WashingtonExec has been reaching out to leaders in government and government contracting to learn more about their habits, experiences and perspectives. Next in the series is David Turner, president and CEO of Hitachi Vantara Federal. He has 20 years of public sector industry experience, helping companies increase value through operational excellence, business transformation and currently, next-generation data services.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
What’s on your reading list?
I went and saw “Hamilton” [the musical] a couple of weeks ago in New York, so I am now reading “Hamilton” by Ron Chernow. It is the thickest thing you’ve ever seen . . . 727 pages. The reason I’m reading that is because I want to be able to see what the detailed version of the historical view of Hamilton is compared to the hip-hop version, which I very much enjoyed.
The next book is — I haven’t read it yet, but it’s called “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller. Our CFO gave me that book because if you look at Hitachi Vantara Federal today versus a year ago, there’s not much that’s the same. And the whole premise behind this book, “The ONE Day,” is that if you don’t pick something and focus on it and get it done, you’re likely to be completely consumed with the everyday task.
And so I’m hoping that after I get through this 700-page tome, that this much more reasonably-sized book will help provide a little bit of perspective on our organization and what we’re doing and how we maybe try and drive a little focus on some things, because when everything’s new, it’s easy to chase the shiny object. So I’m hoping that there are some insights in that book that I kind of glean and help the organization with.
Tell me about a time in your life when you had to really stretch yourself in order to learn and grow.
It’s actually a mantra that I tend to seek out throughout my career. Just to take you back a little bit — initially when I came out of college, my objective was to be a research scientist. My undergraduate degree is in molecular biology, and I wanted to be the biggest, baddest research scientist that you could find, and for a time I was.
I was working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in research science and I ended up doing hard research. But we were a shared service center for the medical community and had all of the infrastructure around imaging, so all the really expensive equipment that you would need in order to be kind of “best of” in the research field. I ended up taking on a role that was trying to grow that laboratory function within the medical community in western Pennsylvania.
And I found that really excited me — being able to figure out what worked and what didn’t work and how to grow, essentially, a business. I found that piece of it was a little bit more engaging than just the hard science in and of itself.
So, I took a leap off the platform and got my MBA at the University of Pittsburgh so that I could start to do this type of thing the whole time, and essentially went into government consulting in Fairfax, Virginia. It was my first job out of grad school but a very different departure from what I thought I was doing. I thought I was going to get into the telecommunications practice, which again, ended up not being what I ended up doing. I went from the telecommunications area to the government contracting area pretty quickly.
I tend to look for those stretches as an intellectual engagement to try and do something I’ve never done before. Sometimes, the root things are not quite as challenging as something that’s brand new.
We’re certainly having plenty of new things here at Hitachi Vantara Federal — trying to combine our traditional infrastructure with our new cloud migration capabilities, network services as well. So, it’s a continuing evolution of something that nobody’s ever done before. I think people think that there’s this path that’s predefined . . . at whatever point in your life . . . and it’s just not. It’s always going to take turns and weaves and changes and you just have to embrace that.
If you could go back and give your younger self career and/or life advice, what would you say?
One of the things I think that I thought about as a younger person — and I know that a lot of people do — is they look for people that can help them/mentor them. Everybody wants that person that can help provide career guidance, et cetera. I was very fortunate that I had folks that, while they weren’t formal mentors. they were professional folks that I looked up to, provided guidance and gave me opportunities.
But one of the things you have to think about as a younger person is, at what point does that flip? At what point do you become the mentor? And I think that actually happens a heck of a lot quicker than people realize.
If I were to give myself advice it would be to very quickly start to look at the folks that were younger than me. Even if it’s two, three, four, five years — and figure out how you help that cadre of folks get to where you are today. I think sometimes folks are looking forward themselves too much and not saying, “hey, how do I pay back some of the things that I have been fortunate enough to learn?”
I think folks think that somehow this professional mentorship only happens when you’re near the end of your career. That’s just not the case. Folks who are in their 20s have a lot to offer folks that are just getting out of college.
What’s your favorite city to visit? What do you enjoy doing there?
There’s a two-part answer to this one. One is the cities that are actually reasonably accessible.
As an example, I really enjoy skiing and snowboarding. In Denver, Colorado, we’ve got our customer support center just south of the city. Particularly this time of year, that’s one of the places that I enjoy going to because you can get away for a day and get out to the mountains pretty quickly. But just being out there at that altitude with that team out there that’s doing that national call center for us is probably at this time of year my favorite place to be.
Now, for the less accessible. Especally here in the D.C.-area, everything is moving so quickly. One of the things that I really just got lost in was last year, middle-of-nowhere Italy. Just driving around through towns that you will never hear about, places that will not be in any tourism book, people that spoke not a word of English, and just blending in and becoming a part of that rural quiet lifestyle for a week was unbelievable. And it really puts perspective on things, because we can fool ourselves here a little bit in D.C. that we’re the center of the universe and everybody really cares what’s going on here. I’m here to tell you that it’s just not the case.
It was just a great juxtaposition of almost the opposite of the hustle and bustle of a big city. I found it so interesting and just relaxing and rewarding.
Tell me about an app, device or type of technology you personally love and why.
I was out in San Diego about two months ago, and I’ll walk you through why — but I fell in love —have you ever been on the scooters? With the app where you enable those scooters?
It just fascinates me that A: you’re able to move around and that’s great. But then my mind just starts to think about how this company decided to use technology to fill this gap between walking and public transportation and an Uber, and they’re basically providing on-demand fast walking. How innovative is that, that they found this niche? I would imagine you’re risk of getting run over in D.C. is a little higher than San Diego. But you know the walkway is really wide open out there and it just seems so conducive to that.
Becasue one of the businesses we’re in is this as-a-service piece, where we provide our technology as a service. And I was just fascinated with the whole business model and how it works.
It’s practical, right? You get people where they want to go. You’re leveraging the technology, you’re leveraging the ecosystem of just people that happen to be in the area. So, it’s kind of a twist on Uber, a little bit to fill the gap that folks perceived was there in between getting in an Uber or taxi and then just walking.
I do think that this whole on-demand or as-a-service piece has really taken off in the economy because people don’t want to have to buy things that they only use once or twice. It’s really taking these infrastructure assets and keeping them occupied by using different folks at different times.