As Russian bombs pounded Ukraine, a friend reached out to a Fredericksburg company for help.
“Please, do something,” the woman texted Abbas Haider, CEO of Aspetto. “My hometown is completely destroyed.”
Haider has contacts in Ukraine because his company has supplied the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs with hard armor plates, ballistic shields and other equipment.
On Friday, he boarded a chartered cargo plane to fly thousands of head lamps, hand warmers, cold weather gear and other equipment to Rzeszów–Jasionka Airport in southeastern Poland. It’s the shipment hub Ukraine’s allies are using to resupply the war-shattered country.
The flight is one of several Aspetto will charter to help fulfill the $4.2 million contract it was recently awarded by the U.S. Department of State to provide medical and specialized equipment to Ukraine. Haider said he wanted to go on this flight to see how things are operating on the ground near Ukraine.
“I want to make sure that if there’s anything we can do to help them, I want to do that. I want to be there for them,” he said. “And second, I know that the Department of State is short staffed over there, so if there’s anything that they need, even if it’s transport or anything, I got my international driver’s permit.”
He said working on this contract is personal because he has spent time in Ukraine and has made good friends.
“Anything we can do, we’re going to do our best to do it,” Haider said. “The entire office feels this way, not just me. When this opportunity came up to help them out, I told them, ‘This is what it feels like, or what it looks like, to make an impact. We actually are involved in getting the products out there.’ ”
Aspetto, which Haider and fellow University of Mary Washington graduate Robert Davis founded in 2008, made its mark initially by making custom men’s suits and then bullet-resistant clothing. It has since branched out to include tactical gear, logistics, IT and systems engineering, digital media and, within a few weeks, cybersecurity.
“We are not actually doing body armor for this contract, at least not yet, I should say, because it is not just a done deal,” Haider said. “It does have the ability to add more products and more dollars to this contract as their demands and requirements change.”
Aspetto also sells over 20,000 products from various suppliers to the government. Haider and his team at Aspetto began reaching out to some of them for products for its latest contract before the ink was even dry. Everything needed to be in stock and ready to ship because there was no time to wait for things to be manufactured.
“Aspetto almost sounded like a New York Stock Exchange trading floor because we had to get them real-time inventory,” said Haider, who was facing competition from other offices, governments and nongovernmental agencies. “Every second, things were changing.”
Several companies held items for him until the contract was finalized—including 2,000 headlamps, 10,000 pieces of cold-weather gear and 250,000 hand warmers—for which he said he was grateful. Aspetto was also able to source thousands of other items, including uniforms, medical kits, tourniquets, backpacks, hydration packs, boots, batteries and ready-to-eat meals.
To get the supplies to Poland, the State Department asked Aspetto to charter its own cargo planes. Shortages and soaring gas prices soon sent the company’s $250,000 contracted quote for this skyrocketing to actual expenses of from $500,000 to $600,000.
“Those costs went out the window so we were working very closely with the Department of State and sharing planes,” Haider said.
The $4.2 million contract to help supply Ukraine is one of several Aspetto has been awarded or is bidding on this year. Haider said he expects the company’s revenues will be about $30 million for 2022, a growth rate of more than 100 percent over 2021. He attributed that to both diversification and Aspetto being good at what it does.
Forbes magazine, among others, has taken notice. It named Aspetto in the top 20 percent of the fastest-growing companies in America for 2021, and included Haider and Davis in its Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2018 list. That list features 600 visionaries under the age of 30 in 20 different industries.
“Every industry we have gone into, we have learned what everyone else is doing and then we’ve made a difference. For example, we got into the suit business, right? What did we do? We did what everyone else did, and then we created America’s first bullet-resistant clothing line,” Haider said.
“Then we got into the tactical industry, which is tactical gear. What did we do? We created a patented quick-release system that allows the user to quickly put on or take off their tactical vest, and that component took off like wildfire, where the biggest body armor company in the world has that component on their vests as a standard feature,” he added.
Aspetto’s most recent acquisition is Pop Smoke Media, which has almost 1 million Department of Defense, veteran and first responder followers on social media, as well as a popular podcast. Among its duties will be enlivening what Haider called a “boring” approach to recruitment by injecting wit and humor in its podcasts and online newspaper.
Pop Smoke is also helping the company give back to its target audience. Last month, it selected and paid for 10 service members to get help creating their résumés. This month, it picked five and paid their past-due bills.
Haider says his and Davis’ time at UMW helped hone their ability to diversify. As liberal arts students, they didn’t have to concentrate on one subject. Instead, they were able to take everything from acting and art classes to biology and computer science.
“We know a little bit about so many different things,” Haider said. “When someone from, let’s say, the biotech side, starts talking to us and starts dropping certain terms, we can follow along.”
He said that he and his cofounder plan to continue growing their company, and added Greg Dyer as chief of strategy and technical growth in 2020. Prior to joining Aspetto, Dyer helped develop and lead Spinvi Consulting’s growth from $3 million to $115 million in annual revenue over a three-year period.
“We’re not looking to sell. We’re having too much fun,” Haider said. “This is exciting to me. Professional growth is important to me, but personal growth is almost more important than professional growth. One thing that I love in what we do, and the freedom to do what we do, is that we can diversify, we can learn about different things.”
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