LANHAM – Kristine Cruikshank’s office is decorated in gray and blue ocean tones, a perfect color scheme to go with the sound of water trickling from a Japanese-style water fountain her employees gave her.
From this Lanham office, Cruikshank oversees Presidio Corp., one of the most successful woman-owned federal contractors in Maryland in 1998.
The company today has 58 employees in Lanham and another 56 in satellite offices along the East Coast who help assemble telecommunications networks for clients, putting computer and telephone systems, and video teleconferencing on single phone line connections.
But it wasn’t always glamorous.
Cruikshank came late to the business world. She grew up in Connecticut, where her mother worked nights for the phone company and her dad was a builder. She went to college for a while in North Carolina and finished up several years later in San Francisco. In between, she married a traveling military man and had a son.
She was so busy, moving all the time, caring for her son and being a wife, that she had to put off her career for 20 years.
When she and her husband, Ralph, started the company in Georgia in 1986 with another couple, “It was in the basement with credit cards. That’s how we survived for 18 months,” Cruikshank said. She and her husband bought out the other couple in 1993.
Early on, Presidio really didn’t have a business plan, Cruikshank said. “We didn’t know what we wanted to do,” she said.
When the company was small, every employee did every job. Now, Presidio has employees like Ramon Collins, a systems engineer who loves to give tours of control rooms full of colored wires, switches and computers. His face lights up as he spews out computer jargon about “hubs” and “mainframes.”
But that’s how Cruikshank likes her employees to feel, excited, and she believes her job is to encourage that.
“I think my role is to be reassuring and happy,” said Cruikshank, whose title is chief executive officer of Presidio. “One day you’ve got this big payroll and all these lives you’re taking care of. You have to think in terms of can ‘we’ do this?”
Sitting next to a collection of crystal paperweights on a glass table in her office, she says her biggest challenge now is “this company and keeping our vision out there and keeping our employees motivated and challenged.”
It’s a job Cruikshank said she is happy to tackle.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a second chance at a career, and at life,” she said.