Chief Officer Awards Finalist Roela Santos: ‘Having a Strong Team is the Key to My Success’

Editor’s Note: Roela Santos of SAIC is the winner of the Chief Officer Awards Public Company Chief Marketing/Communications Officer Award announced June 17.

On June 17, WashingtonExec will be virtually celebrating the most impactful and innovative C-suite executives in government and industry. These chief officers work in technology, security, data, operations, finance, business and more, excelling on both sides of the government contracting sector. Our team of judges have chosen the finalists for the inaugural Chief Officer Awards, so before we announce the winners during the event, we wanted to get to know the finalists a bit better. This Q&A series highlights their careers, successes, proud professional moments and notable risks.

Roela Santos, SAIC

Roela Santos is the chief communications and marketing officer at Science Applications International Corp. and a finalist in the Public Company Chief Marketing/Communications Officer Award category.

What key achievements did you have in 2019? 

I am very proud that the communications and marketing team played a key role in the successful integration of the Engility acquisition and team, and in the execution of a smooth CEO transition at SAIC in 2019. Last year, we’ve also expanded our team’s role in and impact to the organization by initiating national campaigns that are strategically aligned to business goals, and building up our ability to lead customer group-level communications as well as deal-based marketing. 2019 was a busy, but extremely fulfilling year!

What has made you successful in your current role? 

First and foremost, having a strong team is the key to my success. It was a very hectic 2019 and a crazier 2020 so far. Through all the ups, downs and sharp turns, a strong, resilient and talented team is the key to success and you can build off that and tackle anything with that as a foundation.

What was a turning point or inflection point in your career? 

I would say a pivotal point in my career was when I moved from Southern California to the Washington, D.C., area in 2002. I moved for a job at then-CSC, turning my focus from commercial marketing and putting me on a path toward more exciting opportunities in government contracting. It widened my viewpoint and made me appreciate the intricacies and unique dynamics of the D.C. area, and how it impacts every part of the world.

What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?

I am most proud of the team’s success in strengthening the marketing and sales enablement elements of the communications and marketing function. The company has had a strong, mature communications function, but it’s been exciting to build a marketing function that helps drive demand, productizes differentiated solutions, and partners with business development to position SAIC on contract wins. I’m also proud that the communications and marketing team has stepped up as our company tackled new exciting opportunities (such as two large, game-changing acquisitions and a CEO transition) and new challenges (such as COVID).

What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?  

One of the primary focus areas in 2020 for me is telling a stronger story around how the SAIC team can drive the digital transformation of the U.S. government. Whether it’s modernizing IT or engineering elements of the U.S. government agencies — from defense, civilian agencies, space and the intelligence community — our country’s investments in digital transformation today are critical, foundational elements that will position the U.S. for continued economic and global success in the next 25-30 years.

How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders? 

I appreciate all the mentors and opportunities I have been given, and I am a big fan of “paying it forward.” Within SAIC, I’m the executive sponsor for the Women’s Business Resource Group, and I’m excited to see young women and men become very involved in volunteerism and community engagement.

I mentor employees, and there’s a young woman in the company who serves as a reverse-mentor and has been a great source of ideas and fresh perspective for me. Outside of SAIC, I am also on the board of trustees for the (ISC)2 Center for Cyber Safety and Education, which is dedicated to educating kids to be cyber safe and cyber savvy, which are critical as we build the next generation of leaders in an increasingly cyber and connected world.

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