Steps away from Heather Blease’s office is a soundproof vault equipped with a “secret” red phone. A relic of the Cold War, this room is a reminder to Blease of the years she spent growing up in Brunswick, a resident of the town but a rare visitor to the closely-guarded Brunswick Naval Air Station.
With the base now closed, she’s part of the site’s revitalization as the CEO of tech and customer support services company SaviLinx.
But if it hadn’t been for some words of advice from her father, her career path may have pointed her in a different direction.
“I loved art and gym classes, but during a chat about college, my dad pushed me towards a major that would help me land a job,” Blease recalls.
She heeded her father’s words and settled on electrical engineering. As a student at the University of Maine, she was motivated to finish her degree, simply to prove she could. That distinctive drive has helped propel Blease’s career forward.
Help Maine Icons Grow!
After graduation she initially left Maine for Massachusetts having landed a job at the Digital Equipment Corporation. But after a few years away, she and her former-husband found themselves back in The Pine Tree State. They used demographic data to determine an ideal location for his podiatry practice to be located. Blease would once again land in Brunswick.
She was able to secure a transfer to Digital Equipment Corporation’s Augusta location, where she worked as a quality control engineer overseeing a team of developers. In the mid-1990s the company was sold, leaving the fate of the Augusta location unknown. At the time, Blease recalls, she couldn’t get an answer about what was going to happen to her or her team. So instead of waiting, she took matters into her own hands.
Blease would go on to start Envisionet, a remote technical support provider for the technology industry, in 1995. Then-Governor Angus King hailed Envisionet as “probably the greatest entrepreneurial success story in recent Maine history,” earning Blease the title of Maine’s 1999 Economic Developer of the Year.
But starting a business and getting to that point wasn’t easy, Blease points out.
“It is very scary and it is very hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart,” she says. “For new companies, there’s a lot to learn, a lot of common sense to put contracts together, managing through legal issues, financial issues, employee issues.”
All this while Blease was raising three boys, a daunting task in and of itself.
At its high point, Envisionet had over 2,000 employees and was providing support for Maine companies, but its largest clients were tech giants Dell and Microsoft. Microsoft was so pleased with Envisionet’s service, they pushed the company to expand. But this, Blease explains, is what led Envisionet to file for Chapter 11 and eventually be sold to Orono-based competitor Microdyne.
Blease and her team simply didn’t see the viability of expanding their operations based on the projections of one client — projections they didn’t agree with, she mentions. In the end, Microsoft stopped paying on their contract and moved its operations overseas. To make matters worse, all of this happened to coincide with a fundraising push; investors got scared, and the company had to file for bankruptcy.
Blease stepped away from the digital services industry for nearly a decade. But in Maine, rare talent is recognized, and it’s not easily forgotten.
NexxLinx, the Georgia-based company that acquired Microdyne in 2011, called upon Blease to help them expand their federal government contracts. As Vice President of Business Development, Blease worked for six months trying to get NexxLinx’s foot in the door, but it just wasn’t happening. So she got creative.
Blease knew the federal government had money set aside to help small startups, particularly those run by less traditional demographics — such as women — obtain contract work and grow their company. She figured she could take advantage of this, start her own company and bring jobs to Maine. SaviLinx was born.
Federal government clients are SaviLinx’s “bread and butter,” Blease explains, as the contracts are stable, often 5 to 7 years long. The stability of federal contracts has allowed SaviLinx the profitability and flexibility to expand, and they now provide service to commercial clients as well as local Maine businesses. The success caused by the steady flow of contracts has meant only good things for her workers; contract funding means employees earn well above the minimum wage.
The employees she hires are the backbone of the business, Blease says, helping SaviLinx earn number one ratings by national companies who hire more than one service provider. She sees a definite trend in companies basing their service operations in the United States — a trend which is beneficial for her, for her employees and for the Brunswick area. SaviLinx has 300 employees, and is already looking to add another 200 by the end of this summer.
“We have a stellar workforce,” she adds. “It’s all about our team.”
Heather Blease has had thousands of Mainers on her team over the years. She’s used her entrepreneurial drive and industry knowledge to build companies and bring jobs to Maine. Through her successes and challenges, she has never lost her drive to succeed, and the entire state has benefitted.
That’s why Heather Blease is a Maine Icon.