Long before Art Hurtado founded the national-security firm Invertix Corporation, and way before the retired Army colonel became a pioneering engineer, Hurtado was a pirate. Well, a pretend pirate, at least. Growing up among the vast cornfields of New Mexico, the son of a Bolivian-immigrant pastor and missionary-Swedish mother, he would climb up a pole to a crow’s nest, which in Hurtado’s fertile imagination became a “warship.” While Hurtado’s experience as a “pirate” reads like a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip—he once burned his eyebrows and hair clean off trying to fashion a cannon for his “pirate ship” out of pineapple cans, a rag, and kerosene—the secret to this successful businessman can be found wrapped up in those nights out on the farm.
Thinking Out Loud
Trading words with Art Hurtado
Being the man that God
wants me to be
Finding purpose for creative ideas in the marketplace
Leadership without integrity
is like applause without sound
I feel pride in my father, a Bolivian immigrant, who developed several patents
Chairman and CEO Hurtado’s company is known as one of the most innovative government contractors working today. Invertix specializes in enterprise information technology, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance- and communications-mission systems. The company holds several patents on marketable products used by clients such as the US Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and the Department of Energy. In July 2011, the Northern Virginia Technology Council named Invertix the Hottest Emerging Government Contractor, highlighting this fast-growing small business for its nimble innovation among an often-onerous industry. Despite all his accolades, and there are many, it’s clear that Hurtado’s embrace of innovation started on that New Mexico farm, where his parents had to feed a family of five on a meager pastor’s salary of $50 a month.
While other kids went to business school to learn innovation, Hurtado was born into it. His mom canned trout. His father learned electronics, earning cash-fixing radios, and even built the family’s first television. His mother emphasized education, forcing Hurtado to read 100 books a year and to speak perfect English so that he could become part of the “salad bowl of America.” College was not a question, it was a demand, and though his parents did not have much money, they were rich in ingenuity.
After graduating from college with a degree in chemistry, and later a master’s in electrical engineering, Hurtado went on to the military where he became a project manager for Electronic Warfare, and worked in strategic defense. He parlayed his military-technology experience into a successful corporate career and in 1999, cofounded Invertix in the commercial wireless industry. Yet by 2002, the boom became a bust and Hurtado decided to innovate, changing Invertix from a commercial firm to a government contractor.
It was a strategic, though painful move—Hurtado, eventually had to lay off more than 100 employees. But, the company’s rebirth as a government contractor resulted in a legacy of novelty. “We push innovation from morning ‘til night,” Hurtado quips.
For Hurtado, innovation is creativity plus a sale. At Invertix, great ideas must be accompanied by better business models. Hurtado has built this definition of innovation into his business practice. There’s the technology committee made up of a cross section of employees, which meets to scrutinize new product offerings. All new product offerings start with a one-sheet form, which asks about the idea but also the business model. Through this approach, Invertix has produced several patented-products including Psyclone, designed to detect IED’s [improvised explosive devices]. “Innovation is the heart and soul of our existence,” Hurtado says. “If you took the word innovation away from Invertix, we would clam up and wither away.”
Hurtado spends most of his time in meetings today but still laughs at the pirate days. When he retires from the industry, he hopes to sail his boat Xarys—minus the homemade cannon, of course.