He identified the goal of the company is to grow organically by planning for the federal government’s long-term needs. Additionally, Puvvada said companies (and the federal government) are recognizing that innovation will play a part in winning contracts and commercial best practices.
Less than three weeks permanently into the job, Puvvada provided WashingtonExec his insights and visions for the coming years, the company’s strategy for acquisitions and what makes a good leader.
WashingtonExec: Where are you seeing growth in the federal contracting market over the next three to five years? How do you plan to position Unisys Federal Systems for success?
Venkatapathi Puvvada: We are going to be focused on growth areas of the market, both from a technology perspective, as well as the agencies and domains within the federal government. On the technology side, we will focus on cloud solutions; big data analytics as it relates to predictive analytics for intelligence, law enforcement, financial services and other domains that we serve in; mobility and enabling secure mobile access to key applications and capabilities; and cybersecurity.
We will leverage our leadership, for example, in cloud system integration where we have been early to market and have had many “firsts” in our successful implementations. That’s an overarching theme in the growth areas; however, we will do it in such a way that is laser-focused. We are going to be very focused on the markets that we serve, and we are going to be very focused on the capabilities that we bring, both from our federal group and from the enterprise solutions portfolio. That will differentiate us going forward.
One of the advantages that we have as an organization is our team of very talented people who are really good at service delivery. We have world-class client satisfaction ratings, both when assessed internally and by outside independent organizations. By combining our great capabilities as a global company with our outstanding client satisfaction ratings, Unisys can provide significant advantage to our government clients.
The most important thing for a great leader is to establish trust in people that you work for, work with and who work for you. … The minute a leader stops being intellectually curious, they stop growing.
WashingtonExec: Drawing on a thread of maintaining a “laser focus” towards IT innovation, what is your overall strategy in terms of acquisitions versus organic growth? What are your plans for the next couple of years?
Venkatapathi Puvvada: At this point in time, it is too early to discuss that. Peter Altabef, the Unisys Chief Executive Officer, had just come into the company in early January, so we will be looking at all aspects of the company. And we’ll have to make some decisions on where we will focus and what the overall company growth strategy will be. Obviously, we are going to be focused on organic growth. Our belief is you can take a long-term view of the U.S. federal government’s market and clients, and that will result in sustainable growth.
WashingtonExec: You’ve been with Unisys since 1992. Could you give us a little synopsis on where you think we are in the lifecycle of the federal contracting industry? What has changed? Did you expect these changes back in 1992?
Venkatapathi Puvvada: Definitely. I had the point of view that technology was making tectonic shifts during that time – late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I expected that trend to accelerate and continue. Looking back on it, it has accelerated exponentially, more times over than I or anyone expected. As you probably can guess, the explosion of personal computing and client server architectures has completely democratized computing. Until then, it was only big companies and big government agencies that could afford it. You saw several companies that are still around and were successful that led that revolution.
The Internet has been a much bigger game changer than the personal computing era primarily because the internet brought even more democratization, not just from a productivity perspective, but from a society perspective. There is universal access to a variety of things. Interestingly enough, it brought a business model that is really interesting — e-commerce and e-government. But even though we saw exponential growth in technology acceleration, from a government market perspective those were the days when procurements were very hard to do. The rules were very archaic. It was highly complicated in the way that agencies procured and applied technologies. Skills were not there in the market.
Since then things have improved in terms of procurement reform and the government’s ability to take advantage of innovative technologies. In the last couple of years we have been going through a very tough budget situation that has slowed down procurement process and limited the government’s ability to invest in new programs. This resulted in some very unhealthy trends in the market and some agencies going to low price technically acceptable acquisitions. That essentially discourages innovation. But now agencies are realizing that there is room for those types of acquisitions, but that shouldn’t be their focus. What you are going to see is a balanced approach coming forward. Now agencies realize perhaps the pendulum swung too far with LPTA acquisitions and there will be a more balanced approach going forward. There is now room in the market for companies like Unisys to bring in creative and innovative commercial best practices.
WashingtonExec: What do you think makes a good leader? How do you personally differentiate between a good manager and a great leader?
Venkatapathi Puvvada: The most important thing for a great leader is to establish trust in people that you work for, work with and who work for you. That’s got to be the fundamental tenet. In addition, intellectual curiosity is a key ingredient. The constant ability to learn things from everybody, from people that work for you and with you, broadening your horizons. The minute a leader stops being intellectually curious, they stop growing. As a leader, you have to continue to grow and you have to be open to new ideas.
Great leadership is about inspiring and enabling people, providing vision, and also being a role model. You can be in a management position, but you have to earn trust.
WashingtonExec: What business book do you often recommend to the next generation of leaders?
Venkatapathi Puvvada: My favorite business book is On Great Service: A Framework for Action by Leonard Berry. It is about providing excellent service to your clients, to your people, to your leadership. Mr. Berry does a very good job of giving a framework for action and how service excellence can be a natural part of the way you perform. Great service starts with setting high expectations and ends in outstanding mission outcomes for your clients.