DeEtte Gray describes her background as “unique” — her career started as a middle school teacher and moved to corporate leadership as president of the Business and Information Technology Solutions sector of CACI, a provider of unique expertise and distinctive technology to enterprise and mission customers.
“I actually have a very unique background,” Gray said. “I wouldn’t say I really planned it all out.”
Gray began her career in education, teaching math and science at a North Carolina middle school. Only five years later, however, she switched fields to private industry, and in 2017, she joined the CACI leadership team.
“I’ve had a blast since I’ve been here,” she said. “The company is growing like crazy and it’s an exciting place to be.”
Driven by Mission and Challenge
For Gray, her commitment is largely impacted by the importance of the mission.
“The work that we do helps protect the nation. We enable our customers to do their mission more efficiently,” she said.
In Gray’s area of business, her teams help government visualize its data to make better informed decisions and ultimately, protect those protecting our nation. CACI is also helping government to modernize business, financial and human resource systems, and its IT infrastructure.
But it’s not always easy, and Gray loves a challenge and solving problems.
“Every one of my jobs is almost double the size of the job before,” she said, and it remains rewarding to take on new positions with new challenges.
For example, CACI’s previous year was one of its best growth years on record, and Gray’s sector has won new business, grown programs and developed experts.
“It’s fun to watch our teams win great jobs,” Gray said.
Because ultimately, Gray is motivated by her teams’ successes.
“My job is to enable them,” she said. “I know I didn’t do all the hands-on work, but I helped set the direction and coached them along the way.”
And seeing those results, Gray said, makes it all worth it. Going forward, Gray focuses on three main areas: expanding employees’ expertise, providing leadership and advancing CACI’s capabilities.
“We can’t do any of this without skilled people — our employees are our greatest asset” Gray said. She wants to create an environment that provides the kinds of careers, challenging work and leadership training people in the industry want and deserve.
CACI is also investing in expanding its solutions and technologies to stay competitive in the market.
“When we invest in our people, advance our technology and expertise and promote good leaders, then we’ll continue to deliver the best performance for our customers,” Gray said.
From the Classroom to GovCon
Gray didn’t initially plan her career path. In fact, a common thread throughout her career is that people have come to her for jobs.
Gray graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1991 and went on to teach science and math in the classroom for five years.
“I taught the middle school, on purpose, because I thought that’s still an age you can shape people,” Gray said.
During her last few years in education in the mid- to late-1990s, Gray taught academically gifted students and used computers in her classrooms.
“I didn’t have a traditional classroom,” Gray said. “I was teaching students how to use computers and integrating it into the curriculum. I was also teaching teachers how to use computers.”
And on the day an observer came to the school to see how it was starting to use computers, he was so impressed by Gray’s technical skills that he came back later and offered her a job.
The job was programming for geospatial development, involving land and county parcel data.
“And turns out, I was pretty good at it,” Gray said.
That initial step into the tech field led her to another job, and another, until she was hired by Lockheed Martin over the phone in 1999.
Gray spent 13 years there in positions of increasing responsibility and rank. She started in programming in Lockheed Martin’s North Carolina offices as a software developer serving the Environmental Protection Agency.
Eventually, Gray made the management leap, starting with a small six-person team that eventually grew to more than 100 people. And after working in North Carolina for three years, Lockheed Martin asked Gray to move to Washington, D.C.
“By then, I learned enough about the national security industry, and I’ve always been in the IT and the services area, and I figured if you are in it, Washington was the place to be for that type of work,” Gray said.
Gray served as vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Enterprise Information Technology Solutions for Information Systems and Global Services for Defense — and for a 38-year-old woman managing a $400 million-a-year-revenue portfolio, that was uncommon at the time.
There, Gray led the group’s worldwide business supporting defense and government agency customers with enterprise architecture, software, cybersecurity and project management solutions.
In 2012, BAE Systems recruited Gray. She spent five successful years there as president of the company’s Intelligence and Security sector. Gray oversaw the delivery of IT, cyber and systems engineering solutions and services for military and government customers.
And then in 2017, like clockwork, CACI’s then CEO and Chief Operating Officer, Ken Asbury and John Mengucci, asked Gray to join the company.
“Another big opportunity to go do something big,” Gray called it. And she’s been with CACI since.
A People’s Leader
Gray has influenced, guided and led business professionals throughout her career.
“At the end of the day, one of the biggest parts of our job is people. And influencing people to do the things you need them to go do,” Gray said. “There’s lots of different techniques, but that’s the same thing when you’re teaching.”
Gray learned early on how to influence a group of people, get them to work together and present a new set of ideas to different people daily as a teacher.
“That’s how leadership is,” she said. “You have to meet people where they are.”
In a class of 30 students with different personalities and backgrounds, Gray had to figure out how to help them each be successful — which she still does at the senior executive level.
And as a leader, Gray sticks to a few key traits — humility, decisiveness and clarity to coach a team to success.
“When you’re the leader, you’re responsible and accountable for helping that team accomplish whatever is expected of that team,” Gray said. “In our case, it’s our commitment to our shareholders and our customers and our employees.”
Gray also leads by example in addition to preparing her team for what’s coming next. But it’s important to remain respectful and do the right thing, Gray added.
“Always continue to raise the bar on yourself and be committed to what you’re doing. That’s setting the example,” she said
From Where She Stands
Gray also serves as chair of AFCEA International’s board of directors and is active in defense industry associations. And she remains passionate about encouraging young people to pursue STEM fields.
“We need American citizen students to go into STEM education because the world we work in is national security and I can only hire U.S. citizens,” Gray said. “So, I do worry about that a lot. That’s where my passion is and I’d like to contribute to that more in some way.”
In fact, if Gray pursued a computer science job today, she’d probably be a data scientist – but where she has ended up still surprises her.
“I’ve accomplished way more than I ever thought I’d accomplish in my life. I could have said that five years ago,” Gray said. “My career was never about money.”
She went to college to make sure she had opportunities and options.
“I just knew if I got an education, I would have options, I could be in control of where I went, and I’ve been very fortunate. Opportunities have come to me,” Gray said.
So, she wants to continue doing bigger and greater things, taking on challenges and helping people. Outside of work, Gray finds a work-life balance (or integration, rather) by spending time with her husband of 27 years, running half marathons and playing in the dirt.
“Running makes me feel good. For one, you accomplish something and it does keep your brain level, and clears out all the other nonsense in your head,” Gray said.
Otherwise, she’s scratching her itch to be outside by growing all kinds of flowers in her home garden she cuts and displays, and at times, surprises the office with.
“It’s fun to watch things grow,” Gray said.