Bob Genter, SAIC senior vice president and general manager of the Federal Civilian Customer Group, is a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the General Manager and Federal Practice Leaders with (P&L 100M+) category, Here, he shares what made him successful, rules he should break more, his biggest career challenge and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2017?
Genter: The greatest accomplishment last year was that the strategy we put in place three years ago, started to show material returns. Last year was the first time that all of the strategic initiatives under our long-term strategy, Ingenuity 2025, showed tangible results.
As an example, we focused investment dollars, effort and our strongest resources on a few specific federal civilian agencies. The intent was to truly understand the customer mission and focus on some of the smaller aspects of the solutions that had outsized value to their goals. This in turn made our solutions more meaningful to outcomes; our teams stood out from the competition and the result was a better product for the customer.
With that prioritization, we accomplished double-digit growth in all but one strategic account and posted excellent win rates. We invested, we worked hard and we grew 15 percent in a market that yielded 2-4 percent growth on average. We proved our mantra statement was right.
Another achievement was working with my colleagues from Scitor to cross-sell their capabilities to SAICs customers. We won the NASA OMES contract worth $650 million and it really came down to the unique capabilities that we gained through the Scitor acquisition and our ability to deliver at scale to a customer we knew well.
The team really came together with past performances, key personnel, and deep understanding of the challenges of such a contract from both sides of the house. We could not have won that without them nor them without us. The collaboration between customer groups and former rival companies was extraordinary.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Genter: I am very focused on prioritizing our strategy and our investments. As a growth-oriented guy, I would love to pursue every opportunity or good idea, but I am very clear about not spreading funds like peanut butter across everything. This means picking winners and losers, and having to disappoint some people, but it has made us stronger because it enables us to redeploy funds to more impactful activities.
Another is my management style. I set guidelines for my team, not rules. I trust the people that I hire to do their job. I certainly want to know their plan and will give feedback, but I’m not going to micromanage them on tactics because if I have the right people in those roles, invariably they’re better than I am at their jobs.
Lastly, I am open about my goals – personal and professional — with my team. I am open with them because I want them to feel comfortable talking about their individual goals to put it out there for the team to see. We outline goals as a group and at the end of the year, I give them a scorecard against those goals with their peers and we discuss it as a team. I want to document targets so we all know the goals, pressure test them to ensure each has the right stretch level, and then status them. That clarity of goal, transparency with each other and willingness ask for help and talk about failures, I believe produces a more cohesive team and a learning organization.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a leader?
Genter: Hierarchy. I don’t believe in formal hierarchy. You have to have it to manage workload, but I hope that everyone in the organization feels like they can walk in my door without having to go through their managers to get there. Additionally, it is important to speak to the people that know the information best regardless of where they sit. I want to empower everyone to voice opinions and thoughts at whatever level to get information into the conversation.
Transparency is the next big one. I believe in the highest level of transparency and that information is the context — the more context, the more meaningful the conversation. To me, my team should have most of the same information that I do. It’s condescending to only allow partial information for decision-making and then have me stitch it together above them. We all benefit from information sharing so that we can make better decisions. Dialogue is more meaningful and decisions are more thoughtful, and it ensures different perspectives are included.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
Genter: Two risks stand out. One was going from a finance role to a line organization role. I ran a large finance organization for CGI and wanted to transition to P&L management, which required me to go backward to go forward. I was technically a peer to the general managers as we all reported to the U.S. leader, but to transition to the line, I had to first report to one of those general managers and learn from them.
Just because I oversaw a billion dollars from a finance perspective didn’t mean that I knew how to run a business unit. A related inherent risk was that I was unproven in sales and managing customer relationships so it was very possible that I was just really good at finance and the new skills wouldn’t be at the same level.
The second risk was leaving the commercial world to join SAIC. Changing customer sets, go-to-market strategies and the rules of the road weighed on me and it took a few months to make the decision. I was pleasantly surprised that customer challenges, needs and personal goals transcend the type of customer they just go about buying solutions differently.
What was your biggest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
Genter: One was certainly coming from a commercial industry to government contracting and adapting to the pace of change. It took a few months of firing off ideas that eventually sputtered out and normally would have succeeded for me to realize my approach had to change to affect change. I had to learn the culture, the rules of the road inside the company, and most specifically how the customers were buying. I didn’t understand the nuances of the language and I was expecting everyone to understand my language, not the opposite.
Another wrinkle to this challenge was trying to make cultural changes from within right out the gate. I joined SAIC when it separated from its former parent in 2013, and although we were a new company, we were rooted in our history. I thought change was going to be in the air as a “new” company, but the company’s history and the customer’s risk posture was a significant underestimate on my part. Change doesn’t happen overnight but five years in, I am really pleased with the progress we have made including the prospects and change for our customers.