ITA International is a family business, but not your typical Mom and Pop.
Since its founding in 2003, ITA has grown from one employee, President and CEO Mike Melo, to a staff of more than 250, including his wife, Kathy Gravely Melo, who serves as chief governance officer, and their adult daughters, Katelyn Melo Byrd, chief of enterprise services, and Meredith Melo Cline, vice president of charity and community relations.
This is a family business that now has numerous PhDs on the payroll. The headquarters is in Newport News’ Tech Center, but they have dozens of remote sites, including some on different continents. What started as a government contracting business designed to create cost and procedural efficiencies for the military and the Department of Homeland Security has evolved into an enterprise with huge goals like global environmental sustainability and security on its to-do list.
“This is why our girls are in the company,” Mike Melo says. “We want to make a difference.”
ITA is approaching their second decade of business with an emphasis on using sophisticated scientific fields like data analytics and nanotechnology to solve vital human problems. In September, the company acquired Nanosafe Inc., which specializes in environmental health and safety and nanotechnology.
“By adding these additional capabilities, we’re one step closer to achieving our vision of a secure, stable, and sustainable world,” explains Mike, a conservationist whose degree from Virginia Tech is in forestry. “Think about Ukraine. Once this war ends there is going to be contaminated water and soil all over the place. How do you deal with that without causing more problems? The tools we are building are going to help remediate things like that safely.”
Mike Melo spent over two decades in the U.S. Navy before retiring in 2002. He took a job on the faculty of Old Dominion University but felt restless. The idea for ITA arrived while the family was vacationing in the Outer Banks. Kathy, a schoolteacher by training, was recruited to be Mike’s right-hand two years later.
ITA stands for “In the Arena.” It’s taken from a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt who was praising people at the front lines, the ones whose lives and reputations are at stake every day.
It represents what the Melos feel the company’s purpose is: support the people who are taking on the most vital tasks in the world. It also reflects their larger mission, one that places them and their employees squarely in the arena themselves.
What ITA traditionally did was smooth the path for big, mostly military, jobs. If, for instance, you had a conventional surface ship that needed repairs, ITA would devise a way to get that complicated work done in the swiftest and most cost-effective way possible.
“If there are roadblocks, we remove them,” Mike says. “Every day a vessel is in the shipyard can cost thousands and thousands of dollars more.”
Experience taught the Melos that the best way to do the work was to find people who’d been “in the arena” themselves. An estimated 65 % of their employees are veterans. “You’d be amazed at how many companies want to hire vets,” Mike emphasizes. “There’s a great work ethic that’s been instilled.”
In addition to running the company, both Melos have served on a wide variety of service organizations with a focus on helping veterans and children. “Childcare has a major impact on the workforce,” Kathy says. “If an employee is distracted or worrying about their child, they’re not going to be a good employee.”
Taking care of the people who work for them is vitally important. Each December, the Melos visit employees at their remote sites which last year meant flying into Denver, driving to Wyoming, back to Colorado Springs, flying next to Las Vegas then into California. “It’s important that we have a personal relationship with all the people who work for ITA,” Mike says.
The company is privately held. When the Melos founded the business they leveraged Katelyn’s college fund to get a line of credit.
“We risked everything,” Kathy shares. “There were times when I would call Mike and ask, ‘Did we make payroll? Because I want to go to Costco.’” She kept her teaching job until the couple felt secure about the company’s future.
Mike, now 67, sees retirement on the horizon. “I have some other things I want to do,” he says, but, “We plan on keeping ITA in the Melo family.”