HX5’s Margarita Howard: Navigating the Government Contracting World as a Woman-Owned Small Business

HX5’s Margarita Howard: Navigating the Government Contracting World as a Woman-Owned Small Business

Under the leadership of sole owner and CEO and President Margarita Howard, HX5 has emerged as a highly successful small business in the government contracting industry. Howard’s journey, marked by resilience and strategic foresight, has seen the company grow from a humble beginning to over 1,000 employees.

Since its inception in 2004, HX5 has flourished into a prominent player in the government contracting sector. Headquartered in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, it’s expanded its current footprint to 34 locations. The company provides a wide range of professional mission support services, primarily to the Department of Defense and NASA.

Navigating the male-dominated government contracting industry, Margarita Howard, a service-disabled veteran, faced and overcame significant challenges. Her focus on professionalism and competence allowed her to establish credibility and helm the company effectively. Under her leadership, the company has made considerable strides in promoting diversity, especially in elevating women to prominent roles. The majority of HX5’s management team comprises women, reflecting Howard’s belief in the potential and capabilities of women in leadership positions​​.

“It’s rewarding to see that women are making significant strides in the government contracting industry, over the years, breaking barriers and more often assuming leadership roles in this industry and within government agencies that we work with,” she says. It’s still somewhat challenging for women working in government contracts, and while much progress has been made, some narrow-mindedness unfortunately remains.

“I’ve experienced it firsthand, and it does create an additional challenge to prove yourself as an effective and successful leader,” Howard shares. She faced biases with determination, building her reputation as a leader and business owner through professionalism. And she always kept her focus on the company’s goals.

Gaining Experience in Military Health Care Programs

Howard enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she juggled school and the full-time work schedules necessary to support herself and further her education at the same time. In search of a way to expand her opportunities and advance her career horizon, she decided to join the military and soon settled on the Air Force.

Post-military, having attained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, a significant opportunity came her way in the form of being offered a job that involved being part of the contract team responsible for implementing the Tricare program, a major initiative in managed health care for the military. The decision to accept the offer significantly shaped her future career path. In addition to the deep insights into the military structure and the commercial aspects of health care management, the opportunity afforded her also provided first-hand knowledge and experience of the operational aspects of a large government contract, which included gaining knowledge of both prime and subcontractor roles.

Tricare is a health care program run by the U.S. Department of Defense for military members, retirees, and their families, including certain reserve members.

Her experience with Tricare played a crucial role in shaping her strategy for HX5. Margarita Howard embarked on her HX5 path with a clear vision grounded in her experiences and a deep understanding of the government contracting landscape.

Margarita Howard Talks Strategy

Howard recognized from the beginning the pitfalls of relying solely on sole-source awards and steered the company toward competitive bidding, a strategy differentiating HX5 from its peers. Howard’s experiences from working with a large business in a major contract provided her with a competitive edge, allowing HX5 to compete effectively in the 8(a) program, a nine-year federal program offering contracting opportunities and training for small business owners facing social and economic disadvantages, while also preparing for future challenges​​. Howard, a first-generation American, could now compete for and secure contracts up to several million dollars with her 8(a) certification.

“After becoming an 8(a) company, we were awarded very quickly four contracts in one year and that really helped in getting us off the ground.

A key component of Howard’s business blueprint was strengthening the company’s infrastructure from the outset. This included building a strong team and investing in essential infrastructure, such as a government-approved accounting system.

This investment proved attractive to large businesses and paid off significantly. “Large businesses and the government have to meet small-business goals,” Margarita Howard says. “So when they find a small company that they know understands the industry [and] they’re not going to have to hold their hand, I’m proud to say they were very impressed with us.”

The landscape of government contracting in 2024 is highly competitive, marked by evolving regulations and increased opportunities in areas like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Legislative changes, such as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 — which brings updates to defense policies, including how much money the U.S. military gets and what it’s allowed to do to ensure that soldiers have the necessary training, gear, and resources for their duties — have brought new dynamics into the field, impacting contractors like Margarita Howard.

At HX5, Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Government contracting has many rules, regulations, and compliance requirements. It’s not uncommon for new business owners to struggle with navigating the complex process, since government contracting is challenging. Howard is keenly aware that companies must be prepared to stay ahead of the issues and learn from any mistakes they make to avoid repeat issues. She’s a trailblazer for women in government contracting​​.

“Businesses must invest in educating themselves about these regulations and ensure strict adherence to them,” she says. “It’s important that a company’s records are impeccable when working with the government due to the compliance reporting and audits that companies have to agree to perform on government contracts.

“At the end of the day, it’s our great management and leadership team that makes us successful,” Margarita Howard adds. “We were very selective of people that we chose for our management team. And really, I could not be more proud of them. Many of them have been with us for 10 years or so, and we just have a highly dedicated, experienced management team. We could not do what we do without them. So I want to give a lot of the credit to our employees.”

Howard continues, “Working side-by-side with civil servants and the military, supporting their respective missions, is a privilege. I love this business and the work that we do. I’m extremely proud of it.”