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Margarita Howard, the sole owner, president, and CEO of HX5, a company specializing in government contracting, stands out as a remarkable leader in a field historically dominated by men. Her journey, marked by perseverance, strategic insight, and an unwavering commitment to excellence, showcases how women are reshaping the government contracting landscape.

There are approximately 14 million women-owned businesses in the United States. A 2023 survey of small, women- and minority-owned companies regarding their participation and readiness to compete for federal contracts found that “75% of the women-owned businesses surveyed reported that corporate and government contracting is really critical to their business strategy,” stated Angela Dingle, the CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy, on the Federal Drive With Tom Teminpodcast.And so it’s not just a statistic. It’s a narrative about the contributions and the potential of women-owned businesses to generate growth, to create jobs, and to meet the needs of corporate and government buyers.”

A blend of ingenuity and integrity characterizes Howard’s approach to business.

“In the early years, a big part of my job was going and knocking on doors and meeting with the bankers and trying to get things like a line of credit, a small business loan, etcetera,” Margarita Howard explains. She was turned down the majority of the time but didn’t let that deter her from the mission to make HX5 a premier government contractor.

She remains loyal to the company’s earliest supporters. “One bank in particular remains our bank today because they gave us that first chance,” she says. And so, to this day, that’s our bank. And they thank us every single year for the relationship. And now that we’ve grown to the size we are today, new banks are knocking on our doors all the time trying to earn our business.”

Howard attributes part of her success to joining the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, a comprehensive nine-year initiative providing mentorship and support to entrepreneurs facing social and economic disadvantages. As a first-generation American, Howard met the criteria. With the 8(a) certification, she gained the eligibility to compete for and secure contracts worth millions of dollars. Howard says, “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.”

Margarita Howard: Transition to Government Contracting

Margarita Howard’s path to success has been a very challenging journey, but one that culminates in an inspiring story of an American dream come to life. Losing both parents to illness by the year she graduated from high school was a tremendous loss. However, with the knowledge of the value of an advanced education that was instilled in her by her parents, Howard pressed ahead and enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she juggled school and the full-time work schedule necessary to support herself and go to school 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, Howard quickly advanced through various roles of increasing management responsibility, primarily in the areas of operations and business management. A significant opportunity came with her involvement in implementing the Tricare program, a major initiative in managed health care for the military.

Tricare is a health care program serving active duty service members, their family members, National Guard and Reserve members and their families, retirees and their families, survivors, and specific former spouses globally.

In that role, Howard was part of the team responsible for implementing the program and through her work, she gained significant insight into the intersection of government operations and private-sector participation.

“I was exposed to many different aspects of government contracting in the role that I was performing in. Part of my job was working with various subcontractors. And so overall the experience was just very, very exciting,” Howard says. It was a huge role for a woman. “I was primarily working with all men at the time. There were women working on the program, but at the regional level, there were very few,” she recalls.

“Once that contract was completely transitioned, and it was up for rebid, I decided to go work for another government contract with the goal in mind of eventually starting my own business. I just felt that I had seen the government contracting process from the ground up and I was in a good place to begin planning and taking steps toward starting my own business.”

In working on government contracts she became aware of the opportunities and socioeconomic benefits available as a veteran- and woman-owned small business, particularly in working with smaller enterprises. “And having worked with large businesses, I knew that aspect of it. So, that’s when I decided to start HX5,” she says.

Recognizing the potential in government contracting and armed with a wealth of experience, Howard launched the company in 2004. Her vision was clear: to establish a company that excelled in winning contracts and thrived on its own merits without over-reliance on sole-source awards.

Margarita Howard’s decision to develop HX5 was a bold step, reflecting her confidence in her abilities and understanding of the government contracting sector. The name “HX5,” representing “Howard times five,” reflects her commitment to her family and their significant influence on her inspirational career path.

HX5’s journey from a fledgling startup to a thriving entity with over 1,000 employees is a testament to Howard’s leadership. Her astute foresight was evident in early choices, such as opting for investing in a government-approved accounting system over extravagant office furniture or high-priced lease locations (for example). That dedication to thriving, not merely surviving, in competitive settings enabled the company to secure numerous substantial prime contracts.

HX5’s Competitive Edge

From its inception, Howard’s company differentiated itself by not relying on sole-source awards — a common strategy among small government contractors — but instead, building a business infrastructure around being able to compete for and win contracts from very early on. Margarita Howard’s approach was to compete from the start, positioning the company for sustainable growth and long-term success. This plan was complemented by a focus on compliance, financial discipline, and building the right relationships.

“Building strong relationships with government agencies is an invaluable asset for successful government contractors as it can serve to provide the contractor with positive performance appraisals and sometimes even lead to new or additional business,” she says. “You start building [on] your past performance, which those initial contracts we received provided the foundation for.”