Washington, D.C. – Terry M. Ryan has made a career of getting big Beltway organizations through moments of change.
In 1991, after 10 years in the U.S. military, he was hired by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to advise it on adjusting to a post-Cold War world. Later, he helped set up a new Department of Defense office aimed at rejiggering airborne reconnaissance to use more unmanned aircraft. When he went to the private sector in the mid-’90s, he took the top job at defense engineering concern Adroit Systems. In three years, he presided over a tripling in Adroit’s sales, to $43 million, and its acquisition by SRA International in 2003.
Now a senior vice president at Mercury Computer Systems (nasdaq: MRCY – news – people ), Ryan, 48, must pull another rabbit out of the hat. Headquartered in Chelmsford, Mass., Mercury makes systems for processing high-volume data. Among its specialties: software that can convert big data sets into 3-D images, and systems that pull together information from different kinds of computer chips (digital signal processors, graphics processors and so on). Just under half the company’s $224 million in fiscal 2007 sales came from defense customers, primarily big contractors like Lockheed Martin (nyse: LMT – news – people ), Northrop Grumman (nyse: NOC – news – people ), and Raytheon (nyse: RTN – news – people ).
Yet despite those companies’ booming fortunes, Mercury’s own defense business sagged 15% for the year ended in June, a decline the company blamed in part on federal funding shifting to “more immediate” needs. (Translation: Iraq.)