years , programming. He only took five classes in his last two years at the University of Arizona, but that was enough to get him hooked.

“It was something that provided immediate feedback. You tried something and it either worked or it wouldn’t work,” he says. “You knew where you had to go, and there was always a path to get there.”

Aspiring Entrepreneur

Fackler’s path led him to his first job at a Tucson defense contractor where he soaked up everything he could about the emerging new world of computers. A year-and-a-half later, in 1982, he made his way to San Diego and General Dynamics, but Fackler had aspirations of running his own company.

While at GD, he worked with a number of engineering consultants and thought he could do a better job. He left GD after 18 months for the chance to work for a small consulting firm, and learn.

Some four months after he left GD for the three-person consultant firm, GD called Fackler and asked if he was interested in a consulting contract of his own.

He was, but Fackler delayed his departure when his boss told him he needed him just then. But within five months, GD called again, and this time, Fackler cut his ties and went out on his own, with his boss’s blessing.

For its first year in 1984, what was then called State of the Art Computing did about $55,000 in revenues, but Fackler was ecstatic.

He was 26, making more money than he ever did before, enough to buy his first house, and confident about his abilities and the market he was competing in.

“The worst that could happen to me was that (his clients) would fire me, I’d lose my job and my house, and I would start all over again. I was not concerned at all. I was good at what I did and there was a great need for good engineers.”

Visionary

Craig Brown, a co-worker of Fackler’s at GD and a Stellcom employee for the past nine years, remembered him having a dream of starting his own business in contract engineering, and predicting the trend fairly accurately.

“He saw that the business model was moving toward contracting,” says Brown, a friend of Fackler’s for 17 years. “He hit on the right idea at the right time.”

Indeed, in its first five years, Stellcom Technologies (the renamed business) averaged doubling of revenues and employees annually, reaching more than $2.8 million by 1990.

While growth wasn’t as dramatic over the next nine years, it still averaged in double digits. Last year, sales hit nearly $34 million, a 43 percent jump from the previous year.

This year Stellcom revenues should exceed $50 million while its staff expands to about 500, but you won’t find Fackler running the day-to-day operations at the company’s main office in Sorrento Valley.

In April, he throttled back, delegating the CEO responsibilities to Tracy Trent, a former group manager for Science Applications International Corp. Fackler continues to hold the title of chairman of the board. His role today is more of an ambassador, or rainmaker for the company.

But if Fackler has abdicated his managerial duties, one wouldn’t know it. He puts in an average of 60 hours a week, arriving at the office following early morning workouts at the gym, and staying late some days.

Those hours are much less than the days before his two children were born. Pulling away from his job is tough sometimes, he says, but he has his priorities straight.

His family , wife Kathy, and Steven, 10 and David, 7, are the light of his life, as evidenced from photos and the boys’ drawings all over his office walls.

Fackler is frank when it comes to a big reason for his success.

“Part of it was being in the right place at the right time,” he says. “I did not pick computers after doing a market analysis. I picked computers because I loved them. The rest of it comes from hiring people who are smarter than I am and letting them do their job.”

Evolving Business Plan

Stellcom’s business plan has evolved over the years from being a staffing company, providing expert engineers to firms, to an engineering solutions firm that designs, integrates and manages computer systems, usually with wireless and Internet components for clients.

“We help clients take advantage of the mobile economy,” he says. “Everything is going wireless, and everyone expects (to access) data, anytime, anywhere, in any device and in any format, and we do that for our clients.”

Those clients range from Fortune 500 giants such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and Qualcomm Inc. to new startups such as DailyToast.com.

Stellcom’s success in recent years has generated lots of attention from investment bankers and others eager to help the company go public. Fackler says the plan is for the company to go that route within nine months, an action that should provide he and his family with more than he ever dreamed of making when he launched the company 16 years ago.

“I’m absolutely blown away,” he says.

Charlie Gaylord, former CEO of ChipSoft and a Stellcom board member, calls Fackler a highly ethical executive “who always chooses the high road.”

He’s also a self-effacing guy, quick to dole out a joke but can also take one with charm if he’s on the receiving end, Gaylord said.

Centered and balanced are terms several use to describe Fackler, and he confirms that it’s a conscious choice that he’s made.

“I’ve been an incredibly blessed guy,” he says.

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