Tim Hurlebaus Separates Management from Leadership, Tech from Human Interaction

Being a leader means giving your team a solid foundation and a platform to be successful and trying to identify and remove barriers to success, says CGI Federal President Tim Hurlebaus.

For Tim Hurlebaus, supporting the work the government does is more than just his job – rather, it’s a mission with immense impact, as government programs touch the lives of citizens every day.

“You just couldn’t find a client or a set of clients in any other industry that had that much impact on people’s lives,” Hurlebaus, who serves as president of CGI Federal, told WashingtonExec.

Whether it’s the Agriculture Department supporting farmers and food inspections, or the State Department processing credentials for U.S. travelers heading abroad or incoming foreign visitors, the federal government’s impact is global and unmatched.

“I think that’s why so many people are involved in providing services for the government,” Hurlebaus said. “And so many people stay and make a career out of serving the people that serve the government.”

And he jumped right into the industry after college – though not completely on purpose.

Hurlebaus graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 1988, and that same year, relocated to Washington, D.C., to join American Management Systems.

The multi-industry IT consulting company was founded in government, but at the time, had big telecommunications, financial industry and state and local practices as well.

“It just so happened that I ended up in the federal business,” Hurlebaus said.

On his first day, he was assigned to a contract supporting the payroll system at the State Department. As Hurlebaus put it, he “literally jumped into a massive global enterprise operation right away.”

And it was a great experience. This system ran and paid 32,000 people around the world every two weeks.

“I had not experienced that type of scale in college or university. You do your projects and your programs and deliver certain outcomes, but it’s not at that kind of volume and that kind of criticality,” Hurlebaus said.

He spent a little over 15 years at American Management Systems serving in a range of roles – from system design to user training, database administrator, project manager and facilitating large customer rollouts. His work expanded to industry and government, too, and he spent time in Canada launching a purchasing system for its Public Works and Government Services Canada agency (now called Public Services and Procurement).

In 2004, American Management Systems merged with CGI. Within the first couple of years, the CGI Federal subsidiary was formed, and Hurlebaus had a role managing a large portfolio of programs there.

In 2010, he went overseas to work in CGI’s operations in Europe, which were a mix of public and private sector.

“They were mostly financial services and insurance and telecoms and utilities,” Hurlebaus said, “so it was a great experience to work in different countries in those industries.”

He spent time working in England, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Poland.

After a couple of years abroad and positions working in the commercial side of CGI’s U.S. business, the company asked Hurlebaus to run one of the five business units in federal in 2012. He served as the senior vice president of CGI’s National Security and Defense Programs business unit for nearly three years, and in 2015, rose to president of CGI Federal.

But this wasn’t something Hurlebaus set out to do, necessarily.

“It’s not really realistic to say, ‘I’m going to be the president of this company, of any kind of big company, and expect a straight path to that position’” he said. Rather, he took on interesting assignments when offered, didn’t box himself into one industry category or domain and always tried to say yes to opportunities.

“And that just gave me a broader perspective and a broader set of experiences,” Hurlebaus said.

Leader vs. Manager

As the president of a company’s large subsidiary, Hurlebaus makes a point to differentiate the responsibilities of a leader to those of a manager.

“To me, being a leader is giving your team a solid foundation and a platform or framework to be successful [and]trying to identify and remove barriers to success and give them an opportunity to succeed,” he said/

The role of a manager – or when a leader performs management activities, is more about acquiring and deploying resources to meet the priorities set by a leader.

“A lot of people use the phrase, ‘Oh, so and so works for me.’ I’ve never in my life used that phrase because I always say, ‘Well, no they don’t, they work for themselves, for their own benefit,’” Hurlebaus explained. “More precisely, somebody may report to you in an organizational sense, but I think of them as working for themselves – to fulfill their own needs by working toward the needs of the team and organization”.

And while people may report to and take direction from him, they are ultimately part of a team, respecting his ability to create an environment in which they can succeed.

“And to the extent that you help them succeed in achieving their own goals, they may be loyal to you as a leader and want to follow you and continue to help you be successful because you’re helping them to be successful,” Hurlebaus added.

In his opinion, the best leaders know how to set the table, get out of the way and let people create their own success while being there to provide guard rails and hold their team accountable for achieving objectives together.

And though Hurlebaus has learned leadership from many mentors throughout his career, one former boss stands out: former CGI President Donna Morea.

According to Hurlebaus, Morea was great at letting people work on something for a while, then discuss specifically what she liked about an idea and what needed more research.

“If the answer was, ‘I researched it and here’s why I still don’t think it’s a good idea,’ that was OK. But if you said, ‘Oh, I didn’t look at that,’ that was a problem,” Hurlebaus said. It was a way of coaching people to help them get going in the right direction without issuing an order, and he admired that.

“That’s a very constructive, motivating way to get people focused in a way you think they should be focused,” he said. “That’s one of many things I learned from her.”

The Drive to Keep Going

But what keeps Hurlebaus most excited and motivated every day is the challenge of the evolving industry – tracking trends around digital transformation and the technologies enabling them and the innovations coming from within government and industry.

CGI has longstanding client relationships of more than 30 years and has adapted with them as technology and priorities change, in order to continue delivering what they need.

And part of that excitement is the actual outcomes CGI helps to deliver.

Working on, for example, an automated system to support the visa application process and measuring how many people from certain countries were able to obtain visas and visit the U.S.

“Isn’t that something that’s pretty important these days? For us to get to know each other around the world as human beings, not as tweets . . . but actually know each other as human beings and say, ‘We are a lot alike. And we can talk to each other,’” Hurlebaus said.

And that’s what is important – being able to work on and help build an IT system that allows people to come visit the U.S., share culture and experiences.

Because for Hurlebaus, technology is “neat,” but he’s much more interested in human beings – the way they interact with each other, how they behave when they are under pressure, pleased or displeased, and the way organizations work.

“To me, that is something that I look at more than specific technology,” he said.

And while Hurlebaus appreciates the power of technology to solve certain problems, it’s also crucial to understand what the real challenges are, what people really want and how a system is interacting with users.

So, rather than technology as is, Hurlebaus is more interested in how it allows him to better support and understand human beings as they interact with each other and with government organizations.

Bringing Human Interaction Home

Hurlebaus is passionate about many things – he is involved in STEM activities, sits on the board of the Women’s Center in Vienna, Virginia, and spent much of his children’s youth involved in sports and little league as he felt it was important for his family to participate in the community.

But Hurlebaus also loves to travel and finds great value in exploring other cultures. Aside from time spent professionally abroad, he did an exchange program when he was in high school to Germany and spent a month in Hamburg and has traveled reasonably frequently since.

“It’s hard to think a whole group of people are evil when you live among them and you see that’s not true. That people just aren’t like that,” he said. And while there are bad people in every part of society, 99.9% of humans just want to get along and support each other, he explained.

“I think there’s no better way to foster that environment than it is to just travel and be among people,” Hurlebaus said.

A Successful Path Ahead

For the remainder of 2019, Hurlebaus is focused on continuing to deliver and crank up some of CGI’s big contract wins it has had in cyber, continuous diagnostics and mitigation and defense acquisition.

And as the company continues to grow, he hopes the leaders with 10 to 15 years of experience remain continue to grow for another 10 to 15 years, leading big parts of the business successfully.

“To me, if in 10 years I’m in an environment where that’s all happening, whatever my role is at the time, then I’ll consider myself successful,” Hurlebaus said.

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