When Mac Curtis, former chairman and CEO of Perspecta, sold the company to Veritas/Peraton in 2021, he took a break from the industry to figure out his next move. And while he decided he would no longer be leading a company, fully retiring wasn’t an option.
“I’ve got too much energy,” he says. “I like the coaching. I’ve got a lot to contribute.”
That’s exactly what Curtis is doing today: contributing. He serves as chair of the board for Veritas Capital-backed Cubic Corp., and is a venture fellow with Blue Delta Capital Partners. It’s as evident as ever after speaking to Curtis he’s just as enthusiastic (if not more) about his involvement in GovCon’s mission today, as he was over 35 years ago when his career began.
Curtis has built a long and impactful career in the industry, having been a CEO for 17 years. He credits his leadership to a focus on effective communication, a willingness to take risk, being a lifelong learner, giving back to the community, mentorship and creating value. Plus, he has always been drawn to a challenge.
Chasing the Challenge
The southeastern Virginia native was always interested in mechanics and how things worked — engines, boats, trains. Studying engineering in college was a natural extension of this. Plus, his dad was an engineer in a shipyard, so the field always intrigued Curtis.
Already familiar with the Virginia Military Institute and given the opportunity to play football for the school, Curtis attended the school knowing it’d be a tough environment. Between engineering courses, Division 1 football and the military focus, it was a trifecta that was challenging and disciplined.
But that’s what Curtis says he wanted — a challenge.
“I wanted to do something a little different than going to just a regular college,” he says. “I was right about it being different, that’s for sure. It was pretty tough. But I’m glad I did it.”
This experience also taught Curtis how to prioritize at an early age. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and returned home afterward to work for a small family-owned business that sold and delivered systems in the maritime industry. He did that for about four years before yearning for yet another challenge. He wanted to put his engineering skills to the test in naval engineering.
So, he accepted a job with Advanced Technology and moved to the Washington, D.C., area to work on a contract designing a new guided missile destroyer for the Navy. This was an exciting time for Curtis — relocating to the District to work for a bigger company in GovCon, having also recently married his wife, Cindy.
Seven years with Advanced Technology fueled Curtis with new experiences in business, the naval industry and ship design (including having worked on the first Arleigh Burke-class destroyer). The founder, Bob LaRose, instilled a great deal of entrepreneurship, management, customer relations and technical talent into the workforce.
“You really learned all aspects of becoming a general manager,” Curtis says. “You learned the financial aspects of it, you learned technical aspects of it — delivering and delighting a customer. You learned the people side — the hiring, performance appraisals. And you learned the growth side. And those are the four pillars of being a company general manager.”
The Road to Perspecta
When Advanced Technology was sold and became PRC, Curtis was soon recruited out of the company by a mentor of his — Paul Lombardi — a senior executive at PRC who moved to DynCorp to build strategy and its IT business.
Curtis left PRC to work with Lombardi at DynCorp, where he was thrown into leading several acquisitions. It was then Curtis learned about taking risks and always being willing to learn. After DynCorp, he joined NCS — a small public company steeped into the education business — and was general manager of the company’s government services division.
Fourteen months later, NCS was bought by textbook publisher Pearson in 2000. Curtis quickly went from working for a $500 million company to a $7 billion company. He served as president and CEO of Pearson Government Solutions, growing the government business from about $100 million to half a billion dollars.
In early 2007, Pearson Government Solutions was acquired by Veritas Capital. As a corporate carve-out and private-equity backed company with Curtis at the helm, the company became Vangent. Four years later, Curtis and team executed the strategy to grow the business to a little under $800 million and sold to General Dynamics for about $1 billion.
It was during his Pearson to Vangent days where he met and worked with Ramzi Musallam and the Veritas team, and after the sale, worked with the company from 2012-2013 as a senior adviser.
Because he sat on the board of directors for Veritas portfolio companies, Curtis was called on to lead a Veritas acquired portfolio company, The SI Organization, in 2013. He served as president and CEO, and took the company from $500 million to $1.1 billion in two years. After a few acquisitions and growth, the company name changed to Vencore.
In June 2018, Vencore was one of the three companies involved in the Reverse Morris Trust transaction with DXC Public Sector, Vencore and KeyPoint to form Perspecta.
Curtis was chairman and CEO of Perspecta until his May 2021 retirement. During his time there, he helped create and launch Perspecta while leading the company toward becoming publicly traded. Later, he led the company through a successful sale, which provided shareholders with over 45% in returns.
“It’s been exciting when you think about all those kinds of things,” Curtis says. “I got a chance to build the team and ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchanges. I never in a million years thought I would ever have an opportunity to do that.”
Curtis says his journey has been largely led by a willingness to learn, take calculated risks and try new things. He didn’t go to business school, but learned the fundamentals of business at Advanced Technology — and still uses some of those basics now. He has also spent time as the “clean-up guy,” fixing broken acquisitions or sales engines.
“You learn by doing,” he says.
The Pillars of a CEO
Curtis says he has been blessed to serve as a CEO for 17 years. He believes the CEO is responsible for every employee, from decisions made about market strategies to employee benefits. These decisions impact employees and their families, and he didn’t take them lightly.
CEOs also build company cultures and set values and vision, an opportunity Curtis is grateful to have had.
“You have to establish the mission. In the case of Perspecta, almost 15,000 employees, why do they get up in the morning? What is it that they do? Why do they want to come to work? What is the expected behavior?” he says. In GovCon, there’s the added value of contributing to the government’s missions, which are critically important.
Curtis is also a team-oriented person who believes in doing the right thing. And as CEO, leading from the front means doing so during the good and the bad.
“You want people to look at you and say, ‘I can follow him or her, because what’s happening is not good, but they’ve told me it’s not good and they’ve told me what they’re going to do about it,’” Curtis says.
And as a CEO coach, Curtis teaches these same pillars to future leaders. This is a people business, after all.
“That CEO job, it is a big job, a lot of responsibility. And I’m just blessed that I could do it for 17 years,” he says.
It’s Not All About Business
One look at Curtis’ LinkedIn or resume, and it’s clear he’s had a successful career. But along with the titles held and the personal accomplishments achieved, Curtis measures his success and pride on impact and personal values.
For instance, the companies he has been involved with have had a philanthropic mentality, and this is very important for Curtis. He’s had the opportunity to give back all over the country, depending on the company he was leading at the time and the communities the company was based in. He’s worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters, the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes’ Heroines of Washington, local STEM organizations and more.
“The notion of being philanthropic, not only your company, but your personal life, that’s a responsibility,” he says. “You have to give back.”
Curtis remains involved with the American Heart Association, and together with his son, works with the nonprofit Military Bowl/Patriot Point, a 220-acre facility on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that provides the facilities and services to help post-9/11 veterans in their recovery. Curtis’ son is a veteran and served two combat tours in Afghanistan, so this cause is particularly important to him.
Curtis is also involved with the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges to help small universities with endowments for scholarships, and to help students get meaningful internships. He even used the foundation as a recruiting tool at Perspecta.
And he strongly promotes women in GovCon and leadership. It’s a big part of his mentorship and CEO coaching, and after more than three decades in industry watching colleagues grow and move up, he’s particularly proud to witness their successes. Jennifer Felix, for instance, worked with Curtis as a controller at Vangent and CFO at Vencore. Today, she’s the CEO of ASRC Federal.
“It just feels good to see those people and see them be successful. Whether I think I had an input or not, it’s just great to see,” he says.
And in terms of metrics, Curtis is proud of the shareholder value he contributed to at Pearson, Vangent, Vencore and Perspecta.
“Those are the things that I would say that I look back on and say: ‘Yeah, that really felt good. I think we did the right thing,’” he says.
But Curtis recognizes he didn’t accomplish all this on his own. In fact, he attributes much of who he is as a person and industry leader to a number of mentors he’s had along the way. First, his father, who was always focused on doing the right thing, even if it wasn’t easy, Curtis says.
He then learned the importance of strong communication from LaRose and Lombardi, and both instilled confidence in their workforce to challenge themselves and their skills. Russ Gullotti, the CEO of NCS, led in such a way that left all employees understanding exactly what the mission, vision and core values of the company were. And finally, Marjorie Scardino, the CEO of Pearson, taught Curtis to focus on the biggest threat to the business first.
And ultimately, he’s learned from his mentors and throughout his career to spread the wealth, and reward people for their hard work.
“I feel pretty good about what I’ve done with people across these companies,” Curtis says. “I’ve, to a fault, taken the path that spreads the wealth, everybody should get a piece, because everybody is a stakeholder.”
What Remains True Post ‘Retirement’
Curtis caught the mission bug early in his career, from the days he was helping design guided missile destroyers, and that passion hasn’t wavered post-retirement. He remains drawn to the technical challenges, impactful leadership opportunities and ability to make a difference in GovCon. He doesn’t see that slowing down anytime soon, either. Curtis will continue to contribute for the foreseeable future, whether that’s sitting on boards, coaching future leaders or volunteering.
“I want to contribute to the success of the organizations I’m involved in, on the business side and certainly on the volunteer side,” he says. “I just [want to] use my experience through the business process to help. We’ll do that as long as it makes sense.”
And regardless of the path of his career, Curtis is, and always has been, first and foremost family oriented. He and his wife and copilot, Cindy, have been married for 38 years, have two children, Jack and Brooke, a grandson and two grandchildren on the way.
“I’m just a big family guy,” he says. His southeastern Virginia roots keep him loving the beach, surfing and water sports, and the continued support from his family keeps him feeling very fortunate.
“I just couldn’t be more blessed with such a wonderful and supportive family and lucky to have the career that I’ve had. And it’s not over yet,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of cycles left, and I just feel it’s time to help where I can.”
Curtis will be honored May 11 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at WashingtonExec’s annual Chief Officer Awards, celebrating his over 30 years of leadership experience. The event will be held in person at the Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Virginia.