There are two driving forces behind Bob Genter’s work ethic and motivation in GovCon and beyond: a competitive nature that fuels his team and himself, and the thrill of the chase.
“I want to inspire everybody to up their game, and that, in turn, will have me up my game,” Genter said, who serves as president of the defense and civilian sector for Science Applications International Corp.
In his line of work, that type of competition manifests in constant motion and improvement, never settling and always questioning things. These are the hallmarks of how Genter looks at life in general.
And in GovCon, chasing new business, customers, acquisitions and growth excites him.
“I don’t get a lot of satisfaction out of doing something incrementally better,” Genter said. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of big wins, huge change, doing things significantly better.”
He found his love for business early in college. The upstate New York native earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Michael’s College in Vermont in 1997, after realizing business came much more naturally to him than his original educational pursuits in biology and psychology.
“I thought I was going to be a doctor to start, and I ended in with business,” Genter said. “The biology and psychology coursework came reasonably well, but the business stuff was very natural. I took a couple of elective classes and I just really gravitated towards it.”
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Genter went straight to graduate school. He received his MBA in finance and strategy from the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business in 2000, just in time to enter industry as it came down from the dot-com bubble and Y2K era.
Genter began his professional career on the commercial side. He worked for American Management Systems from 2000-2004, beginning with its strategy department helping to build and expand the business unit and its accounts. He eventually worked on an internal restructuring project, which gained him credibility to take on more senior roles within the company — landing him in a finance position.
AMS was acquired by CGI in 2004, and he was asked to run the finance organization for its U.S. commercial markets. A few years later, Genter asked for the opportunity to run P&L, and his mentor at the time took who bet on him. He served as vice president, responsible for different geographies, products and industry segments until his 2013 departure.
“That same mentor was the one that called me when SAIC was being split into Leidos and SAIC, and asked if I wanted to be part of the split, rounding out a management team that was going to lead a new company,” Genter said. “It was a great opportunity to take a giant company, figure out how to move it into two pieces, and then have a foundational seat at the table once we spun out.”
That phone call from his mentor was how Genter landed at SAIC. He joined in 2013 as a senior vice president leading the strategic growth markets business unit. He rose to executive vice president and general manager in 2018, responsible for a $2.5 billion P&L spanning enterprise IT, managed services, mission engineering services and software development.
In 2020, Genter made the shift from commercial into federal to lead the defense and civilian business.
“I was definitely a dyed-in-the-wool commercial guy,” Genter said. “Coming to federal was a bit of a change. But working with good people and having good mentors is really a great drawing card for anybody.”
Making a Difference in Federal
When Genter transitioned into federal, he was drawn to the scale of change relative to the challenge.
“Usually, it’s piece parts inside of a commercial entity,” he said. “In federal, the scale of any federal agency is so big that you can see the challenge to the mission and you can tangibly see what you can do to make that challenge less and to advance their mission.”
The commercial industry also does a lot of iterations and fine-tuning — squeezing out as much productivity, efficiency and cost cutting as possible from outsourced services. Whereas in federal, agencies are typically outsourcing managed services for the first time, and the outcomes are significant versus incremental.
“The returns for what happens for the end user, what happens for efficiency, what happens for the advancement of the mission, they’re significant,” Genter said. “The heavy lift has a really gratifying personal return as well, feeling like you’ve made a difference, as opposed to grinding out a 1-2% incremental difference.”
Understanding the customer and the risk profile was a learning curve from commercial, but now, Genter said it’s critical to how he approaches his clients.
“It is very different depending on the risk profile of the specific departments and where they are today as to how you want to address their problems,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to adapt based on where they are.”
And with SAIC’s heritage of understanding its customers’ missions and delivering results, customers tend to stick around and SAIC becomes part of their team.
“Our customers know that we deliver innovation in areas such as digital transformation, AI, and digital engineering, so we get more and more work from those customers by surpassing their expectations,” Genter said.
SAIC is also focused on growth, acquiring new customers, taking new capabilities to its current customers and expanding beyond its current scope.
Priorities in Defense and Civilian
SAIC’s defense and civilian sector makes up $4.6 billion of its business. Genter is responsible for ensuring the defense and civilian business is aligned with SAIC’s long-term strategy, and for putting in place an informed decision-making framework for his team to provide to customers based on mission needs.
And in 2021, Genter is zeroing in on a few priorities.
The first are tactical. He’s been rebuilding a leadership team that is now a defense and civilian team, and bringing together those two teams.
“That’s making sure we have the right people in the seats, it’s making sure that we start to become a team and not just individuals,” Genter said.
And that has its own challenges, because of, in part, the nature of a COVID-19 world.
“We’re doing it all over Zoom, and team building for me normally has a lot of in-person interaction, so it’s a new experience to build a team during coronavirus,” Genter said.
He also recently finalized the integration of Unisys, which SAIC acquired in March 2020.
“I’ve been responsible for that from the beginning, and it’s a nice tactical thing that we can declare victory on and move on to the next phase,” Genter said.
Long-term, Genter is focused on growth by cross-selling.
“The civilian business that I’ve historically run has done really well in IT and knows enterprise IT customers. The defense business that has moved into my portfolio has done great on the engineering side, but not so much on the IT side,” Genter explained.
So, he’s looking into selling IT to the Defense Department, and engineering to civilian agencies.
Making Bets that Pay Off
Genter points to two defining moments in his career that shaped who he is professionally today.
First was the shift out of finance, where he already had a career, reputation and distinct path paved. When he transitioned into P&L, he took a bet on his career that ended up being one of the best decisions he has made.
“I still love finance. But from a career perspective, it was a great decision to be able to move into P&L,” Genter said. “I wouldn’t have been in this role if I didn’t do so.”
The second was the shift from commercial to federal.
“It felt like this incredibly large decision to change, even though the thing I was selling, the activity I was selling, the work that I did, was going to be very similar,” Genter said. “The customer set felt like this major change, and it was nerve wracking to make that change.”
And while the portfolio size was similar, Genter said he doesn’t think he would have had the exponential growth from a scale perspective, and the enterprise impact he’s had, had he not made the leap to federal.
“Those two bets really did set me on my course,” he said.
Today, Genter is always looking for more challenging roles and responsibility, while heavily focused on the role he’s currently in.
“It’s a lot of exciting challenges. The scale is massive. It’s a new customer set that I get to learn. It’s a leadership team that I get to build. And again, it’s a different gear of growth that I get to prove out for this,” he said.
And while he’s excited for the challenges in front of him, Genter keeps his sights set on grander aspirations long-term — as the thrill of the chase goes.