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How one California company prepares members of the armed forces for the linguistic and cultural hurdles of overseas combat.
Lexicon Consulting CEO Jamie Latshaw
Marines on patrol
As applications for the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc.com/inc5000apply/2010/.) One that caught our eye was El Cajon, California-based Lexicon Consulting. CEO Jamie Latshaw got the idea to start Lexicon Consulting while she served for eight-years as a transportation officer, coordinating equipment shipments by air, land, and sea for the military. During that time, she met her husband and business partner Leroy, who was piloting helicopters for the Army in Macedonia.The pair both spent time at the Army's National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, where they noticed the center's focus shifting from combat training to cultural awareness training. At the time, "there were a handful of companies who hired role players for this purpose," says Latshaw, "but many weren't hiring native Iraqis and Afghanis who could speak the language and teach the culture." The couple saw an opportunity to provide more realistic and holistic training to soldiers shipping overseas and the idea for Lexicon Consulting was born.The company now caters to a variety of Armed Forces branches, as well as the Department of Defense, but Lexicon didn't land their first big contract on day one. "For the first year or so, we traveled from military base to military base in our trailer and wrote proposals, made phone calls, filled out loan applications, and conducted payroll with a post office box as our corporate address," Latshaw recalls.Surprisingly, the company's first handful of gigs didn't come from the military at all, rather it was Hollywood that came knocking. The company provided the services of their linguists and role players to movie and television war reenactments including the movies Jarhead, Three Kings, and Transformers and the television series 24.Now the company has grown to 45 full-time employees, and dropped its commercial arm to focus on government work. Latshaw says that what keeps her going is the fact that "we are seeing the same troops returning after multiple deployments [and] it is extremely rewarding for our role players, managers, and cultural experts who conduct the training to receive positive feedback and know that they've made a difference."