Insights into SAIC’s Acquisition of R.W. Beck for $155M—and Beck’s Strategy in Energy, Water

It may be one of the great untold success stories of the Seattle technology scene. For the past decade, R.W. Beck, an engineering and business consulting firm, has been quietly making a name for itself in key technical areas like energy and water management.

Now the Seattle-based firm with 550 employees is becoming part of the closely guarded empire of SAIC (NYSE: SAI), the government contractor also known as Science Applications International Corporation. The companies did not disclose financial terms under the agreement they announced two weeks ago. But Xconomy has learned from a source familiar with the deal that the price was $155 million.

That amounts to 1.5 percent of SAIC’s $10.1 billion in annual revenue, and it seems unlikely SAIC will interpret R.W. Beck’s price tag as a “material event” requiring disclosure. Still, at $155 million, the deal represents one of the biggest acquisitions—if not the biggest—of a Seattle-area firm since Bellevue, WA-based SnapIn Software was bought by Nuance for $180 million last summer.

Even though SAIC’s core business is contract research and engineering, R.W. Beck’s focus on energy and water infrastructure represents a somewhat unusual foray into civil engineering for the San Diego conglomerate, which generates most of its revenue from defense and intelligence contracts. (A more characteristic deal for SAIC was last week’s acquisition of Atlan, a cybersecurity product testing firm based in McLean, VA, that specializes in validating cryptographic modules, including software and hardware components, to meet federal standards.)

If nothing else, though, SAIC has been extraordinarily adept at catching the big waves in government contracting—and right now, energy is huge. One of the biggest clues to SAIC’s plans for R.W. Beck was a contract that my colleague Bruce Bigelow noted in February, which basically pre-qualifies SAIC to compete for energy conservation contracts throughout the federal government.

Another noteworthy energy-related deal that SAIC landed was a $14.9 million contract to develop economical methods for making JP-8 grade jet fuel from algae. It turns out the Pentagon is interested in developing alternative sources for all that jet fuel that U.S. military aircraft use.

When I reached R.W. Beck president and CEO Russ Stepp last week, he said the deal with SAIC is expected to close on August 1. He had no comment on its size, but did speak freely about what the deal means to both sides.

First of all, the acquisition does not mean R.W. Beck employees will be relocating en masse to San Diego, nor will there be downsizing of the firm’s business operations, Stepp says. Most employees … Next Page »

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