Tony Moraco, CEO of SAIC, is among the finalists for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Professional Services Council’s annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards for Executive of the Year over $300 million. The winners will be announced at an awards program Nov. 5.
WashingtonExec dialogued with Moraco about changes at SAIC, his own growth as a leader and his advice for others in the industry.
WashingtonExec: What are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?
Moraco: One quality is effective communication. Knowing and having a clear vision of your strategy and objectives helps to motivate others to achieve your organization’s goals. Clear communication around the “why” is also critical to leading people toward the finish line. To me, it’s important for SAIC and our partners to all be heading in the same direction, and I’ve found that explaining the why helps to build good relationships and a level of trust with people who can help you meet your objectives.
Almost every day, we are making strategic decisions that affect our customers, employees and shareholders, and it’s important to tailor communications to the target audience on the process and considerations leading up to these decisions.
Another quality of some of the best leaders I know is to develop strong teams by building relationships across the entire organization, especially with people who do not report directly to you. When leaders are engaged then employees feel they are part of the team and people become more motivated and passionate about achieving something great together.
WashingtonExec: You’ve been CEO for five years now. What are some of the highlights from the past five years?
Moraco: We have had a busy and successful five years with many highlights. Often too many to count, but first, there was the separation or spin itself. We were still grounded in our 50-year history as the company that took ownership of the name SAIC, but we also had a new story to tell. We rebranded the company as one that is agile and modern with market leadership positions across our diverse portfolio.
An internal highlight was aligning SAIC more to our customers and taking an enterprise view of our company. We implemented a matrixed operating model that is aligned to a single comprehensive business strategy we call Ingenuity 2025. We changed the culture of the company and were no longer a federation of independent businesses operating under the name SAIC. We were one company and together as a whole, we were stronger than the sum of our parts.
Of course, the acquisition of Scitor and now our intent to acquire Engility are both important decisions for us as a company. The Scitor acquisition created the opportunity to re-enter the intelligence community market and upon close of the Engility acquisition, we will further strengthen our presence in intelligence and space, while also beefing up our reach in defense and federal civilian agencies.
I am also very proud of our performance. Coming out of the separation, we were seen as the underdogs and out-performed many of the business expectations. We have provided significant value to our employees, shareholders and customers as we continue to be recognized as a leading IT provider and a career destination for more than 15,000 people. We are seeing our good work come to fruition as we are recognized as a top 10 government services provider in areas such as cloud, and as one of the best employers in the country.
WashingtonExec: In reflection, what would you tell yourself five years ago?
Moraco: Looking back, I would emphasize the importance of prioritizing my time. We all face this challenge and to be a more impactful leader, it’s crucial to focus your time on the most important areas within your company or the areas that need the most attention.
Additionally, I would tell myself to spend more time developing relationships with a broader set of employees and engaging more with the technical leaders within the company. As someone who moved out of operations to a strategic role, it was challenging to remain clued in with program managers and technical leaders within the company. But I learned quickly that spending more time with them and engaging more helps to build a stronger company from within.
I would also emphasize the importance of leveraging the entire executive leadership team and the board of directors to help build and advocate for the direction of the company and business strategies. I have grown to appreciate that deeper relationships can improve the alignment of ideas that lead to better execution and business results.
WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Moraco: In 2000, I was working for a small company called Autometric, and Boeing acquired it. I had been working for Autometric for 16 years in many different roles, and following the acquisition, I learned how to work within a large, publicly traded company. I got exposure to a different way of doing business and learned what to do, and in some cases, what not to do.
This was the mid-point of my career, and I began to evolve from a technical manager to a stronger leader, and began moving away from directly practicing engineering and project management.
WashingtonExec: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?
Moraco: Government contracting is complex and is deep-rooted in a culture of compliance. Past performance and mission understanding are critical. I would advise leaders entering this market to gain a profound understanding of the nuances of different contract types and the government accounting policies as they impact business investment strategies. To do business in this industry, government compliance and accounting policies are critical components, and you have to draw a distinction between these while executing the technical scope of work on the contracts.
Additionally, I believe in picking a limited number of market segments and focusing your strategy around it. Pick the markets you want to serve, focus on your business strategy, and build a team with experienced, talented people who know those markets. Have the discipline to stay the course.
WashingtonExec: How did your first job shape your career?
Moraco: I began my career as a civil engineer and software programmer for a Tomahawk cruise missile mission planning system using mapping and remote sensing disciplines. Here, I was introduced to the intelligence community and gained an appreciation for national security mission areas and grew to want to work on things to have an impact on something relevant and important. This has stuck with me and I have built my career on delivering services that support the nation. The great part about working in government contracting is that it is a very diverse market and we have many opportunities to serve our nation in a wide range of capacities. I am very proud to be a part of this industry today and for more than 30 years.