After Rick Cantwell graduated from West Point, he and his wife Becky made a deal: If she would support his choice of a military career, he would retire at the end of 20 years. So, in 1995, Lt. Colonel Cantwell wrapped up his distinguished career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retired from the military.
Cantwell interviewed with six companies. When he talked with Odell Associates in Charlotte about opening an international branch of the company, it was a good fit. Furthermore, Becky liked Charlotte. “The community embraced her,” says Cantwell.
So Cantwell began his second career heading Odell International, a program management firm with clients ranging from various U.S. Department of Defense agencies to foreign Department of State agencies.
His job was to make sure Odell International excelled at creating strategic planning, system development, operations, and infrastructure across a broad spectrum of client needs for a broad range of global clients.
“Whether the project is in healthcare, government, education, or transportation, we can plan it, estimate its cost, help complete it, commission it, and train the staff to make it sustainable,” says Cantwell. “We make sure the client gets what they want.”
Originally established as a company in which Cantwell and Odell Associates both held ownership, Cantwell now owns 100 percent of Odell International and completed the certification process making Odell International a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business.
As a Certified SDVOSB, Odell International is eligible to pursue set-aside and sole source government projects, including several for the Veterans Administration Medical Centers located in Salisbury, N.C., Columbia, S.C. and Huntington, W.V.
Experience Around the World
Cantwell was the oldest of five children in a military family. When he was in the fourth grade, his father was stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas. The five children shared two bikes, so when the school had a reading program that offered a new red bike as the top prize, Cantwell went after it. He read over 200 books and won the bike. Cantwell credits all that reading to his passion for global business.
“By the end of fourth grade, I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” he says. “I also knew I wanted to go to West Point and that I wanted to travel and see the world.”
Not only did Cantwell graduate from West Point in 1975, he also received a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas in 1983, and completed the Construction Executive Program at Stanford in 1987.
As the engineer program manager of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, Cantwell was responsible for the planning, programming, budgeting, design, and construction of all facilities. He commanded a 625-man combat engineer battalion in South Korea stationed on the 38th parallel of the Demilitarized Zone to plan for and prepare against aggression by North Korea.
He was a member of special operations teams that conducted threat and vulnerability assessment in dozens of countries around the world and has been called on to testify and brief Congressional committees.
Altogether Cantwell has traveled to 87 different countries, fulfilling his childhood desire to see the world. After 27 years of experience in special operations engineering, program management and security operations, Cantwell is a subject matter expert on counter terrorism procedures and methodologies.
Congresswoman Sue Myrick appointed Cantwell as the Chairman of her Homeland Security Task Force. Additionally, Cantwell co-chairs the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Homeland Security Working Group with Major General (retired) Wynn Mabry.
Odell International is consulted by leading corporations and government agencies on complex Command and Security Technology Management practices, including 2020 Imaging.
Altogether, the experience Cantwell gained from his 20 years with the United States Army Corps of Engineers has translated smoothly to his work at Odell International. In the position of MACOM Engineer for the United States Army Special Operations Command, he supervised the long range planning, environmental assessment and master planning for the command. He also supervised the preparation and submission of capital investment programs and project development brochures.
Odell International’s first project was a 2.6 billion upgrade to health care in the United Arab Emigrates. Cantwell was able to help determine the strategic plan and to develop a sustainable program.
“In this case, as in all our projects, I’m there to work myself out of a job,” says Cantwell. “Every Westerner who heads up a department has a National as his deputy to provide for the eventual transfer of the technology and the skills to manage it to the UAE.”
Intended as a 14-year project, the UAE venture came to an early end after 9/11 when the Arab world pulled back from partnerships with U.S. companies and the U.S. instituted more stringent regulations governing the working relationships of U.S. businesses and foreign states.
Nevertheless, Odell International has thrived. Its latest projects include providing mobile command units to Nigeria, developing global wellness clinics for a Portugal client, and continuing care retirement communities in Cypress and China.
Additionally, Odell International has teamed up with Parsons on a $500 million project to help rebuild the health care facilities in Iraq. Parsons is a leader in many diversified markets with a focus on infrastructure, environmental, and defense/security.
Today Odell International is a leading program management firm with the resources and capabilities to manage multiple health care projects simultaneously as part of a comprehensive program. In an environment that involves numerous contractors, vendors, suppliers and agencies, Odell International ensures that resources and activities are integrated, synchronized, and efficiently employed, resulting in program success.
“We make sure the project happens within budget and on time,” assures Cantwell. “In today’s world it is all about optimization. You have to use the right amount of energy and use it appropriately.”
It is also about having the right people in the right place. Odell International is organized around a carefully designed project team that is unique to each client. The project team allows the firm, with its numerous skill sets and assets, to offer personal attention to clients while providing the widest range of professional expertise available. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of Odell International’s employees are veterans.
“They have great skills and great work ethics,” explains Cantwell “They’ve been in the area; they know the culture, the language.”
Contrary to traditional models of program management that involve simply executing a client’s plan, Odell International becomes involved at the earliest stages and participates in program identification, definition, and planning. Through the review and development of short- and long-range business plans, growth projections, organizational culture, and other reviews, Odell International is able to assist the client in creating a strategic plan that maximizes the business objectives. The strategic plan allows for purchasing needed services, materials, and equipment in sufficient time and quantities to insure on-time delivery and favorable pricing. Odell International then executes the program on time and within budget.
When Odell International was contracted to provide $71 million of medical equipment in support of the Buildings, Health and Education Sector of the Rebuilding Iraq contract, it managed the process from start to finish. This included working with the end user, the Iraqi Ministry of Health through the Project and Contracting Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Odell International was in charge of purchasing equipment that would be installed in 150 primary health care centers that were to be constructed throughout Iraq.
“We take on a challenge, like this project in Iraq, that the client himself is unable to do or has never done before,” explains Cantwell. “Then we bring in the expertise and the technology to help execute and sustain the project. But, in the end, the project is only sustainable if the nationals are trained in the technology and prepared to assume responsibility for it.”
Cantwell understands and appreciates the sacrifice made by the men and women who serve in the armed forces, particularly special operations units, and the stress their deployment makes on the families left behind. During his childhood his father was frequently absent and Cantwell himself was gone 230 days a year for 12 years straight while his own three children were growing up.
“That is nothing compared with today’s tours where some officers are making 15 deployments,” he asserts. “Nonetheless, while the country has come a long way in appreciating the service of these officers, it isn’t doing nearly enough to support their families.”
In 2006, Cantwell helped form the Military Family LifeStyle Charitable Foundation (MFLCF). MFLCF is dedicated to providing financial, physical, and emotional support for military members and their families. The foundation does this through donations, fundraising activities, and by sponsoring events. These include a variety of annual golf tournaments and other events such as their annual Charlotte “Honor the Warrior” Ride.
MFLCF then supports the existing charitable organizations that provide funds for military personnel who have been disabled in the line of duty; provide educational grants for children of military personnel, and provide other miscellaneous financial needs to the military families.
MFLCF has done everything, from buying a $1,100 exercise bike for a little girl with a brain tumor whose father was a member of special operations, to partnering with a resort facility to provide family reconnect weekends for military families.
“Eleven hundred kids have lost a parent who was in special operations since 9/11,” asserts Cantwell. “We can’t forget these kids or their parents.”
Odell International has also supported the marketing of new products, the sale of which contributes to MFLCF. One of these new products, VeteranShield 24, emerged from a new technology called GoldShield. The core formula for GoldShield, which was invented at Emory University in Atlanta, is water-stabilized and will bond to surfaces, equipment and textiles, providing long-term protection against disease-causing germs. VeteranShield 24 is a new alcohol-free hand sanitizer and antiseptic foam that shows evidence of 24-hour protection in the absence of hand washing.
Not only does VeteranShield 24 have the potential to provide funds for MFLCF, the VeteranShield formula has long-range implications for fighting germs at hospitals, day care centers, and schools. The American Journal of Infection Control published evidence in its October 2010 issue that one application of VeteranShield performed a residual disinfection action of 85 days. Unlike other antimicrobial agents that modify surfaces, VeteranShield is the first to be aqueous-based, non-toxic, mercury free and non-flammable.
While Cantwell missed a lot while his own three children were growing up, he is determined to make up for lost time with his seven grandchildren.
“Last weekend I went to eight soccer games,” he laughs. “I am there for my kids’ kids.”
Cantwell’s son, Rick, works for Odell International, managing information and technology matters. His wife, Becky, and youngest daughter, Emily, also play a big role in the company as well.
“They bring the same energy and intellect to the business,” Cantwell asserts. “It’s truly a family business now.”
Cantwell also depends on the veterans he has recruited to serve Odell International in its regional offices. He points proudly to Steve Bridgman, whom he convinced to return to the Middle East after leaving military service. Bridgman, who heads Odell International’s operations in the UAE, is able to build personal relationships with national leaders through his on-going presence and experience in the area.
“Guys like Bridgman have the same resumé I have,” says Cantwell, “and the same global passion. They differentiate us from our competitors. As former special operations forces, they know the area, including the culture and the language. They understand how to deliver what the client expects.”
Cantwell believes the work being done by Odell International and similar companies abroad are also essential to the future economic growth and strength of the United States.
“While the United States has a lot to offer, particularly in the area of technology, participating in global projects also adds value to U.S. companies. Global business helps the U.S. form lasting partnerships and opens new markets for U.S. firms,” offers Cantwell.