John Ustica has spent his entire career thus far with global technology company Siemens – two decades spanning various titles, several corporate support initiatives and relocations. What drew him to Siemens and kept him there, he says, is how the company is “fundamentally changing people’s lives.”
Today, Ustica serves as chief financial officer of Siemens Government Technologies, Inc., the wholly owned, cleared U.S. subsidiary of Siemens Corp. whose mission is to secure and modernize the largest infrastructure in the world, the U.S. federal government.
When he started with Siemens in 2001, he would jokingly say, “I’ll stay here as long as it’s interesting with new things to learn and challenge myself.”
“And over the course of 20 years, that has absolutely proved true,” he tells WashingtonExec. “The reality is, the company is so big. I’ve had different jobs in different places. I never thought about leaving because I never had a reason to. There was always the next opportunity.”
The Fort Myers, Florida, native didn’t always have his heart set on finance, however. Ustica started his undergraduate studies in physical therapy, but quickly realized his brain was wired for numbers, not for biology. So, he switched courses and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a focus in finance from the University of Central Florida.
“I was very interested in how technology affects the world of finance,” he says.
He graduated in 2001, and in 2002, while working for Siemens’ Advanced Engineering Administration, pursued his master’s degree. He holds an MBA from Rollins College focused on marketing and international business.
It was also the tail end of the gas turbine boom, and he was intrigued by Siemens’ initiative of sending employees around the world to various booming business projects. Siemens was also hiring a ton, and current employees boasted about the company’s culture and market.
“Everybody needs electricity,” they would tell Ustica.
And so began his 20-year career of “incredible learning.”
Making a Difference Around the World
Siemens has given Ustica unmatched experiences, whether it’s traveling the world, living abroad or gaining new perspectives in the States.
He began his career in Siemens’ Orlando location. From 2010 to 2012, he was the director of finance at Siemens Power Generation Heavy Plant Facility in Mulheim, Germany, leading the financial manufacturing, engineering and development of new generator products. It was during his travels Ustica began to see the true impact of Siemens’ work.
“When you start visiting other countries and places where the product you’re installing is providing reliable electricity for the first time, it really, I think, touches you personally,” Ustica says.
“If your travels take you to developing countries, you see firsthand how electricity is a game changer for overall safety, security and opportunity. Here at home, we don’t appreciate how consequential electricity is because we take it for granted. We don’t know how truly fortunate we really are.”
One of his proudest moments was after Egypt’s revolution in 2011. Siemens installed 3GW of power to return the power grid online in just 24 months.
“There were very real challenges for Egyptians who suddenly found themselves in an uncertain environment, and electricity was the first piece of getting their national safety back,” Ustica says. “That’s part of what kept me with Siemens and the company’s focus to truly make the word a better place.”
From 2012-2015, he was a plant manager for Siemens Energy in Fort Payne, Alabama, leading a team in reducing lead times of core products by 20% and creating an Apprenticeship Program with the local community college. Afterward, Ustica was the general manager for generator products at Siemens’ energy facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was responsible for profit and loss for the manufacturing operations. He was appointed to his current role as CFO and senior vice president of SGT in 2018.
A Path Less Traveled & Full of Life Lessons
Ustica is the first to admit his progression in Siemens was atypical, but changing his major in college helped him learn early it’s OK to ask for help, especially during transitions.
As a freshman in college starting in physical therapy, Ustica says it was hard to go from being a high school student who always got good grades, to someone working relentlessly and not seeing the same results.
Ustica realized maybe what he was doing was out of his wheelhouse because he was miserable. He mentioned to professors he was struggling, and they asked him to focus on what he really enjoyed: numbers.
Ustica added a finance class to his already-full schedule. Even with the additional work, he got the highest grade in economics, and realized he could do much better in courses that truly motivated him.
But Ustica still loved helping people. It’s why he chose physical therapy to begin with. So, he’s found a way to continue doing what he loves in finance.
“I took a lot of jobs where they said, go move to a rural area in Alabama because the plant needs to be modernized and they need your help because they know that you’ll roll up your sleeves and get it done,” he says. “It’s pretty hard for me to say no to that because I can help people. I can learn.”
Ustica and the team there took a plant that hadn’t had much capital investment in 25 years, and in 18 months, made it the most advanced manufacturing facility for its product in the world. It was here he also learned the impact of technology. His team slashed the number of manufacturing hours of its core products by 50% just through automation, which made the plant very competitive.
And though he took on many stressful jobs, Ustica said he had a great network of people to help him. He continues to ask for that kind of help when he needs it. It’s why he’s been successful, he says.
“I’m not a person who really believes I know everything,” Ustica said. “And to run a manufacturing plant, when you have a finance degree, I had to learn to get the best people on my team and to trust them to do it and to really ask for help when I needed them.”
When given the opportunity to join SGT, Ustica had been in the power business for so long that some remarked, “Government business is very hard to learn.”
“For me, that’s the wrong thing to say, because I’m like, ‘Now I’m going to go do it’,” Ustica says.
After almost two decades working on power-related projects, Ustica had to learn how to deal with the government.
“The utilities and the government are not that different,” he says. “The rules are different, but the way you approach it is the same.”
He remains always willing to learn and be uncomfortable. And while it may be difficult as an executive to ask for help or figure out new processes, Ustica says it has been the best part of his career.
“The fact that Siemens allowed me to do that is part of the reason why I’ve been here so long,” he says.
Plus, his experiences traveling with Siemens have taught him how important diversity is, and the value in understanding other people.
When he worked in Germany, Siemens allowed Ustica to take a 6-week intensive language class so he could truly understand the culture. And everywhere else he’s had to travel for work, he always tried to set time aside to meet the people and understand their lives, rather than stay inside the “bubble of being in the Western Hotel,” as Ustica puts it.
And as a 27-year-old controller of a power plant in a small town in Alabama, he had to quickly learn how to be successful with people who had very different backgrounds than his own.
“I like to say that I always try to find the best in a person or a situation,” Ustica says.
And he has taken that mentality with him everywhere he’s gone, and continues to do so as business needs shift.
Focusing on the Future
The remainder of 2021 has Ustica prioritizing stability in the post-COVID world.
“Whether it’s customers, whether it’s employees, whether it’s stakeholders, whether it’s suppliers, I think a lot of folks are just looking for stability,” Ustica says.
In terms of SGT’s business goals, Ustica says the company is trying to figure out how to get the customer ready for what comes next.
“For 2021, for me, it’s about how do we get that stability back so that we can really, number one, get focused on our customers and address the needs of our employees so they have the flexibility they need to do their very best work” Ustica says.
And secondly, it’s about understanding how these changes could permanently affect the way SGT does business in the future.
For example, prior to COVID-19 and in his previous position, Ustica would fly to Germany about 10 times a year. Siemens would spend a significant amount on travel and expenses.
“It’s going to be really hard to stomach spending all that money on travel again,” Ustica says. “The question then becomes, have we now seen a fundamental shift in the business? And has the pandemic taught us we can still be successful without the same amount of travel?”
A Passion for Helping Others
Ustica’s passion for the business stems from helping people and learning.
“Whether it’s helping my wife take care of the kids, whether it’s helping my neighbor do something, whether it’s helping a company where I sit on the advisory board, I think that really drives me and motivates me,” he says.
And Ustica remains motivated by learning about other people and other businesses.
“It was always interesting if you could get on a plane next to somebody who would talk a little bit about what they did,” he says. “That’s really what motivates me a lot is just learning about other cultures, other things that I don’t know about.”
He has been able to take new knowledge and apply it to his organization to move forward.
“It’s really all about helping,” Ustica says, as he hopes to continue growing SGT to help government missions.
“In 5 years, I hope we have fulfilled the vision of our CEO Tina Dolph and made SGT a billion-dollar business and further the mission of the customers with our tremendous Siemens technologies, all the different things that Siemens does,” Ustica says. “Whether it’s energy efficiency or software or whatever we invent next. That’s what I see.”
And after 20 years, Ustica still sees himself with Siemens in the future, having an even bigger impact.
“I know what I’ll be doing is learning and still helping. Wherever I can do that, I’ll do it,” he says.