Daughter of Small Business Owner is the Voice of Small Business at Fluor

While at a Department of Energy Small Business Forum this summer, I met Debra Sampson who is the small business liaison officer with Fluor. I was so impressed by how genuine she was in her approach to help small businesses that I really wanted to learn more about her background, the company and her position at Fluor.

Department of Energy Small Business Forum Exhibit Hall with Debra Sampson at the Fluor booth

There are huge private companies and government agencies that make it a business objective to do a fair percent of their business with companies that are certified as small businesses. I am lucky enough to work with bloomfield knoble and while we are a successful organization we are certified by the SBA as a small business. This designation opens some doors for us that I have enjoyed exploring. My conversation with Debbie was very enlightening. I hope you find it so as well.

Q. Can you tell me about Fluor? I know that it is an international company and huge but it’s not a publicly marketed organization so I don’t know much about it.

A. Fluor is a 100 year-old company. It is the largest publicly traded engineering, procurement and construction company in the U.S. We are not a household name; most people don’t know about us unless they work in facilities, construction or military base operations. We have 4 units and I work with the Federal Government Contracting group. We specialize in federal government contracts with agencies such as Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), Homeland Security, and FEMA. Fluor has over 40,000 employees and offices worldwide.

Military base in Afghanistan supported by Fluor

Q. What are some examples of contracts you support for Fluor in the Federal Government Contracting group?

A. We work on very large projects such as our Military Base Operations, which support the military with services that provide life support sustainability in places like Afghanistan and Africa. Those services include: Internet, dining, laundry, waste water management, heating and air conditioning, refrigeration and just about anything needed to allow our troops to complete their mission. Fluor supports FEMA when catastrophes hit anywhere in the U.S. An example of a service Fluor provides for the DOE is facilities decontamination and decommissioning. We rehabilitate decommissioned old nuclear sites by removing contaminated units without environmental impact during the process and turned one site into a beautiful park.

Fluor also provides construction on highly classified facilities. Very few contractors can do what we do.

Q. Tell me why Fluor works with Small Businesses.

A. Most government contracts we bid on require a specific percentage of the business be completed by small businesses. On the low end a contract could require 40% of the business be awarded to small business and on the high end it could be 80%. At Fluor our object is to exceed those goals. Over the last 3 years Fluor has awarded over $2.9 Billion US to small businesses to support our government contracts. That’s 53% of the dollars awarded to US companies. One of our recent projects had over 98% of the total contract allocated to small businesses. But the real answer to your question is Fluor works with small businesses because we find them to be highly skilled and extremely flexible. They can adjust and recover quickly with business changes.

Q. How long have you been with Fluor and how long in your job?

 A. I’ve been with Fluor for over ten years and in my job since 2009. I’m still very junior in this organization. We have many people who have been with the company for 20 years or more, one just celebrated 50 years with the company. We have such a diversity of jobs that it is easy for people to move to different departments or different locations worldwide and keep their work interesting.

Q. So, your job is similar to a matchmaker, right? How does that work? And how do you manage all the small businesses you need for your contracts?

A. Yes, I am the matchmaker between small business and the contract team. I start by reading through all contracts with the project team and we determine which pieces of the project can be allocated to small businesses. I then look through my database from the Fluor registry for qualifications. I’ve been in my job long enough to learn what companies have qualifications and past performance for the required tasks. However, I am always going to conferences, such as the DOE one where I met you, veteran owned business conferences and local events to assess new small businesses for skill sets needed for our contracts. I work to include as many companies as possible without providing false hope to people. I don’t want to waste small business owners’ time if we cannot use their skills.

Q. How did you get into your position with Fluor? And how many people are in your department?

 A. I am a department of one. I actually turned this job down when first offered to me. But my experience with government contracts and personal experience with family business was compelling enough to say yes to a second offer for this job. I am so glad I decided to accept in the end. When I first started in my job there was a less than positive opinion of working with small businesses. But over the years by working with highly performing companies that opinion is no longer prevalent.

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Over the last 3 years Fluor has awarded over $2.9 Billion US to small businesses to support government contracts.
Q. You seem to have such a genuine compassion for the small businesses you work with. Why do you think that is?

A. Well, odd that you ask. My father was a small business owner in Baton Rouge, LA and Fluor was one of his biggest clients. I know the life of a small business owner’s family. Our vacations were scheduled around projects and work he needed to manage if we were out of town. I understand the ups and downs of working on projects. I think that’s what gives me the understanding of how important Fluor can be for small business.

Q. What challenges do you face in your job today?

A. The biggest challenge is that we often help quality high performing companies outgrow their status as small businesses. It’s a wonderful thing but why I am always on the lookout for new small businesses. Often our partner businesses that are no longer small go on to mentor other small businesses and provide a path for success for other companies.

Q. What are your greatest satisfactions in your job?

A. I have the best job in Fluor. I have so much respect for the small business we work with. Without those resources we would not be as successful as we are. I get to work with some amazing and highly skilled people and watch their companies grow. We have a lot of people in our war zones staffed by U.S. military veterans with really relevant skills. It’s gratifying to see those businesses get engaged.

Thanks to Debbie for sharing information about her job and Fluor. Everyone at bloomfield knoble appreciates the service you provide to your company and small business like us. In your job you have a positive impact on a lot of individuals as well as Fluor and many small businesses. We wish you the best of luck in your ongoing search for qualified, high performing companies.