Jan Adams has a nice, wonderful smile that could warm even the coldest of hearts, but when it comes to business, she knows how to play the game and play it well.
Adams leads JMA Solutions in the District of Columbia as its president and CEO. She founded her company in 2005 after serving 24 years in the United States Air Force, achieving the high rank of chief master sergeant.
Throughout her life, she has learned how to turn hurdles into steppingstones for success, particularly as an African-American businesswoman in the aviation field, a rarity.
While in the Air Force, she graduated from its community college. She came to the Air Force at the age of 27, unmarried with two small children, but had a determination to succeed that took her all over the world and working on challenging assignments.
Adams said when she retired a former colonel she worked with in Germany asked her to come to the District to work for him as a contractor and she couldn’t refuse the offer. She worked for her colleague as a contractor supporting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from December 2000 to August 2009 when she struck out on her own with JMA Solutions.
She had doubters in the FAA contracting field because Black women rarely do that type of work, but Adams didn’t let negative attitudes regarding race and gender stop her.
“When you deal with the people I deal with in my field, you have to be sure of yourself,” she said. “When they see that you know what you are talking about and can execute and do what you say you will do, their attitudes soften.
“You must show self-confidence when dealing in business,” Adams said. “When you show that you are solid in your knowledge base and they realize they can’t be successful without you, you become indispensable.”
JMA Solutions assists the FAA and other clients in the areas of acquisition planning, air traffic management, financial management, information technology, program and project management, professional and technical training and software engineering. Her business employs 130 people full-time and she proudly notes that 40 percent of her staffers have military experience.
In 2008, Adams won her first contract for $6.5 million to hire air traffic controllers for the FAA. By 2016, JMA Solutions posted $35 million in revenue and had established itself in the aviation industry.
Businesses owned by people of color and women often have problems getting federal contracts. Opensecrets.org, a web site that monitors government activity, revealed in its April 13 post that of the $504.8 billion in federal contracts awarded in 2017, only five percent went to women-owned businesses and 9.8 percent to minority-owned firms.
Still, that’s a very small piece of the federal procurement business considering that of the top 50 most expensive contracts in 2016 and 2017, not one went to a business ran by a woman or a minority.
Adams doesn’t allow daunting statistics to faze her and she encourages Black female entrepreneurs to stay focused.
“The business you have is only a good as the person running it,” she said. “Your success also depends on the quality of the work.”
On March 19, Adams joined D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), former interim Democratic Party Chair Donna Brazile, Ben’s Chili Bowl co-founder Virginia Ali and former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry in a discussion on how successful women operate on Capitol Hill.
Though she has been in business less than two decades, JMA Solutions has been cited for excellence by the Air Traffic Controllers Association’s Small and Disadvantaged Business Award, INC. 5000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce’s Community Impact Award, the Washington Business Journal’s Minority Business Leader of the Year and the Disabled American Veterans’ Small Employer of the Year Award.
Adams has been profiled in O, The Oprah Magazine, Entrepreneur magazine and Forbes and will be inducted into the D.C. Hall of Fame on April 28.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) appointed her to the D.C. Retirement Board and she serves on the boards of Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman’s Starz24 and a corporate partner of the D.C. Adopt-a-School program.
Adams wants to keep the federal contracts that she has and explore others including an opportunity with the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She wants to look into the construction industry and has made moves in that direction.
“Why not?” Adams said. “Why wouldn’t I want to do that? I love change.”