Philadelphia 100's CEO aims to be more 'millennial-friendly'

Sabre Systems' chief executive, Phil Jaurigue, will chair the 28th annual Philadelphia 100 winners gala Thursday and name this year's fastest-growing start-up companies.

The Philadelphia 100 is presented by the Entrepreneurs' Forum of Greater Philadelphia and the Wharton Small Business Development Center. Privately held companies that win must demonstrate revenue growth validated by a third party.

"We're trying to make [the ranking] more millennial-friendly," said Jaurigue, whose Warrington company is an eight-time Philadelphia 100 winner. "The owners are skewing younger, and we want them to be included."

"The format of the awards program will change periodically to adapt to the times, but my hope for the Philadelphia 100 is that it remain as the preeminent program in the region that recognizes the fastest growing privately held companies and the entrepreneurs that lead them," he said.

"I've always considered the Philadelphia 100 a community of entrepreneurs seeking to learn from each other, and one where many of today's and tomorrow's area business leaders first got their successes recognized."

For more information about the event, which is open to the public and will be held at the Fillmore concert hall, visit www.philadelphia100.com/attend.

At his own company, Jaurigue is overseeing a rebound in sales after a painful contraction that lagged the recent U.S. recession.

Sabre Systems, a software and engineering contractor, struggled in 2011 and 2012. Because it services military, defense, and other federal agency contracts, "our cycle runs independently of the private sector," he said.

"In 2011 and 2012, we really felt the pinch. We were at $80 million in sales in 2012 and over 500 people. By 2015, we were down to one-third of that" because of budget cuts in Washington and the federal budget sequester.

"We took direct hits against certain programs servicing planes and ships, and a general downturn in the hiring of contractors" as the Obama administration emphasized the hiring of the government's civilian workforce, instead, Jaurigue said. "Almost half of our loss from 2012 through 2015 was as a result of that. But what can you do when they're your customer?"

By 2017, he said, "we hope to be back to $80 million [in revenue] and about 500 people. That's where we were pre-sequestration."

Jaurigue, 58, called the last few years "very hard. We learned some lessons while growing. It's easy to overlook inefficiencies when your sales and margins are growing, and at the same time, be a people-friendly company.

"We were overstaffed. In the private sector, downsizing is natural, but this was the first time we really went through this type of recession. We lag due to the government cycle."

One recent win: In May, Sabre was awarded a $150 million five-year Navy contract to provide systems and software engineering support.

Sabre competes with Silicon Valley for engineers and software talent.

"Silicon Valley can pay more. How do we attract millennials to our industry? So we're drawing from retiring veterans," he said. "They've got technology skills on active duty. They come home and need a job and want to continue serving a mission."

Among his business concerns are cyber-threats.

"We know the Chinese are trying to hack in and steal intellectual property," said Jaurigue, who noted that the Edward Snowden case "has changed our business. We're more aware of recognizing Snowdens within the industry."

"When you get your clearance, you almost take a vow. Even when you're no longer employed, it's a lifetime contract, in a way."

At the invitation of the Philadelphia Soul's owners, Jaurigue bought into the arena football team in 2015. He is a longtime football fan, having attended Notre Dame, and a lifelong Eagles fan.

"I'm a huge Philly sports fan. It's part of the culture here. With the Philadelphia Soul, there are 12 owners, and I'm now one of the minority owners." Former Eagle Ron Jaworski is among the other owners.

"It's great for families," he said. "The ticket prices are right, with all the action of NFL football."

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund